Side Projects Want To Be Fed

And therein lies the problem of side projects. They will either muddle along as a fun side project and provide a necessary distraction from your main work, or they will grow and demand your attention. They want to be fed. The answer to “what if this fails” is easy. You shut it down. The answer to “what if this succeeds” is much harder. Especially when you’re not willing to walk away from your main job. And I wasn’t.

- Mike Monteiro “Everything dies. Sometimes they die well.”

I’m particularly interested in this post because I’ve been talking to people about their side projects at I Had Ten Dollars. This type of problem seems to be a huge factor in the decision to offer a project for free. Charging and growing brings obligations like customer support. Bringing on other people means you are responsible for those employees’ well being. It’s actually pretty cool that Mule has managed to scale Mule Radio back to a fun sized project again.

I Had Ten Dollars

I started a blog for showcasing cool side projects three weeks ago and it’s been a great learning experience so far. I’m so lucky to know people who are willing to volunteer their time to this project and work through the interview process with someone who’s still figuring it out.

Thanks to Ryan Wolf, Greg Leppert, Carlo Flores, and Jen Lowe for getting me started.

Design

After spending almost a month with this design I’ve realized that I have a few issues. For one, I’m using a lightly modified version of The Setup from when Daniel was using Jekyll as his static site generator instead of Salt. The Setup is a great design for interviews focusing on individuals. I think I Had Ten Dollars is suffering from a tension between my desire to show off the creators and the concept’s emphasis on projects. Right now, while the interviews themselves are project focused, there isn’t really any detail about the project in the homepage view and the only images on the site are portraits of the creators. I’m not sure how that’s affecting browsing behavior, since there are only four interviews up right now and the average pages viewed per session is about three. Still, I’d like to make it easier to browse and for the site to have a more elegant internal logic to it.

Content

I’ve also gotten some feedback that the site’s content feels a little disjointed because my questions are different for each person and there’s no real tie between the I Had Ten Dollars name and the interviews themselves. I’ve tried asking people about the domains they have sitting idle, but the people I’ve gotten feedback from tend to gravitate towards a theme section where I’d have the interviewee register a new domain on the spot or provide a domain and have them figure out what type of project it would be for.

I haven’t figured out how I want to address this yet, but I do know that I like varying the questions. I would be really bored if I just had a set of a few questions to ask and could email them out. Which brings me to interviewing!

Interviewing

All of the interviews that are up now were done over email, which allows my volunteers to answer them when it’s convenient. For the most part, I think email has worked out pretty well. I can’t really react to answers for followup questions, but I can organize my questions in a way where I think the subjects kind of cascade nicely. I can try to predict their answers and build with transitions in mind. Occasionally I produce big chunks of text because I’m trying to create context for my actual question. I think that looks kind of weird on the site, and isn’t necessarily that useful for the reader, but I’m unclear on the ethics of editing an email transcript since the person answering expects it to run more or less as they saw it.

I’ve been toying with the idea of breaking up my interviews into two emails, one for background and then one for follow up questions. If anyone who conducts interviews over email has tips, I’d be interested in hearing from you.

Helpful Resources

I’m using Jekyll and GitHub Pages for I Had Ten Dollars. One thing that created a decent amount of consternation for me was that Pages doesn’t accept Jekyll plugins. Charlie Park has a good post explaining the issue and how deploy just the generated content to Pages.

This is my second time using Pages, and I’ll probably use it a bunch in the future. As someone who’s kind of a dummy when it comes to DNS stuff, I’ll probably be using David Ensinger’s post that tells me exactly what to type and where to type it a bunch too.

One Human Heartbeat

I’ve put my heartbeat on the internet.

Jen has made something really beautiful here. I took a look at it last night before she put the about page up and was mesmerized by the pulsing. The progression around the circle. My breathing changed and I became very aware of my own heartbeat. My eyes wandered to the bottom left. Days lived. And then… expected days remaining. My heart took a dive into my stomach. I am going to die someday. There are two columns; and, every twenty-four hours, a day is plucked from “remaining” and placed into “lived”. I know this intellectually, but it has never not been shocking when I’ve been reminded that my time here is finite.

It being late, and me being kind of dense, I didn’t think to guess that the heartbeat was actually Jen’s. This is a kind of connection through technology I never even thought about.

The heartrate you see is from 24 hours ago. This is because the data can only be accessed via usb connection. Twice a day I connect the watch and upload my latest heartrates to the database. I’ve been doing this for 33 days now.

The delay actually makes it seem simultaneously more clinical and personal.[1] For one thing, Jen has to interact with machines to upload this part of herself into the ’base.[2] This is probably a stretch, but I think that even though it’s as simple as plugging in a usb cable, it represents a physical interaction between the biological and digital worlds that is both methodical and regular. And that’s a major part of how we think about science and medicine getting done. [3] At the same time, that action is also another layer of thoughtfulness and personal dedication to the project that wouldn’t be there if Jen were able to somehow stream her heartbeat.


  1. Although, I’m sure anyone doing this would the convenience of a once a day wireless sync.  ↩

  2. “’base” sounds way more cyberpunk than any alternative I could think of. Calling Jen’s laptop, “machines” was also for cyberpunk purposes.  ↩

  3. It’s also the part that seems to make us uncomfortable most of the time. Think about how often people fixate on the wires or tubes connected to a patient, or the beeping of a heartrate monitor.  ↩

Edna Piranha on Chat and Video

Imagine having a fixed time for recording yourself on camera – let’s say two seconds to capture your actions. But let’s also include the ability to associate it with text. Then you press send.

The audience now sees a looping image along with your text. They see it again. And again. They associate the text with the looping imagery. Now think about how effective this is in communicating a moment across to others.

Edna Piranha (Jen Fong-Adwent) “Community and Communication in Virtual Space: The Video”

chat.meatspac.es is one of the most interesting things I’ve seen in a while. It’s amazing how much of a difference those loops make compared to something highly similar, like the stills on facespac.es. Despite spending very little time on chat.meatspac.es, it’s easy to feel like you’re familiar with the regulars, and I can still recall specific messages these strangers have posted even though the conversation wasn’t tight or on any particular topic.

Move Fast and Create a Toxic Community

The people with the power to endorse and ignore comments are the people with the most deeply vested interest in Hacker News continuing as it has up to now. People who see significant problems with the Hacker News community, whether they’ve been quiet members of Hacker News for years or they’re just joining, have no power to voice their opinions without the active endorsement of multiple Hacker News oldsters.

Jonas Wisser on Hacker News’ pending comments

Such a mess.

Put HTML

So, John Holdun, Brett O’Connor, and Casey Kolderup have made a pretty fun thing in Put HTML, which I described as “Just a place to put internet.” It was totally endorsed by Brett as being accurate.

Boom!

I was going to make a joke about getting rid of separate stylesheets, but apparently you can link files. These guys are good.

<3 Rusty. <3 Choire.

I love everybody. Everybody I follow is my favorite people. I don’t follow any people I don’t like.

- Rusty Foster: What I Read

Rusty Foster is basically one of the most fun people on Twitter. If you’re not reading Today in Tabs, you should be. But geez, growl notifications for every tweet?!

These media diet posts are pretty fun. Choire Sicha did something similar (minus telling us what he reads) for Full Stop. The whole thing is immensely quotable, and reading it creates this great feeling of playing jump rope with the line between keen insights and hard trolling.

QFP (Quote For Proof)

I guess I think that writing becomes significant through labor. The cherished things online, whether they be profitable or not, clearly spring from a place of great effort, even if in the end that effort is, as it usually should be, invisible.