Diving Into HTML

The Computer Youth

I was fortunate enough to grow up on computers.

My Dad worked for some branch of Apple at some point, and was one of the original computer nerds, into programming and all that jazz. He would always be the ‘computer guy’ for all our friends whenever they had issues that needed fixing. He’d always grumble and rage about it, but, then again, that’s par for the course. He’d still do it and always help people out with whatever tech problems presented themselves.

He was an Apple guy to the point of making his license plate “MAC ONLY.”

I was playing the original Warcrafts, Command & Conquer, Power Pete, MDK on a mac computer before the iMac back before my memory really grew consistent.

By the time we had our mandatory typing class in 3rd grade I was busy showing off how I could already type without looking. I was so cool. Look at me showing off my privilege.

A fair number of my friends growing up, and more as I got older, were from a young age equally well versed in the computer world.

It’s such a strange thing to take for granted, considering it’s likely the most valuable skill one can have in the modern world.


Reality

The reality of our time is that if you have computer skills, you will have a job, and usually a well paying one.

For a long time, (being rebellious and all) this is what put me off of the whole idea of learning programming etc.

I wanted to go my own way, and go on the paths less traveled. And I’ve spent the better part of my life doing so. I’ve have learned the value of doing so, and intend to continue on my own path – making decisions, as much as possible, from a rational basis while never betraying the heart. This is how I like to think of it. I like to think we all know what a betrayal of the heart is. It’s the opposite, I suppose, of following your gut. When you know something is right, you have to do this thing, and you choose not to.

At any rate – I dove away from computers in every way I could. I transferred from the well-respected successful polytechnic university I originally enrolled at, and ended up at a more well-rounded, less academic city school. I’ve pursued music, community service, languages, the whole Japan thing, education, cycling, small business, coffee, photography, interviews, and freelance videography. Now I’m here. And it’s been a drawn out period of instability and uncertainty, and I’ve come to really face the skills I have and the ones I want to have to be able to really be an asset in society.

Working with stak has given me a chance to dive into many newer fields and see where I really am, and am not, useful. And it’s one of the most gratifying things perhaps – to feel useful.

Asking for something else to work on for the company, I was prompted with learning the html for our new website. So I’m going to dive in – there are so many resources for learning programming. It’s just another language after all.

How hard could it be? 


Finding a Structure

This is paramount to learning anything. Whatever the system is, if it works for you, it’s good. There is no perfect system for learning something, and some of the worst (what does that mean?) structures can be the best for some people. If using it helps you make progress, it’s correct. If it doesn’t, try something else. Find structures and stick with them no matter what.

For learning Japanese, I had several structures that I would stick to religiously. One, namely when I was learning Kanji, was Wanikani. Though it’s a paid service, it gave you words to ingrain into your memory at spaced intervals so it would remind you right before you forget each meaning. These kind of things are really important if you find one you are able to buy into.

One thing I did with Japanese was begin a project. That was, along with you know, being able to live basically as a Japanese person, to read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone from the beginning to end. When I was started it would be grueling; looking up practically every single kanji on the page, and if I worked really hard, finishing a page in a day. By the time I got halfway through, I was reading without looking up more than a word a page. The closer you get to the start of my battered copy of that book, the more covered in ink each page gets. Whereas the second half has practically no markings at all.

So what’s it going to be for HTML? Well, I’m lucky because I have the project. Turning our website design into usable HTML code. That’ll be my Harry Potter. As for my Wani Kani, my steady ‘vocabulary’ study…

I could watch videos telling me how to learn like this or this. Both great content but, there is a common trap of talking about learning instead of just learning. Supplements are only ever supplements. The true path of learning is not so clean-cut and predeterminable. It’s more about the time spent with that which you don’t yet understand.


Do Lots Of Work

This is one of my favorite quotes ever. Due to its lack of elegance and feeling of honest, and just the fact that it’s advice I don’t often hear:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

So. Let’s dive in.

I used this, and I made this:

Which looks like this:

All in all, html is definitely a more satisfying way to start learning about programming than python or anything else I’ve tried before.

Onwards and upwards. Until next time.

Finding The Newest Tech

Scour The Web

I thought I’d have done this earlier,

having gotten into the tech and modern device field…

But where are the best places on the internet to go, if you want to know more about IoT devices?

What are the resources out there that aren’t just click bait, but guidance stones pointing you towards the most resourceful corners of the internet?

Having been involved in esports, cycling, photography and videography, language education and some other fields, I’ve spent the time perusing the internet etc. and finding all the nooks and crannies that I still haunt to this day. But when I think about tech, and especially the IoT world, my mind comes up with very little.

This entry, I’ll spend some serious time checking out the best places to go to get not just info, but quality info. So you can get pointed in the right direction. The natural flow of experience from those who walked before – it’s a lot faster than wandering around on your own sometimes.


The Places You’ll Go

A google search reveals everything you need.

The trouble is, as the years have gone by, advertising has taken over. Though as always the internet has managed to remain, to a degree, the land of the free, glance value ends up looking eerily similar to what happened in the TV broadcasting world. In reality, it is on so many levels, different. The internet maintains a high level of transparency regarding what is and isn’t advertising. It also gives users so many options within their grasp to get around advertising, and at the least, be aware of it.

I say this because a google search of something these days first reveals those links that have bought their position on the list, that have purchased their visibility. The task nowadays seems to be wading through these fields to find the flowers hidden among the weeds – the sites that have earned, not bought, their position. Of course it is not all black and white – I have found a lot of fantastic things through advertising on the internet, and also found a lot of non-advertising content that provides very little to the reader, but maintains popularity – clickbait and aggregates.

