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Where we talk about business tech,
hardcore development & craft beer

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Software announcement: WP-Campfire

If you’re like us here at Skookum, you love the suite of apps from 37signals. Basecamp is an integral part of our project management and client communication processes. They’ve made all their products so easy to use and so complimentary to each other, I’m not sure how a client-based small business can function without them (or something similar).

One of their apps that we use a lot (probably second only to Basecamp) is Campfire: the group-collaboration product. It’s basically a glorified private IRC channel. Pretty much everyone in our company is signed into our Campfire main room all day long. We talk about ideas, post funny/geeky images & videos, and other general chit-chat.

We wanted an easy way for everyone to know when a new blog post was added to our website so everyone could go read and comment on the post. Out of this idea was born WP-Campfire.

WP-Campfire is a plugin for WordPress blogs that will use the Campfire API to post a notification to the chat room of your choosing when a new post is added. It has support for customizing the message that’s sent using variables like the article’s title, author “nicename”, post title, and link. The default behavior is to post a message in the form of: “New blog post by {author}: {title} – {link}”, but you can change it to whatever you want!

Here’s some screenshots so you can preview it without installing on your WordPress instance:

Main Configuration Page:

Post Edit Screen:

Check out the plugin and let us know what you think! (Please post support requests to the appropriate WordPress.org forum, not in the comments here.)

  • Installation instructions
  • Upcoming improvements
  • Undocumented quirk: you should probably create a “dummy user” and use that API string to post the messages. The API will likely boot you from the room if you’re in the room and WP-Campfire attempts to post a message as you.

Rest-assured: this post was posted to our Campfire chat room the moment I hit the “publish” button.


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Web Development & Beer – They Go Hand-in-Hand.

At Skookum, we like to write some serious code… but we also like to let loose once in a while (OK, maybe more than once in a while). When I was approached to make a special beer for our company Christmas party this year, I jumped at the chance!

I’ve been a pretty serious homebrewer for almost 2 years now. I’ve got plenty of batches under my belt and I just recently started putting my homebrew into 5 gallon soda kegs.

I decided on a few different styles I would enjoy making and then put it to a vote. Here were the choices:

  1. Nut Brown Ale
  2. Amber Ale
  3. Honey Amber Ale
  4. California Common
  5. Irish Red Ale
  6. Doppelbock

After a few days of deliberation, the Amber Ale had almost won. Then Justin pointed out that-of all the choices-the Doppelbock had the highest ABV. For some reason, after that comment, people started changing their votes! In the end, the Doppelbock won.

So after work I headed down to Alternative Beverage and got the materials I needed to brew this beer. After entering all the ingredients into my brewing software, we were looking at about 8.3% ABV on this one – pretty dead on the target where I was shooting for.

I think I’ll be pleased with how this beer turns out. This is my first attempt at making a Doppelbock, so everyone at the party will be guinea pigs for this batch!

I took some photos and video of my brewday.

It’s amazing how scientific and precise beer making is, while at the same time allowing for interpretation and creativity. Those are some of the main reasons I enjoy it as a hobby.

If you’d like to learn more about homebrewing, I’d highly recommend basicbrewing.com as a place to start, but there are so many resources out there on the web. You can get started with a minimal investment in equipment and ingredients and you can brew some great beer (sometimes better than commercial store-bought beers I’ve had) with a little time, patience, and know-how.

This post was not meant as an overview of homebrewing, but if you have questions, I’ll gladly answer them for you (if I can) in the comments, or point you in the right direction for an online resource.


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Google’s Instant Preview: Insanely Amazing

Google introduced a new search feature the other day called “Instant Preview“, where when you hover over the url of the site, you get an image of what the site looks like. This tech has been around for a while and when in found the context of a site where you are trying to read an article is, frankly, annoying. Google’s implementation is fantastic – and because you’re not trying to read Google Search, the site previews are a welcome addition to the search results page.

But I think that how they are actually serving the data to your browser is even more fantastic than the front-end experience when you look at some of the details behind how it’s done.

The developers put up a post on the Google Code blog about how they strive to keep the pages loading fast as well as how they implemented lots of compression and caching mechanisms:

…you will have noticed that we send back the image data as sets of data URIs. Data URIs are base64 encodings of image data, that modern browsers (IE8+, Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera, etc) can use to display images, instead of loading them from a server as usual.

