Apr 22

I like to support artists as much as the next guy but the fact is when you’re in a startup what little money you earn goes towards essentials, not luxuries. But having bare walls is uninspiring and a few small comforts go a long way. So I came up with a fairly inexpensive method for solving this problem and figured a I might as well document it. My goal was to get a giant 6’x4′ color print of a beach scene on my bedroom wall for as cheaply as possible.  This is my $35, two-hour solution that yields a satisfactory (albeit somewhat ghetto) alternative to buying an enormous single-piece print for hundreds of dollars.

Find the art

So first you’ll need to find a digital photo to use that’s hi-res enough where it won’t look completely pixelated once you blow it up to scale. I used the Flickr search and scanned through hundreds of beach scenes before I found a couple I really liked. Sorting by “Most interesting” made the search quicker (btw, you have to click the “all sizes” link on each photo to find one that has a resolution of 2000 pixels or more). Once you have a pool of candidates then you have the difficult task of boiling it down to the right one.  I decided if this is going to be a photo I’ll be living with every day, it was worth “living with it” as wallpaper on my laptop first to see how I would like it over time. So I installed an app on my Mac called “Desklickr.”  This is  a neat little donationware app that lets you automatically swap your wallpaper periodically and feed it with your Flickr photos that you’ve favored. 

Prep the art

Once you decide on the one you want the next step is to cut it up.  Photoshop is the ideal tool. You’ll probably be printing panels of the scene on 8.5 x 11″ paper so first thing is to size the image appropriately.  Use the Image > Image Size option to scale it, uncheck Resample Image and set the width to the target width of the desired final print (in my case 6″ or 72 in). It will tell you your resolution (your res will be pre-ordained as it’s not resampling the image):resizeNext you need to grid out the scene and slice it up.  Whatever your individual panel size is (again mine was 8.5″x11″) make a selection box that is exactly that size and put it in the upper-left corner.  Make sure that under the View menu both Rulers and Snap are checked. Now all you do is drag the guides from the rulers across to the boundary of your select box. This is a little tedious but as long as you have the snap settings enabled it’s not bad – drag a ruler, then drag the box, drag a new ruler, etc.  Do this until you’ve gridded out the entire scene like so: 

griddedNow you’ll have some scrap on the right and lower edges. Crop the picture until it has only full panes (in my case a 6×6 grid). If you want to make any color adjustments to the image, now is the time.  You can get crafty and use the paint effects if you’re looking to simulate a watercolor or pastel piece of art.  Once you have it looking the way you like, it’s time to slice it up.  My antiquated version of Photoshop has a slicing tool that unfortunately assumes you only ever want to output .gif files for use on a web site.  Gif’s mean unacceptable compression for our situation though so we’ll need to bring the image into Imageready and use the slicing feature there. Once in Imageready simply do Slices > Create Slices from Guides to get this:


Do File > Save Optimized As and choose “Images Only” (as HTML has no place in the real world). That will output a bunch of .jpg’s in a directory. That’s all we need now in order to print it up.

Print it

I printed mine at Kinko’s. If you have the patience you can use their online print tool to send the job but there’s no convenient way to add a bunch of images in one step. I found the bandwidth of burning a disc and delivering it via car to be faster than their online tool for this job. I printed on standard paper and instructed them to cut the white strips off the sides so that there was no bleed.  The entire order of 36 color prints cost under $30. 

Hang it


The last step is to hang this sucker. This is the most time-consuming part of the project and to do it right requires that you lay down a grid on the wall to get it spaced correctly.  If only it was as simple as dragging guides in Photoshop…

For this step you’ll need thumbtacks (ideally 4 for each pane plus some extras for doing the grid) and thread.  Figure out exactly where you want the print to live and make sure it’s right because once it’s up, it ain’t movin’.

The best thing at this point is to tack up one or two of the panes and figure out the spacing you want between them. I found about a 2″ gap between them was right. Stub out a few and then mark the upper-right corner of each with a tack. Snake the thread back and forth making the evenly-spaced horizontal and vertical rows flush with the upper-left edge of each pane. You should get something roughly like this: 

halfwayNow it’s just an exercise in pain tolerance as you plug ‘n chug through tacking in the rest of the panes.  WARNING: now is no time for pride, get a thimble (or a bottle cap if that endangers your ego- some kind of thumb protection).  Tacking 150 pins into a wall I’m pretty sure is a twisted form of torture reserved for special criminals –  your thumbs will hate you for it (mine do days later).  After a solid hour of tacking you’ll wind up with an end result something like: 


The one thing I might recommend in retrospect is doing a proof with the entire image shrunk down to a single page in order to test how the colors will translate. This image turned out a bit warmer than it appeared onscreen. Fortunately it’s a sunset so that only enhanced the glow of it but the only true way to know how colors will print is to print out a small scale version first. 

There it is though: a starving entrepreneur’s pre-IPO substitute to expensive wall art. I’ll update this post with the post-IPO version someday ;-) Hopefully this helps a few other startup ramen eaters to fix their empty wall problem and get a much-needed relaxing beach scene on their wall to enjoy.