So let’s try a search: ‘iot tech device blog site’ 

First off, we get an ad for SAS. Interesting company, but giving us very little info related to what we searched, a company trying to get us to buy their products.

Next: Feedspot. A site that acts as a google for blogs only. A list of IoT blogs within a list of IoT blogs. Okay.

After that: iot-now.com. Interesting. Doesn’t immediately appear to be trying to sell me anything, and seems to be focused on exactly what I searched for.

Most important: they have different categories at the top all meant to point you in the right direction. This seems like exactly what we’re looking for. IoT News, Blogs, Events, Resources, Magazine, IoT Whitebook. Let’s walk through each one. On our third result! Thanks googs.


IoT Now

IoT News: Surprisingly, exactly what it should be. Simple to the point of looking cheap? News articles related to IoT. Changes in CEOs, shifts in the global economy, updates on OEM manufacturing, current events. Good stuff.

Blogs: More indepth looks at various topics. Our blog is better.

Events: This is cool. Even with the current covid situation they have events listed in upcoming order. This is cool even without an inkling of an expectation to go to one, just to see all the stuff out there. It’s not often you hear about conventions and events from the tech field, outside of the big ones.

Resources: This is just so good. Literally any kind of resource you could ask for all put together for you to easily look at. There’s no need for me to list all the types of resources they compiled. It’s great.

My only qualm is that the format itself doesn’t really look appealing to me – it looks kind of old fashioned, or cheap. But the fact that it’s all cohesive and comprehensive across all their pages is just great.

They also run a Magazine and this interesting thing called the IoT Whitebook. This seems to be a more business end focused version of the website. All the in-depth details you’d be interested in if you had a stake in the business. Interesting articles linked like this one on 0g.

I’m gonna spend some time exploring this site and getting to know the IoT world even more.


Knowledge is Power

What is power in the modern world?

Perhaps the ability to make informed decisions.

More people than ever (though not nearly enough) are in positions where they don’t really have to think about survival anymore. When that’s off the table, societal structures quickly take priority.

The more info you have over what’s right, what’s in, what’s good in this world across the different spheres (social, economic, entertainment, culture) the further you can go.

A little tangent, but this is pretty close to the argument for the whole Black Lives Matter movement. It’s not that black people cannot move ahead in society. It’s just so much harder because of the position they often start off in. Someone who is wealthy, comfortable, and knows stability in their lives has more time, which they can use as they see fit, not to mention influences and opportunities from their environment that push them forward.

So. As I heard recently in an interview with Hugh Jackman “It is never the wrong choice to educate yourself.” Go learn more.

Living in an IoT World

Intro

When I got into stak, I made the mistake of thinking it was one of the only gadgets of its type. I posted originally about how well, I knew Google Home and Amazon Alexa, but that was just about all I could name within the Smart Home genre.

Now I know better.

Now I know that I know nothing.

I dove into research about the Smart Light Switch market this week. It was a deep dive. The world is large, and full of devices and inventions and copycats and failures.

So I want to take some more time to illustrate to you why one might be overwhelmed when they’re choosing an IoT device, and thus why, these companies have a duty to aim for quality and not just a simple cash grab.

We believe it is our duty personally at stak to tackle the issue of overflowing devices and, at least for our part, move our world toward the solution IoT was supposed to have been.


 

This

is just the tip of the iceberg.

Of Smart Light Switches alone.

Smart Switches on the whole allow you to set routine timers and give you overall centralized control over the lighting in your house, usually through an app, usually connected by Wi-Fi.

There are also:


Smart Outlets

Smart plugs on the whole give you control over whatever is plugged into the outlet, again, usually from an App.


Smart Lights (stak)

Smart Lights give you, again, centralized control over one light in particular (usually color and dimming control as well, regardless of the plugs or switches or wires involved.

Note: If you have one of these smart devices, usually you won’t need the others. So if you have a smart light chances are you won’t need a smart plug or a smart switch. Chances are.


Smart Thermostats

My brother actually just moved into a new house with his girlfriend and they have the black ecobee thermostat in there. These devices obviously make controlling the temperature… easier? It’s not like it was hard before to press temperature up and down. On a serious note, it lets you measure a lot more things. Humidity, allergens, air quality, UV, etc. In addition, a lot of these devices have AI Learning built in so they can learn when the thermostat fails to accurately provide the heating or cooling requested and can then compensate for it, giving a more stable and comfortable (and efficient) experience.


Smart Doorbells

Smart Doorknobs

Smart Locks

Smart Speakers

Smart Coffee Machines

Smart Vaccuums

Smart Fridges

Smart Security Cameras

Smart Blinds

And so on.


We’re getting to a smart device for everything.
Things to be considered. These are not smart devices that save us time and energy, these are connected devices that let us use them through our phone (which often takes time and energy).

Automation. Now that’s something that is truly smart. AI. These are the areas where the namesake is deserved, and most importantly, the smart version is actually more useful than the regular one.

Let’s be honest. In a market this saturated (though I feel flooded is a more accurate term, considering there is still so much room to grow and develop, and there are so many subpar products), why do we, why does anyone feel like they have the right to ask for people’s time and money? Because we’re headed down the smart path. Of not just providing cute, stylish, ‘convenience,’ but of pushing towards automation, searching for the areas to which only IoT tech can bring us.


It’s a big investment of time, money, and effort to dive into building a smart home, which is why so far on an individual level, it’s pretty reserved for the wealthy.

