Cincinnati Map

DIY Giant Wall Map

Lately I have two things in abundance: time and empty walls.

The first is because Tara’s in DC for the summer. I’ve gone to visit on some weekends here and there, but for the most part, it’s just me and Oliver here in Harrisonburg. The empty wall space exists because our two roommates have since moved out of our apartment, which means one of their old rooms is now my office / man cave.

The first piece of furniture to go in was the desk:

After that, I also bought a bookshelf, a lamp, and a few other things that almost any room needs. The one thing that I am traditionally not so good at doing is decorating the walls. I set out to remedy that by following this guide to making a giant wall map on the cheap.

Getting all the materials was easy enough, and the guide does a pretty good job of showing you what to do. However, there’s a couple ways it could be improved.

First, it doesn’t mention that most hardware stores will cut the pickets for you. :) This worked out great for me, since we don’t have a saw, and even if we did, frankly I’m not too confident in my woodworking abilities. I think they maybe charge you $2 or something, but it’s totally worth it.

Second, watch how long the screws are! If you use 5/8″ screws like I did, sometimes the tip of the screw will end up poking out the other side of the picket. :( Use 1/2″ screws at the most.

Third, even after you have all the frame pieces attached using the L straps, the two shorter sides of the frame can still rotate laterally. The solution is to take four longer nails and hammer them at an angle, down through the corners of the top and bottom pickets and into the ends of the side pickets, like so:

Nails

This will stabilize the shorter pickets on the sides and prevent them from rotating. Just be careful as you’re hammering so that the nails don’t pop out of the front or back of the frame!

Lastly, the guide recommends that you stain the wood, but I ended up not doing this because the cedar smells so good on its own! No sense ruining that with some noxious chemicals. :)

More photos of my giant wall map are here.

Narwhal

Reddit Post Embedder

After trying out JavaScript over the past few months, lately I’ve been eager to do something a little less trivial and more in line with my WordPress-related job. With that in mind, a month or so back I began going through some basic PHP tutorials with the goal of eventually making a WordPress plugin.

Allow me to present the result: Reddit Post Embedder!

RPE is pretty simple; all it does is create a shortcode in which you can place a link to any reddit.com post. Using that link, it queries the reddit API for information and inserts an “embed” panel with some information about the (reddit) post into the (WordPress) post or page you’re using it on.

For example, a shortcode like this:

[reddit_embed]http://redd.it/25ig4h[/reddit_embed]

Would produce an embed panel that looks like this:

Reddit Post Embedder Example

Despite having worked on it sporadically for a while, there are still quite a few ways the plugin could be improved, so feel free to chip in if PHP is your thing. :)

Chicago at Night

UserConf Chicago 2014

This weekend in Chicago I attended my first UserConf, a one-day conference for web companies about how to keep their customers happy by providing awesome support. I hadn’t been to a UserConf before this one, so I was eager to see what it would be like.

Overall, it was informative, friendly, and generally a great time. :) Each and every talk was quite good despite the conference being a pretty laid back affair, and not at all what you’d imagine from the word “conference.” It’s more like a bunch of people with roughly the same jobs all got together in someone’s living room for a day to celebrate their successes, learn from their failures, and just share knowledge with each other.

Trying to take notes on each talk, I gave up after about three or four; the pace was just too fast. That’s not a bad thing though! On the contrary, I thought the quickness of things was great: it gave enough time for each speaker to make their points, but the talks were never long enough to get boring. (Though I doubt anyone who spoke would have gotten boring even if each talk were an hour long.)

Richard White, CEO of UserVoice, gave a great overview of current trends in support even though he was in the uneviable position of being the very first speaker. Another highlight was Carolyn Kopprash, Chief Happiness Officer at Buffer, giving one of the best presentations of the day by walking us through an insider’s view of their hacking incident last year, which I still think they handled perfectly.

Support is Tough

The most astounding and fulfilling part though was the sheer amount of knowledge being shared between all the attendees. The feeling of camaraderie that emerged when all these people with somewhat similar jobs collectively grasped some new idea or shared goal was quite the experience.

That said, there were a couple things that could have been done better, one of which was especially disgraceful.

First, the venue was a bit too small. Now, as I said above, I’ve never been to a UserConf before, so I’m not sure if they’re growing rapidly and just didn’t expect this big of a crowd or what, but cramming everyone into The Second City theater turned out to be a little too cozy at times. Table space for taking notes and so forth was severely lacking, and climbing over other people to get to your seat was the rule of the day.

The thing I was most disappointed with, however, was actually the behavior of one of the hosts. After everyone had eaten lunch and returned for the afternoon sessions, it became obvious she’d been drinking a bit already. Toward the end of the day, she made a few out-of-place remarks about the venue, but all of that was surpassed after the final speaker had finished.

Picard Facepalm

Up on stage with her microphone, she announced to everyone present that the venue had been terrible to work with, their staff had been awful, and that she thought they could learn a thing or two from the conference about customer support. I don’t have an exact transcript or a video of what she said, but it was rude enough that most people in the room looked around at each other as if to say “Did she seriously just say that?”

I realize that I’m probably coming off as a bit of a prude by saying this, but that incident left a pretty bad taste in my mouth after such a great day of talks. It’s one thing to be annoyed with the venue staff; I don’t know what (if anything) happened there, and maybe those feelings were well-deserved. But it’s another thing to be up on stage, before the conference is even over, openly mocking the very venue that made the conference possible.

I was embarrassed to be in the audience to see it happen, and others in my group were as well.

So yeah, besides that incident right there at the end, I actually really liked UserConf. I learned a lot, met a lot of new people, and had a ton of fun. :) I’m not sure I’ll be able to make it to the next one, but I’ll definitely be looking for what comes out of it.

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