To show previews, we need the image, and the relevant content of the page for the particular query, with bounding boxes that we draw on top of the image to show where that content appears on the page. If we used static images, we’d need to make one request for the content and one request for the image; using JSONP with data URIs, we make just one request. Data URIs are limited to 32K on IE8, so we send “slices” that are all under that limit, and then use Javascript to generate the necessary image tags to display them. And even though base64 encoding adds about 33% to the size of the image, our tests showed that gzip-compressed data URIs are comparable in size to the original JPEGs.

In my experience, some of the preview images are a little lacking in quality – the jpeg compression seems pretty high on some sites. Looking at the preview image for our blog page, the JPEG compression on the downloaded image is at 54% – that’s pretty far below the standard that generates “good quality” JPEG images.

Hopefully Google will continue to refine this feature and make it even better.

Color me impressed!

[via HighScalability.com]


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The #GeekFest, The Observer, and a lesson on sharing

Hunter, Jim, Assaf, and I (Jeremy) represented Skookum at CPCC’s Geek Festival – an event where hundreds (thousands?) of folks get together to talk about technology and innovation.

Our augmented reality display placed a 3D Skookum logo over a piece of paper — pick up the paper for extra wows. Tons of fun reactions.


We were also invited to do some presentations. Though it is called Geek Fest, the audience was generally not quite as geeky as say, the folks who go to BarCamp, evidenced by the number of folks who trickled out of the room when Hunter’s HTML 5 presentation started talking about programming.

Jim had an easier time wowing folks with the wonders of Augmented Reality.

The funnest part was this absurdly knowledgeable 13 year old kid who completely followed along with all the technical stuff and asked insanely awesome questions.

Why sharing is worth it

I always talk about marketing by sharing. That is how I marketed my iPhone app, Grades, to the front page of the app store. It’s how I got interviewed in App Savvy. My experience at Geek Fest is just another case in point on how sharing is worth it.

Adam Brooks (one of the Geek Fest organizers) invited me to present at Geek Fest after we met at BarCamp, another awesome place for networking and sharing. While at Geek Fest, Adam introduced me to a reporter from the Charlotte Observer which resulted in a story about me in the Sunday paper (which mentioned Skookum, too) – cool!

What were we trying to get out of Geek Fest? I wasn’t quite sure but I knew that sharing generally produces good results. Along with the story, we got a lot of buzz on Twitter with folks like CLT Blog saying “Astronomically impressed with the brains @Skookum contains.”

Bottom line: market by sharing. Go out to local events (or, even better, national events) and share your expertise. It helps with street cred and often results in free PR.

Oh yeah, and my geek fest presentation. It told the story of my app, Grades, and how I made a successful app on my first try. My goal was to inspire folks to get curious and go out and build cool stuff. Slides below.


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Tower: An Upcoming Git Manager for OSX

I use Git as my primary revision control system. It’s easy to use, fast, and you don’t wind up littering your entire computer with hidden “.svn” files like Subversion does. Git is easy to script and the whole paradigm makes more sense to me than SVN’s checking out a single commit from the main server. I love it that Git has the entire project history when you do a “clone” – though that benefit can quickly turn into a nightmare with a project full of constantly changing binary files like a large Flash project I did recently. Last year, I wrote on my personal blog about how “smart” Git is when it comes to combining multiple commits from multiple sources.

So this morning, as I was browsing the documentation for the awesome jQuery carousel plugin, Nivo Slider, I noticed an ad for a new Mac OS Git client called Tower. I always like checking out new software – especially if there’s a free trial or download involved, so I clicked the ad and was presented with a well-designed and informative site – though unfortunately, the software isn’t available yet. They say “in November” so I dutifully gave them my email address so I don’t have to remember to constantly check their site to see if it has launched yet.

The thing looks amazing, and if it has all the features touted on the site right now and they all work like they should, this software is going to be a must-purchase title for me.

I’ve tried 2 or 3 other Mac GUI interfaces for Git, and all of them were pretty lacking, so hopefully this will be my dream come true as far as managing all my Git libraries.

…or I could just continue use the command line like everyone else.

See for yourself at http://www.git-tower.com/


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Tech Talk Friday Outtake: “Cameras Everywhere”

We’re always recording at lunch on Fridays – typically because we do these things we call “Tech Talks” where someone presents on a particular topic or technology that maybe everyone isn’t completely familiar with. We’ve even started inviting developers from outside the company in to listen, have lunch, and even present.

After the talk this week, I forgot to stop the recording and I caught this little gem from our own David Becher (@dbecher) immediately after I finished talking about my childhood delusions that everyone was a figment of my own imagination.

Let’s listen in…


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