However, just like with iPhones, as this becomes the standard across the world, it becomes accessible by people of all socioeconomic levels. This opens up new worlds – where people have access to something they did not before. We believe we’re nearing this turning point in the home world, having only reached it so far on the IT and personal technology level. 

When I was in my 2nd year of university, I managed to go on a 10 day volunteer service trip to Guatemala to help build stoves in the rural areas of the country. This seemed like an excuse to go ‘do something.’ However, I learned something I will never forget. The number 1 factor in pushing forward a country’s cultural and political developments is women gaining power. The number 1 factor in women gaining power is women gaining time. Putting a stove in a house that did not have one not only saved lives, but saved the busy mother’s time.

This is smart action.

This leads to a smarter world.

I believe the push for IoT, while being flooded with low-effort money grab products, is one of these pushes, and it’s just a matter of time.

 

What Makes A Website 2

As we’ve been working on our new website, it’s been a learning process in so many different areas.

Programming, marketing, design, photography, videography, writing, advertising, coordinating, being in charge of a team/project.. the list goes on.

Last time, I talked a lot about trends, what’s popular, what’s liked, and why it’s important to know, and why it’s not necessarily a bad thing to follow them.

This time, I’d like to talk about how different sites convey the process of —Buying Stuff—, that very important modern endeavor. As all other things, it is best not robbed of an artistic touch. In fact it’s the part of the website that conveys the most emotional connection between the consumer and designer, and thus, requires a delicate touch. So, let’s look at some examples, draw some conclusions on what’s happening, and form some opinions on what’s best.


Let’s take a big one first. Apple.

As is the standard, you’re hit with the latest products and a quick Learn More or Buy set of two options. As you scroll down there is an image to describe the product and a few words for what it is, and the page you’ll be brought to if you click it. This works in a way that it wouldn’t work for us because well, this is Apple.

  1. They have lots of different products
  2. They are already known
  3. The products they make are already understood
  4. A greater proportion of the visitors on their site are there to buy something

Onto the buy page. Let’s get an iPhone SE, since it’s the first thing advertised to us.

When you load in, you see the picture of the different colors on the left, and all the options and shop menus come sliding upwards on the right. We’re getting really nitty-gritty, but this little detail does a lot. It makes you feel like this is a modern website, one that is done professionally. Also, it brings the viewer on a short journey – the picture is the first thing they see, and the quick sliding up of the rest is the next thing the eye goes to. A lot more pleasant than having to decide for yourself where to look first, even though this seems like such a small, insignificant thing.

There is reliability in the simple, white minimalist style. In the simplicity of the options presented to you: Choose your finish (3 options). Choose your capacity (3 options). Choose your carrier (4 options, and a 5th for Sim-Free). It answers questions you’re likely to have “Will it be unlocked?” Then there is a simple Q&A for turning in the phone you already have. And then a payment option. Then the choice for applecare shows up. Offers for delivery or pick-up.

When you choose one option, it slides you down to the next one so you don’t have to take it all in at once.
This is actually a lot of different things to run through, but thanks to the simple style and smooth flow of the web design, it actually feels pretty simple. Also it feels unintrusive. Never does it ask you for anything, or ask you to sign up for anything, or give any details at all. This is something I feel is very important.

On the left there are assuring details: Fast, free, no-contact delivery. Free and Easy returns. Have questions? Contact an iPhone specialist.

The finishing screen will vary depending on what you choose, but you’ll likely be brought to a “Added to bag” page with the item you just selected and other things you might want to purchase laid out below.

Reviewing the bag brings up your total at the top, in big letters. Again, this is trustworthy somehow, to me. It’s not trying to hide any numbers or taxes or deals. Recommendations, other products, etc. are all listed below if you’re curious. And at the very bottom, a “Need more help? Chat now.” and a Questions About Buying FAQ expandable window. This is great.    

Anyways. Most important to me are these three things:

  1. A flow that is pleasant, and not overwhelming, to the eye.
  2. A noticeable absence of things being pushed onto the customer.
  3. Clean, minimalist style.

Now let’s try a smaller example. One that might be more uncomfortable to look at (and thus, hidden in a less obvious place of the internet).

I found this site (printypets) on an instagram ad recently and tried it out – got my girlfriend a present.

I felt a lot less comfortable using this for these reasons:

  1. I found it on an instagram ad. All this means is someone paid money to be promoted and show up on people like me’s feeds.
  2. I never got to talk to a human through the entire process, even when I had sent them a special message upon ordering my product.
  3. They wanted me to sign up for stuff.
  4. They pushed extra LIMITED TIME OFFER deals on me throughout the entire process.
  5. I had no way of knowing whether this product I paid for was coming, in what condition, how it would be sent, and more importantly, how the artist would actually create the product (you give them a picture and they turn it into something for you). You have to pay extra for a ‘special consultation,’ which did not really interest me… given two choices, neither of which I liked.

However, what I received in the end was great and I’m thoroughly satisfied. It probably surpassed my expectations. So we can also talk briefly about what they do right (in terms of the website).

 

  1. They use a trusted base, one that customers are familiar with even if they don’t realize it – shopify.
  2. They use photos sent in by customers to advertise reliability, explain their product, and show positive reviews all simultaneously.
  3. They have a nice bar at the top explaining deals and current events (Covid)
  4. All the other standard things are there including what cards are usable, social media links, a social justice cause, and other products you can buy too.
  5. Almost none of the photos are professionally done, and it feels like a bunch of friends got a bunch of instagram photos together to make the website.
  6. There are just too many deals and small offers and begs for more attention and purchases. It makes me feel like this is a quick money grab rather than a long term business. 