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Feb 20

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a “dude where’s my car?” moment. I chalk it up to a perfect storm of missing neurons – having zero sense of navigation coupled with a general absent mindedness for things my brain considers to be mundane details. Fortunately though technology is improving fast enough to cover for my mental deficiencies.

The latest firmware upgrade to the iPhone brought some neat features, one in particular I’ve found to be extremely valuable: the GPS-like ability to locate your current position on a map via cell tower triangulation. This was the killer app in my opinion for jailbreaking an iPhone before this upgrade to get the old Navizon app. I’m happy that Apple chose to include this feature in the core functionality of the iPhone so now I don’t have to futz with the jailbreaking headaches in order to use it.

The most obvious use of the new cell triangulation feature is to be able to pick a destination and say “get me there from here.” But there’s another less-obvious use case I’ve discovered that when coupled with a technique that my buddy Josh Knowles invented, becomes super useful when you’re on the road.

The problem: when you’re doing back-to-back trips to big cities and driving cookie-cutter yugo rental cars, things start to blur together. In the rush between meetings, the parking garages start to look the same and you forget what your current rental car looks like (let alone where you parked it). *An aside- the psychological explanation for this phenomenon is interference theory which basically says when things are similar enough yet slightly different, it completely confounds your short-term memory.

This very situation happened to me a month ago when I was at MacWorld. I was in SF driving from the hotel pursuing a navigationally-adept MacWorld attendee in my crappy rental car trying to keep up and entirely oblivious to where we were going. I ended up parking in a garage somewhere near the Moscone Center on an unknown floor and following this guy to the show. I never mentally snapshotted where I had parked though and all I remembered about the car I was driving was that it was blue and cramped with manual windows and a cheesy stereo.

The outcome of this frenzied cannonball run to MacWorld was that after the event I realized I was 3 blks away in some direction from a non-descript parking garage that had about 6-7 floors and a tiny blue car parked somewhere inside abutting one of the pylons. I was able to track down the right garage and the right floor and ultimately the car but not after first going through that desperation “crap i’ve lost my wallet” period and being thoroughly frustrated hunting for 45min.

The solution: When you park your P.O.S. car, you can hit the “current location” button on your iPhone and then the “more options” button to drop a pin to mark your position. Depending on how dense the cell coverage is, the location feature is very accurate (within 100 feet). Next snap a photo with the iPhone’s camera so you have a mug shot of your vehicle with some landmark or unique feature in the background. You now have all the key info necessary to find your car without using any of your short-term memory.

Now I realize this will seem like major nerd overkill to the ordinary person – and I don’t disagree. But for those of us who are missing those key neurons that enable navigation and remembering a series of similar-but-different details, this is a quick lifehack that can save some frustration.

But more importantly, I see this as part of that “mind like water” goal of freeing up mental RAM from storing trivial details and offloading them into trusted repositories so we’re able to do our thing and not sweat the small stuff.

Jan 03

F$%# you Real Netwojerks. You killed a gem of a company this week when you forced Yottamusic to close its doors. This was a company that offered a free service that stood only to help you guys sell more accounts by making up for the inadequacies of your crappy web-based player. They made your service tolerable for people on Macs and also accessible for anyone working on multiple computers. The only flaw in their player was that which was introduced from the buggy Real player engine component that would occasionally crash the browser- and they probably would have figured out how to fix that too if you had just acquired those guys. How about instead of killing off the companies that are solving the inadequacies of your products, you focus your shareholder’s money on making your own stuff work?

I’ve taken the liberty of rewriting your mission statement to bring it a bit more in line with the behavior you actually exhibit. One can only guess how many scarcity-minded middle-managers, SCO-trained lawyers and committees were behind this mistake. The smart move here that would have added value to your service and gained favor with your Mac user base would have been to acquire Yotta, put Luke in charge of your product dev team and replace all the crappy aspects of your service with the good stuff they created. You offer an API so presumably you’re interested in encouraging developers to extend your service and make it more useful? Way to send the exact opposite message to any potential developers who were thinking about doing so… instead you killed the guys that were using an API (albeit private) to create value. Rockin’ start to ’08…

I will be canceling my Rhapsody service and shorting your stock first thing in the morning. I would do both now but the market is closed and apparently you offer no way to cancel service via your web site. Nice barrier to exit there – introduce enough friction to leaving by forcing your users to call your CSR’s and wade through an automated phone system to cancel (can’t wait to run that human hamster maze tomorrow – F$%# you again Real Networks). Apparently I’m not the only one who feels strongly about how poorly you guys handled this situation.

