Stabilized Insulated Rammed Earth (SIRE) Walls

December 22nd, 2011

Inhabitat has this article about “Stabilized Insulated Rammed Earth (SIRE) Walls” which are a nifty way to create permanent structures without the carbon problems of concrete. And, they can be beautiful: Check it out.


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Steve Jobs’ Final Words…

October 31st, 2011

It is being reported that Steve Jobs’ final words were: “Oh Wow! God uses Windows 98.”


Amazon abandon affiliates in California, so I’m pulling the plug. #AmazonBoycott

July 1st, 2011

California just passed a law saying companies like and have to collect and pay sales taxes to the state for items sold online to CA residents. Part of the law defines what sort of companies must do this, and it has something to do with whether an out-of-state online retailer with any kind of “nexus” in the state – a physical or corporate presence, not just a brick-and-mortar retail outlet – is liable.

Read more:

Such businesses within the state must already pay the tax. Amazon, with their headquarters in Washington and warehouses in Nevada, think they shouldn’t have to. The law now says they must. To avoid it, they’ve thrown their California “Associates” who make affiliate fees for referring customers, under the bus. They would constitute the “nexus” presumably. Amazon A9 and A2Z Development are in the state, but they could move those, perhaps.

I think this is supremely douchy of them.

The California budget that passed guarantees that “…poor people will receive less medical care and welfare, disabled people will see fewer services, state parks will close and public university students will pay more in California under the budget that takes effect Friday.” Amazon benefits from the market, and simply would have to do what California-based retailers routinely do: charge their customers tax, and send that collected tax to the state.

They can argue that it’s unconstitutional, but they can’t argue that it’s wrong. The lack of such tax gives them a competitive advantage against home-grown businesses on the total price of goods sold. So it hurts California business that they don’t have the same obligations. I know there are lots of people who think corporations shouldn’t have to participate in the communities that they earn their billions from, but I disagree.

I buy a couple hundred bucks in goods from Amazon per year. But July 15th I was planning on setting up an Amazon EC2 and S3 server and experiment with Cloudfront. That’s a minimum of $1k per year I was going to spend with Amazon. But I’m not going to do that, now. I’ve decided to boycott them. Maybe no one else will join me, but I don’t really care. Just my little drop removed from their billion-dollar bucket in defense of California, California affiliates, and California online competitors.

I’m using the hashtag #AmazonBoycott. Join me if you like.

Nearing Completion on my First Magento site…

May 14th, 2011

Over the years I’ve done a few e-commerce things with commercial systems like Miva Merchant and with PayPal carts and the PayPal API… to name a few.

I was asked by a client how best to do a 1200+ SKU e-commerce site, and I suggested Magento… then they said ‘OK, let’s do it’. A couple months later we’re almost ready to go live… with the first 350 or so products.

I’m reminded of a trip to Aruba, when my wife and I, and our friends, said we wanted to rent a ‘Jeep’ (we got a Suzuki Samurai) and drive to the Natural Pools on the far side of the island. The windward side. It’s like Mars over there. They said, “drive down this road then that road then go past the white house onto the dirt road… and then your adventure begins“.

Magento is like that. The destination is awesome, but the markers are hard to find, the routes are multiple, various and nefarious, not much is obvious… but in the end, you get a site that has everything you need to compete with the big dogs… product comparisons by attribute, ratings, surveys, multiple store fronts on a single database, direct support for major payment systems, Google Base, Google XML Sitemaps, etc. and an upgrade path for when you start making millions in sales (I dream big).

Underneath is the PHP framework called “Zend Framework” which is extensible and comprehensible and logically defensible (if you know this stuff) but not for the faint of heart.

But here’s the thing to think about: Are you ready to merchandise your products?

There are a ton of useless e-commerce sites out there that don’t provide useful information, have blurry pictures (more on this later) and don’t really support the buyer’s decision. The reason is that it takes time and effort and expertise to make what is essentially a mini-site all about each product line, manufacturer and category. Companies that open brick-and-mortar store fronts spend hundreds of thousands on signage, window displays, staff training, and store fixtures… then set a budget on their e-commerce site of a few thousand bucks, and virtually no staff-time… If it’s worth doing a window display for your products so passers-by walk in the front door, why is it not appropriate to present products on the web with the same care?

For a small company, there’s another side to the story: The minimal e-commerce site you know you can afford may not pay off, so you don’t invest much. This is understandable, but if you don’t put enough effort in, it’s almost guaranteed not to work. You might try a small number of products where there’s not much e-commerce competition, and put more energy into presenting each product. But do put in the energy to make each product look the best you can and the content about the product as useful as you can, rather than shovel bad images and product id codes without descriptive text onto a cheap or free cart and then call it done. It ain’t likely to work.

For this site, we’re not doing it all at once… we’ll go live with the most important products. We’ll have product descriptions in. We’ll have the best images we can find (legally). But it won’t go live in a perfect state… it will evolve into a (near) perfect state over time. This is the same as a WordPress site… it’s designed to grow and improve over time… and that’s actually a good thing. You want your site in a state of change with new discoveries appearing each week. You want people to shop. To browse, explore, learn, try things on (virtually)… yes: Shop. It’s the national pastime. Play it!

A note about images: Most people now have broadband. Manufacturers that still don’t supply adequate images on their websites for fear of download speed issues (or some other excuse) need to wake up and smell the coffee. Their online, catalog and brick-and-mortar retailers need good photography and those that don’t provide that service are blowing it, big time. Every product should be shot from every angle and web retailers should be given access to the these in sizes sufficient for a print catalog! The bandwidth is there. The browsers aren’t going to squawk. The cost is truly worthwhile. Good images are made with good Photoshop skills. Don’t shoot your products with your cell phone in a dingy yellow light, crop it to 128 pixels square and then JPEG it to death to make it even tinier. Seriously: Half the e-commerce I see is exactly that, and every e-commerce site selling that widget got their photos (mostly exactly the same photo) from the Manufacturer’s website.

I’m always shocked (shocked, I say!) to see a medium to large company that still has a ’90s-era website… Maybe it’s just a lack of understanding about what sells, and why. Maybe it’s an unwillingness to realize that — even though people aren’t going to buy directly on your site — they will buy based on how well you promote your products on other sites, which is largely about imagery, and those images need to come from you, the manufacturer.

I just had to get that out of my system… thanks for listening.

Twitter Updates for 2011-05-06

May 6th, 2011
  • “@TheCuriousMind: Latest News: Coffee, vigorous exercise and nose-blowing can trigger a stroke… Wow! That was me yesterday :-) #