Again, in summary;

  1. They practically spam you with discounts and offers (if you post us on your social media 5$ off!!). This makes me feel like they are untrustworthy – a money grab business, rather than something more reliable. This makes me not want to buy their stuff.
  2. They have a niche market and a good product – it would help if they could advertise it in other ways than people’s social media photos, though that requires investment (the lack of such feels, again, unreliable)
  3. They offer chat functions etc. which is great, but then failed to answer to a question upon purchase.

Again, of course they did a ton of things right, namely the product! So, no real complaints, just healthy criticism.

 


Conclusions & Thoughts

Fill your customer’s head with this notion: “BUY BUY BUY, MORE, MORE, NOW!”

Just kidding.

There is a balance to be struck between what you can do and what you should.

While yes, it’s good to have a lot of pictures – if you cannot find a healthy mix of professional photos and social media photos from customers, it might be better to slightly change the format.

On the other hand, if all you have are professional photos, it becomes harder for the customers to relate.

There is a wavering of trust on either side of that extreme – and it goes down to every detail in the website.

When you are a niche market product like printypets, you can know that and leave some things unfinished, and push for the short term gain option. But they also, I believe, have the option to push for a more refined, trustworthy, long-term establishment. And if they don’t, I feel like they are likely to lose to any competition that goes for a cleaner, more professional look.

It’s given me lots of thoughts for what we ought to do – in finding the balance between too little and too much promotion. Between looking professional and relatable. In conveying what our product does while also maintaining minimalism.

Most importantly, dealing with money and policies in as clear and simple a way as possible. Coming from a different country (from any western customer) is already going to be asking for their trust – so maintaining a feel, an image of something close to what they are used to is really vital.

I do feel though that we’re getting there – some balance of the clean, minimalist look of apple with the explanations and utility of a site like august.com. I’m hoping we can stay away from the trendy, pushy offers and discounts of sites like printypets, and also incorporate more aspects of flow and photography like Apple does.


Stability and Stagnation

Intro

A lot of the problem I have with things I read online is that it feels like the author feels a need to show that they know what they’re talking about. Even when they don’t really.

This is totally just a human thing.

But I think it’s really good to remember that it’s not just okay, but rather a good thing sometimes to not know what you’re talking about. It’s also a really good thing to be sincere.

On the other hand – words without substance reach nobody.

There’s a really good podcast I was listening to today about this subject that I highly recommend. Tim Ferris Show, interview with Brené Brown.

There’s a balance. And I imagine you only get there by being sincere and wanting to know more. And that comes through searching for what you don’t know.

About balance – I thought I would talk about this for a bit, considering all of our lifestyles around the world have suddenly had to change, to varying degrees completely readjust to deal with the pandemic.


With Start-ups?

The distinction between stability and stagnation, between risk taking and conservative decision-making, is probably more relevant to start-up companies than anything else, given their short life span.

In the end, it might seem like the start-ups that succeed are those that, through happenstance or favorable conditions, made the right decisions for the right time. But the ability to distinguish what is right, what risks one can and should take, are abilities that can be developed.

This is like the untrained spectator watching poker or high level backgammon and imagining it to be a game of chance; when really, those performing know it to be much more.

I’ve found this aspect of business and the booming start-up company culture to be just… fascinating.


The Ones Who Didn’t Make It

I mentioned this in a blog post a long time ago,

but there’s this great resource out there called Failory.

It talks about different start-ups that have failed, and how and why they met their varied  demises. A quick glance at the website now brings up, at my first click, an interview with some Robert Walker, who was running the now failed dating app for geeks Cuddli. Other pages are not interview style but just type-ups of info on why the company went the way it did.

If nothing else, the site’s very existence might remind you of the importance of learning from failures, not only trying to emulate previous successes (especially success which you had no part in, and thus have no grasp on the processes involved).

As someone who has spent several years of his professional life teaching, and also who has taught himself a second language to fluency (after failing at this with two other languages), I can attest to how the best teacher is failure. In a lot of ways, trying to fail is the best path towards succeeding.


On A Personal Level

We’re all stuck at home. Crazy things are going on in the world, no matter what side you’re on, what country you’re in, things are kind of crazy. And amidst that, we are hit with a pandemic, situations we have never had to deal with before.

As someone who’s been meditating and into buddhist philosophy for almost a decade now, the thought that everyone would somehow have to get used to staying at home and give up their usual pleasures and stimulations.. I kind of laughed and was excited for it.

Now, to be completely honest, I’m rueing it.

Regardless of my personal situation, times like these require the right balance of movement (you know, emotional stuff, momentum, that kind of thing) and acceptance.

So I guess the words I’d have for all you now are the words I have for myself.

Take the time to reflect on what you need as a person. Then consider the environment you have, and think about what you need to do every day to feel like you’re moving forward. And do that every day.

Nothing is forever, and there is always sunshine after the rain clears.

The most beautiful sun shines after a storm.

Showing Stak In Its Best Light 2

Before moving on to the rest of the photography for the new website,

I’ll share some of the (mis)adventures I’ve had the last two weeks.

The hope is that it will make my head more organized and streamlined for the next time I shoot, and also that you all might see some of the required precision and artfulness that even the most standard photography requires.

But then, the joy, as well.

I’m pretty proud of this shot.


So, how did I get here?


One thing I’ve learned throughout all artistic pursuits so far is this:

You don’t need 99% of the equipment that the “professionals” use.