I can’t in good conscience continue to give money to a company that behaves this stupidly. Actually stupididity isn’t the word to describe this because that implies benign uninformed-ness and this is just plain evil. I have been hoping that Real and Apple would work out a deal to extend Rhapsody integration to Apple TV and the iPod- now Rhapsody has instead taken a colossal step backwards making it almost entirely unusable on the Mac. Idiocy. For anyone who plans to remain a Rhapsody user, here’s an option to make their service usable again by averting the repeated disruption of applications crashes: place-shift your service so you can listen to your Rhapsody music on an iPod or your Apple TV or your iTunes. Here’s how:

  1. Buy something like the Replay Music client that allows you to record streaming music.
  2. Rip your Rhapsody songs to your hard drive (complete with ID3 tags).
  3. Bring them into iTunes and tag with a playlist called “Rhapsody.”
  4. Evaluate the music in your car, at the gym, on your Apple TV, wherever and then decide what’s worth buying. Delete it when your done evaluating and purchase using iTunes or Amazon (not Rhapsody).

This tactic of course opens up the potential for abuse and requires that you do the right thing and purchase the music you plan to keep and delete the stuff you’re don’t when you’re through vetting it. I don’t advocate stealing music. If you want to steal music it’s probably easier through Bit Torrent and Pirate Bay if that’s really your thing.

Your welcome, Real, for educating your subscribers on how to make your service truly usable again and compensating for your inability to deliver a technology that doesn’t crash every 5 min. Now resume your nastiness and put some of that over-zealous legal staff back to work doing something detrimental to your business so I can make some money off your stock. Yahoo music here I come… it’s half the monthly price of Rhapsody and they have a risk-free 14 day trial apparently. Some useful reviews from people that compared the two services here, here and here if you’re thinking of switching.

Sep 02

For a quick way to tell if there’s charge left in a 9 volt battery, briefly touch the contacts together with your tongue. If there’s juice in the battery you’ll get a tiny shock (and a nasty metallic taste). It’s not enough voltage to hurt you but it’s definitely not pleasant and you wouldn’t want to test a bunch of batteries this way.

I can’t remember exactly who showed me this technique but I’ve used it for years in checking gadgets like smoke detectors and guitar tuners. Sometimes the battery truly is dead but other times it’s just a matter of it having been jarred out of place and needing to reposition it so the contacts line up properly.

May 01

carAlarm1.jpgIf you’re like me you have a janitor’s key chain with twenty things on it. At least once a week I set off the panic alarm on my truck by accident because one of the gadgets on my key chain presses the button. In fact the only time I ever intentionally use the panic button is when I’m trying to locate my truck in a parking garage. But I’ve realized I can get the same honk and light flash by clicking the arm button twice and since I rarely panic anymore I now have zero use for this button. Here is the trick I came up with this evening to eliminate the annoyance of accidentally triggering the alarm:

  • Step 1 – Take the backing off your alarm remote
  • carAlarm2.jpg

  • Step 2 – Remove the circuit board from the rubber button piece
  • carAlarm3.jpg

  • Step 3 – Rip off a tiny piece of paper and stick it between the button and the contacts
  • On these cheap remotes the button is not pressure-sensitive, it’s activated when the metal on the rubber piece closes the circuit. By putting something in between the contacts you prevent the circuit from closing and you can take the paper out if you ever decide that you need the panic button to work again. A non-destructive, 30sec fix to a weekly annoyance. It’s the simple things right?

    Apr 13

    This is economics 101 but here’s an obvious truth:

    When you’re the buyer in a transaction, you win when there’s multiple sellers and that are highly-motivated while you remain unattached to the transaction’s outcome. The converse is true when you’re the seller.

    If there’s something you’re looking to buy but the immediacy of the purchase is not important, you can establish the above conditions through using RSS and persistent searches and simply being patient. Craigslist and eBay both have the ability to create a search for an item and persist it over time by monitoring an RSS feed.

    For instance if I search for “guitar” in Phoenix on Craigslist it currently returns 845 results. I can whittle those down by specifying that I’m looking for a Gibson that’s priced under $300. That search returns a more manageable set of ten results. But what if none of those is right? There’s a link to a unique RSS feed for this search at the lower-right corner of the results page. By subscribing to this feed, it’s like having a college intern sit at a computer 24/7 running this search and notifying me when a new result is found. I have a separate category in my Bloglines called “Alerts” that’s specifically for the purpose of collecting notifications on persistent searches like this one.

    The eBay equivalent of is to use their “Favorite Search” feature and have the results delivered via email. The only problem is that email is not the ideal way to consume these notifications- if you have many from multiple sources, you have to go into each system and manage them there rather than just dropping a feed.


    The more useful approach that is not publicized on eBay is a free service called RSSAuction.com. It lets you setup the same search but delivers nearly real-time results (rather than daily results) available via RSS and you don’t have to deal with subscribing and unsubscribing to emails.

    The reverse of the buying scenario above is the notion that as a seller, you’re best off selling an item when you don’t actually need to. You could take the time to list a bunch of items that you’d be willing to sell on all the various listing services but the reality is that’s a lot of work if you’re not actively trying to sell something. I came up with a concept I called that I think would become very popular with the “yardsale junkie” type and could unlock a whole new market of things that people aren’t actively trying to sell but are willing to part with for the right price. If you want to be a part of developing that project, contact me through the Cambrian House project link.

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