In fact for learning, you’d be better off without it,

since you don’t have the skills to use it well in the first place,

and the best way to develop those skills is from raw practice.

The reality is that most of them would also agree, they don’t need to use the best equipment.

But if they use it they can achieve this one effect, this one detail they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.

The only qualifier for making this judgment is to have done the grind,

to have put in the hours, and to have made so many sub-par products for so many reasons.

One of my favorite quotes: “sucking is the first step to becoming good at something.”

Last time you saw me dive into it.

Here’s what I remember learning off the top of my head:

  • Wide lenses are probably not the thing you want to use.
  • Be perfectionist because you can be. (with street photos etc, there is no time for that).
  • Lighting and shadows are everything and the slightest tweak with the lamp your holding can make all the difference.
  • White balance is something I actually have to really consider.
  • Being consistent (shooting manual) for a multi-photo shoot is really helpful later.
  • Manually editing everything is worth it, don’t just use luts etc. for product shoots.
  • Investing in photoshop was worth it. I don’t want to admit it after 3 years of silently protesting their subscription system and using Luminar instead, but… it’s worth it.
  • Though across all photography, it’s really good to have a checklist. i.e. Dust on the sensor? Dust on the screen? In focus? Stabilized? White balance okay? Check all these things because setting up another product shot for a re-shoot is such a pain (though to be honest editing out mistakes is much easier in this field than in video etc.).
  • The more you understand light, the more you can use it to your advantage without feeling like you have to create it or manipulate it so much.

This went unedited.


Here is my refining it, and trying out some new things like product videos.


 

I figured this time I’d try mixing in natural light from the window with artificial light to get rid of the shadows.

You can see how the light angled this way almost completely erases the shadows from the bottom. However you can also see the problem a lot of beginner photographers run into.

Obviously, there’s shadows on the other side now.

Just by looking at the shadows of the object you can tell what lights are being used and where.

But more crucial is the difference in light tones.

Just look at the difference in the level of whiteness between the two pictures.

I figured I’d utilize that big piece of cardboard I found the other day, and use the white as a shield to hopefully reflect the natural light back in and block the shadows. But because of the tripod it was a bit too far away to have enough effect. So I went in.

Also note the classic penny under the round device to keep it from rolling.

I added in the lamp again the reduce the shadows, but bounced it off of the shield.

Overall the effect wasn’t bad, and it came out okay.

But it didn’t come out anywhere near perfect.

As always, setting reins supreme in product photography.


Stop motion video


In lieue of any explanation,

I’m just going to say this is the kind of thing you’re going to have to do

if you want to do product photography at home.

My idea was to make a stop-motion video, and then gif, of the 3 cans moving towards each other, the devices popping out, and clicking together to form stak. 

This was all well and good, but this was biting off a lot.
I needed 6, six, ろく, 六 coins to put under each of these for each individual shot.

In hindsight with this, I want to really solidify my idea before going ahead with the shot.

Because honestly, it is time consuming, and at stak, we care about time.

One more bonus shot for something I was really proud of.

We wanted to get individual device pictures for the site

so we could use them as transitions between the different sections on the front page.

The base would be at the bottom, ideally facing up, to form the bottom of the device.

The problem there is that I had to find a way to balance the device on its light socket end.

I scoured the house and FINALLY found a frosting cap that was

-nearly- the perfect size to fit between the edge of the stak Base and the table.

It took me actually 45 minutes of concentrated balancing.

Then I got it.

You can actually just barely see the bottom left edge of the cap there,

along with the edge of the penny on the right one that kept it from rolling away.

Upon noticing this (and the slightly darker inner circle of the picture born of my reverse vignette attempt)

I hopped back into photoshop and tried to fix the issues. How’s it look?

And then I see that the ring is still pretty visible. Stupid thing.

Much more natural looking.

All I can say is the results are worth it, and it’s surprisingly satisfying.

Turning these into .png files (so there’s no background) was a whole other adventure.

Anyways. Thanks for following along. See you next week!

Reflections on Three Crazy Months

I’ve been stuck.

I write my blogs ahead of time just in case this happens.

So I don’t have to force one out so I can meet a deadline.

But I’ve been stuck.

So instead of moving forward, take a step back with me.

Sometimes a little backtracking is the fastest way to continue forward.

We’ll do it in three. The magic number.

Before starting work, getting used to work, and where we seem to be headed.


Stranded


Me and my girlfriend had gotten to Melbourne Airport with our luggage, at last.

We were exhausted, but finally ready to go back to Japan.

That expression ‘something’s gotta give.’ It felt like that with this last flight we found.

With the coronavirus situation exploding and us having already been through about 30 different cancellation procedures (our first flight back which had been scheduled to transit through Taiwan who closed their borders last minute and didn’t tell us), having found a miracle flight on the 26th of March just days later seemed like it would be worth the crazy last-minute prices.

As we checked in we were told they couldn’t find our names. However we were absolutely sure we’d booked the 26th. We went to customer service.

We were told our flight had been scheduled for April 26th, and besides, there was no way it could have been for March 26th as the flight back to Japan had already been full for several days and all other flights henceforth were cancelled. And yes, we are now stranded in Australia. Turns out the flight system, probably never having had to deal with a straight month of cancellations, booked us for the next immediate flight which was exactly 1 month later. People check the days, but who would even think to double check the month? That’s crazy.

Our jaws dropped. As we stepped aside to figure out what to do, keep our heads cool, and start making calls, a guy collapsed on the hard floor about 10 meters behind us (also shock from a cancelled flight perhaps?) and panic ensued.

I was supposed to start with stak on April 1st, we’d gotten our VISA and everything ready… after 3 years of hopping around on different VISAs and never finding stability, I was, at last, going back…

Anyways, hope was not all lost.

We collected ourselves, we returned to the Airbnb we still had (originally the plan was to be there till March 30th), and started looking at our options.

Among many other things, through several days of calls and being put on hold, the absolute bottom we reached was when the embassy of Japan told my girlfriend that it was her fault we were stuck as she’s the one who chose to go abroad in the first place, and that it was her responsibility to buy a flight back to Japan as there still were flights available (read: one flight a day for, at that moment, $8000 a seat).

They say: “if anything happens while you’re abroad, contact your embassy, they’ll take care of you.”

Yeah.

Then my grandma passed away, and you know, America was being America with the virus.


Isolated


Then, we found a flight on the 7th that was.. relatively affordable. I figured well, you know, it’s just one week later than was planned.

Then, on a whim, I searched again and found a miracle. Another flight was suddenly available with 2 seats on the 3rd of April, no price change for switching the dates.

We went for it without looking back, fearing the borders closing any moment, and booked a 5AM train ride from Melbourne to Sydney for the next morning so we could get there in time for the flight.

About 5 hours into the 12 hour train ride, we lost service. In one of those blips where the signal finds its way through the stratosphere, we got the message that Japan had closed their borders to non-nationals from Australia.

It was done. I was paying for a new apartment in Kyoto, starting a new job in Hiroshima, not able to get back for either of it, and all of my (I thought more than sufficient) savings were split between a bunch of different companies around the world who promised me they would pay me back in a couple months for my cancelled reservations.

I saw my girlfriend off (she made it back safely), and I took a sad flight back through a few layovers to my hometown near Washington, D.C.

I eventually got home and locked myself in my room as my parents are both at extreme risk if they were to get sick.

There is so much more, so many random details, but honestly, none of it matters.

Just when I thought I couldn’t take any more instability, I couldn’t deal with any more of this visa, country-crossing lifestyle, I got faced with a sudden, ultimate challenge.

I want to also say, honestly, that through all this time, I always felt lucky. I have wonderful people in my life and they are (so far) out of danger, I kept feeling, rather than thinking.

There are few lessons that life has really engraved in me, and one is that truly, from every “bad” (really meaning difficult or unexpected) moment comes countless good ones. It’s only with the hardships, that we can then experience the good times and appreciate them for what they are.

So I got to begin working from home for a company in Japan. When everything was up in the air, everything was hard. But as soon as it was clear I wouldn’t be getting back to Japan anytime soon, honestly everything settled down. Work took off. Everything with stak has been going smoothly. I’m super excited to do this job, and I think we’re a good fit. From starting off not knowing what I was even going to do for the company to now where I have more work and projects than I know what to do with, and I find them all rewarding. it’s looking good.


The Year 2020


This is the year of Chaos. We are feeling it.

No matter what your view is, I think we can all agree, especially in America, this is the year we are facing the chaos that we are on the verge of reaching as a species.

Through our rapidly accelerating technological development and the disparity it necessarily brings. In terms of economics, military, policing, education (sadly lagging behind).. every aspect of life, technology is taking the reins before we realized we’d let go of them.

This is the crazy part where I somehow connect what we do at stak to these big problems in the world and say how we are part of the solution.

But, no.

The problems we face are insanely complex, and it is just wrong to boil them down to simple solutions.

It is, I believe, even more wrong to use these problems for personal gain.


I know this week’s entry has very little to do with tech, and I will stay on focus most of the time, but right now, it is more important to be human.

And I hope whatever side you might think you’re on, you take some time to feel your humanity and the humanity of those around you, and those not around you, and those you might put far, far away from yourself.

The chaos we are feeling is caused by real issues, or it wouldn’t be happening.

The solution to these issues is not simple, or it would have been solved.

Every action, every vote, every conversation counts towards progress, which ought to be our goal.

We must continue to develop our abilities to think for ourselves and feel for others.

What you think matters – so nurture your mind and your heart.

Everything in the world out there is trying to bend your mind towards what it wants from you. Every product is designed for you to want to buy it, every politician speaks so you will support them. Accept these things, take information wherever you find it, and always search for a deeper understanding.


Every post in a tech blog ought to be about tech.

But you know, there is no blog without human beings.

What Makes a Website Click 1

I have never dabbled in marketing.

To be honest I have probably spent my life avoiding thinking about the whole realm of buying and selling and making more or making less. To whatever reasonable extent there might be.

I imagine that artful and effective marketing is that which reaches people like me – the uninformed customer. I also imagine that this is one of the few art forms in which the uninformed viewer and the master might fully agree on what makes a beautiful advertisement.

As I’ve been working on our new website, I’ve had the chance to explore a lot of different web pages that I liked or didn’t like, and I thought it would be interesting to talk about these websites and break them down a bit.

So as I had to ask myself – what makes a good website?


Here are the three clearest thoughts that came to me through my endeavors on our own new website.

• Know your product, know your customer.

• Integrate trends – not for being hip, but for familiarity.

• Be clear, be concise. 


Knowledge Before Action

I don’t want to type a lot here.

You don’t need to know what you’re doing before acting.

You can’t.

(Counterpoint):

Just know about the thing you’re doing. 

You don’t have to know the best way to market your product, because well, if you did, you would have done it.

Just make sure you know exactly what your product is. Understand it, don’t just be able to recite what it does.

This goes for everything in life really.


Trends, and why they matter.

I have always had a thing for counter culture. My infatuation with it has been pleasantly warped and questioned as I’ve dived into art and career and any efforts to fuse the two.

For better or worse, I spent most of my life preferring the unknown to known, and the different to the same. In countless ways that has shaped me for the better. And in general for growth as an individual, I believe exploring of your own accord is better than accepting what you’re being fed.

But as in all things, drawing a distinction is creating limits; and as soon as possible, (once one has developed their own taste and preferences), they should do away with any attachment to labels. In the end, things are just things, and all things in this world are completely unique while each has its own unlimited meaning, should we look for it. This is one of the most positive and heartwarming things I’ve discovered in the world.

The idea here is that while of course you should not blindly mimic trends, you might be even worse off for ignoring them completely. This notion gives me a sense of personal discomfort, but then I remember this: an un-shippable movie will never reach the theaters. We live in a society. Or whatever.

Like that one year of the 8 Harry Potter movies where pop culture was stuck on long hair.

Everything is a compromise, and that’s okay. Once we accept that, we can start pushing the compromise in the way we each see as best.

This might feel a little abstract. Maybe it is. For me at least a greater awareness of the notions of things helps me with the practicalities.

What I take from all that is: Trends exist because people liked it, and trends continue because people are familiar with them. Know the trends, be able to reproduce them, then bend them in the way that will show your product in its best light.

 

Now the good stuff: examples.


SmartMat

  • Minimal (they know IoT and Yoga people will be the ones coming)

  • Simple – clear – concise. You understand immediately, and there’s no noise.

  • Video is not a popular choice for a reason – it doesn’t reach everyone. It scares some people off and for those who don’t want to stream the videos or have automatic play turned off, the site looks like this:

Not quite as charming. It might be more reasonable because it’s much more of a niche product, so it is fair to expect newcomers to the site to be a bit more interested than the average clothing-shopper to a clothing website. But having your site just not work for some of your customer base is a risky choice.

  • There is nothing about payment anywhere. Which to me is fine on the front page, but it gives me a feeling that this is either a) a product still in development b) stupidly expensive, or c) something I cannot actually buy (for companies or institutes or research only).

  • The rest of the site is just on point in my opinion.


August

  • This site looks good. Simple 3-color scheme.

  • The first thing I notice, which is a trend, which I hate, are the pop ups windows. Notifications, cookies, etc. Whatever it is. There has to be a better way than finding the close button on 2-3 windows every time I go to a cool, new page.

  • Pictures, and more importantly, GIFs, are fantastic. Completely capture the feeling of the product and convey it in a way that will capture their audience without them needing to read a word (of the already clean and concise text).

  • I don’t like the shop page. The bar at the top with discounts is, as I found out from my friend, a popular trend and such is probably better not avoided. But I do feel like I’m being quickly ushered on to purchasing. When you click to buy something, it opens up a side tab for a quick purchase, which to me just feels uncomfortable and somehow… untrustworthy? If this was not such a big, well-known company I would definitely be turned off.

  • The design of the house at the bottom of the front page is a great addition (though if a little hard to see due to the scale of the effect). Attractive, quick visuals (even better, it’s interactive) that help the customer really see the product as if they owned it.

  • How It Works page is perfect.


We’ll stop that here, but I want to make this a running series. Analyzing website designs, advertisements, marketing – not just for their effect, but for their artistic value. Perhaps it’s the same really.

As always, thanks for reading. We at Stak truly appreciate you.

At Last! I Got My Hands (and Lenses) on stak.

I received something in the mail the other day.


It came.

stak. The Legend.



I should say staks, as two Standard Sets came out of the box. I have them for the quite apparent purpose of writing blog entries like these, for something not quite so visible -yet- which is designing our instagram and other forms of video/photo I’ll be working on, and lastly  for that whole thing of me working for a company whose main product I have never possessed.


Here’s my concise review because let’s be honest: reviews, especially those on blogs like these, tend to be not only artless but also, more importantly, uninteresting. Most are also biased, but I can’t tell you I won’t be.

stak is solid, but light.

The magnetic click of attaching a Mod is

as satisfying as a nice cup of coffee

on a morning with not so much to do.

I don’t mean this lightly, a good cup of coffee is an unrivaled good.

The click really is one of the best parts of stak.

It does what it should and it does not feel in any way cheap.

It feels like it at once has and still lacks identity.

 

It feels like something new.

This one will take some more explaining.

Of course, every device, every invention is new.

And maybe google home and stuff, it all feels new to someone cause it is

actually

new.

But, let’s take something that we know, something that’s old and unchanged

A fan, a cup, a toilet, maybe a light bulb.

A light bulb say you?

How about a light bulb that won’t fizzle out and die

that also contains all those connective digital remote control devices

you have scattered around your house to varied degrees of utility?

That’s more what I mean that it feels new.


Hi Dad.

Taking something that is established as a household necessary,

and breathing life into it.

This is, originally, the good in all these devices was it not?

I don’t want to just rattle on about this – but in all seriousness

I think replacing, renovating, and redesigning the stuff we already do have around the house is a much more honest and productive goal (though not necessarily as lucrative) than trying to convince people that you’ve got the next home necessity and they need you to give it to them.


Here’s where I’ll be honest:

• The app needs to feel more finished and stylish.

• The device needs more mods. With only two, we lose all the fun of swapping mods and experiencing all the potential stak has.

• The light mod got pretty hot (not overheating or anything) in the wall socket, and I need to find out if the device is set to handle different countries varying voltages.

• I want to change the color of the light (this is in the works).


That’s what I have.

Most importantly, and I say this with full honesty as it’s both a positive and negative:

I can feel absolutely the potential in the device.

The task at hand, then, is to help it live up to the potential.

I will also say this with honesty: there was someone who, in the development or brainstorming process, thought how they felt when they clicked a physical lock to shut a door, or when they flickered the lights on and off as a kid back before they had to yell to the room at large to a robot to do it for you…

and they remembered that it’s a good feeling.

I have come to believe rather wholeheartedly that tech is a wonderful thing for the world – but I believe more than ever that we humans, as physical beings in a physical world, not only prefer but need physical sensations.

Farming, taking hikes, hugging your dog, hugging a friend, biting into a cookie.

There is no replacement for these.

There is no improvement for these.

There is no automated process to create the satisfaction that comes from feeling your own existence in this world.

Mostly, I believe the right mix of old and new is, well, right.

To me, neither extreme is the right answer.

The right answer comes amidst the consideration after knowing the two extremes.

stak might not be quite there yet, but it’s built to become so.

Unlike a lot of gadgets, it’s not here to grab the market, get rich quick and get out.

It’s built not to add stuff, but to hone the stuff we already have.

It feels like a new old in the best way.

The Good, The Bad, The Surprising

What causes companies to fail?

And what causes companies to start?

Why is it that some companies that seem like they should fail stay up, and some that seem like they should succeed fall?

I feel like this will be a nice segwey from last week’s blog into more of what we’ll be doing from here on. That is, more questions based on honest curiosity rather than a desire to provide some form of content.

As I dove further into this rapidly booming IOT world, I found gadgets expected and unexpected, and devices that caused me to roll my eyes and some that caused my eyes to open. Let’s check them out, then talk about -why- .


First, the expected. Sonos.

This is a good speaker. This is a good company. They found success and stability. Especially in the modern world filled with new tech and devices, if a device sells, it is reasonable to assume that some customer need is being fulfilled.

John MacFarlane, the founder of Sonos, had the dream of being able to connect all the speakers in one house to a central control device (read smart phoen) without having to drill holes and thread wires as if in a labyrinth. This is pretty much the IOT dream – make things cleaner, simpler, and connected.

What I find most interesting about this is the unexpected bit: that, like most start-ups, it took three years of repeated efforts and failures, along with a healthy dose of luck, to succeed. As techcrunch.com notes, start-ups need early adopters, and early adopters are usually not afraid to spend a bit of money. They launched initially as a high priced item, and then offered lower options as demand went up.

I wonder how true that is these days?


Onto the unexpected: the failed car HUB device, Navdy.

I found a wonderful website called failory.com, which educates you of failed companies mistakes. Check them out.

The reason Navdy is unexpected to me, is because it is something that I at once did not expect as a product and also did not expect to fail so readily. The reason for failure, while one being the gadget itself was not entirely well received by the community, was owed also largely in part due to the unexpected factor of there already being lots of HUD and navigation tech out there.

This is marketed as more of that augmented reality stuff that I am personally a big fan of – however, in the end, it just was not well done. Simply: why would anyone pay $400 for a headsup display when they could pay 20$ and mount their phone in the same spot?

Finding that coalescant moment where the market demand and a reasonable cost of production meet. That seems to be what it’s all about.


To the eye opener: the SmartMat yoga mat.

This is not the eye roller. I thought it would be too. But this thing singlehandedly caused me to reconsider a lot of my predisposition towards smart gadgets.

This is a fully functional, rollable yoga mat that has a smart device built in. That is, it has sensors throughout the entire mat to analyze where you put pressure on it so it can guide you, and speakers and connectivity built in.

Now whether it perfectly achieves all this is another question, but let’s say hypothetically it does: what a cool device. It is not one of life’s necessities. But I feel it’s very reasonable to say it makes a very clear improvement to something that is very important to a lot of people.


Here it is. The Mr. Coffee Smart Optimal Brew.

MAYBE you like it. MAYBE you need to schedule your automatic instant coffee brew so it can be there for you. MAYBE to you pressing a button on the coffee machine is too much work and pressing several buttons on your phone is much more convenient.

But for me, trying his hardest to forget any of his own personal preferences for coffee (it is my favorite thing in the world besides my girlfriend), this is too much.

This is perhaps the prime example of an unnecessary device. I am open to being convinced otherwise. Please try to change my mind.


So.

Start-up companies fail. Most of the time.

Only a handful of devices become anything more than playthings by device-lovers.

None of these companies found success or demise by one factor, but by several.

  • Navda failed not only by having a sub-par product, but by being expensive and diving into an already saturated market with little demand.

More than whether there is a necessity, asking if there is a market.

  • There might be little to no necessity for the smart mat, but to say there’s no market for modern yoga products would be to completely misunderstand modern trends in the western world. (Hate to say it, but this is probably how Mr. Coffee Smart Brew will make millions).

More than asking if the product is well made (though to fail here is an easy end), asking if the product can be well-made and affordable to your market.

  • Sonos didn’t exhaust themselves trying to make a cheap product – instead they focused on making a good product, knowing that those early adopters would buy in based on quality.

If you believe people need your product,

asking what people will need to believe they need it too.

 

What is it that we understand about stak that

we need to convey to everyone else?

 

Be ambitious without spreading yourself too thin.`

With no risk, there is no reward.

Success is the fruit of repeated efforts.


Sonos

Smartmat

Mr. Coffee

Failory’s Article on Navdy