I live in Portland, Oregon with my beautiful and talented wife Dawn and twin tornadoes Ursula and Freya.
Riding my bike and camping with my family are my current obsessions. I am also known to rant about financial markets, peak oil, simple living and other conspiracies.
Cage Free Media and Slowkid Productions are businesses I am actively involved with.
Snack before Do Jump! (@ Oasis Cafe) [pic]: http://t.co/b9mY2yicvw
RT @sextubenight: http://t.co/R94czVx2 Single Mom Makes $89,844/Yr in Her Spare Time on The Computer Without Selling Anything
RT @inrockmusic: TheDandyWarhols: RT @dockumentary: RT @tradercracks: Kickstarter 4 a Dock Ellis doc. - they need $4500 in the nx... htt ...
RT @KJ_CelebArtist: I will B illustrating a major sports documentary about bball legend Dock Ellis! U can get the art used in production ...
RT @dockumentary: Hey @WalkingDead_AMC fans, illustrated DOCK ELLIS ZOMBIE HUNTER cards, new reward on Kickstarter. LIMITED. 50 hrs left ...
RT @abellakitchen: Fred Armisen and David Letterman talk about 'Portlandia,' and Portland http://t.co/DZPv3ac6 #pdx
RT @sparrowmedia: #FF for the art of love... @dockumentary @glenefriedman @fpnstudio @shepardfairey @AJFaultLines @GhostsMovie @herbivor ...
RT @donnyshell: @BaseballIcons @BeyondEllisD I feel like I need you all to close it out! http://t.co/rocFsHGY
RT @glenefriedman ONLY 3 DAYS LEFT! No No: A Dockumentary (about Dock Ellis) — Kickstarter http://t.co/RKOzIMpb HELP NOW! - RT!
Our Happy Birthday project update to Baseball Bad Ass and @dockumentary advisory board member Scipio Spinks! http://t.co/6hcYDiN2
RT @sparrowmedia 3 days left to support the @dockumentary an inspiring story of triumph & character. - http://t.co/RKOzIMpb (plz share) #FF
RT @FishboneSoldier: You like us, so we know you appreciate a little weirdness. Check this one out! There is a documentary about... ht ...
Thanks! RT @UncleRUSH for all the baseball fans, this film looks incredible. i am supporting, u should too... http://t.co/RKOzIMpb
RT @dockumentary @SpikeLee We have Cash,Oliver,Ellis,Sanguillen,Robertson + two Clementes & a Stargell in the DOCKumentary.
RT @dockumentary: We have @RealRonHoward telling stories of his latest film Rush + Dock Ellis, Gung Ho, baseball, drugs, 1970s. http://t ...
I got a bummer of an email a few nights ago from my favorite web service Xmarks. As they explained on their blog and sent to users like me via email, they are closing their doors. The service will stop working in January of next year.
As I write this, it’s a typical Sunday here at Xmarks. The synchronization service continues operating quietly, the servers chugging along syncing browser data for our 2 million users across their 5 million desktops. The day isn’t over yet, but we’re on track to add just under 3000 new accounts today.
Tomorrow, however, will hardly be anything but typical, for tomorrow one of our engineers will start a script that will email each of our users to notify them that we’ll be ceasing operations in around 90 days.
Xmarks is a bookmark synchronization service with plugins available for every browser and platform, at least for the ones I use. This means that you always have your bookmarks and folders, no matter which computer or browser you are using. For years, installing the Xmarks (formerly Foxmarks) plugin was the first thing I would do when I got a new computer or installed a new browser. Using Xmarks, I went from being a horrible bookmark slob, to being fastidious, almost pathologically focused on taxonomies, tags and folders.
Their announcement hit me hard. How could they do this to me? It was such a great service, how could it fail? It was easy! It worked every time! It was free, they never charged me a dime! Oh, right… (They have actually started a pledge drive, but it seems like an afterthought.)
Once I got over the shock, I realized that in all the years I had been faithfully using Xmarks, I had been ignoring other popular services. Delicious is the first one that came to mind. I logged in, imported my bookmarks, and have thus far been pretty happy with it. I haven’t yet made the transition from folders and subfolders to tags, but I think tags is a better metaphor; I just have to apply it.
What other, and maybe better, bookmark-related sites are out there? Which are your favorite and why?
Since I moved to the West Coast, even my sleepiest Texas friends are up before I am. And so it was that I awoke on the morning of Monday, August 9 to a disturbingly short email: “Apparently, Matt Simmons is dead.” Messages from other friends arrived throughout the day, a mixture of shock, sadness and cynicism about the circumstances and timing.
An oil industry banker with an unquenchable thirst for scientific data, Matthew Simmons was the modern standard bearer for the Peak Oil movement. I became acquainted with his work while doing research for my screenplay Gasoline, about a modern day ex-con and his family traveling from New Orleans to Canada to escape the devastation left behind in the dying days of the petroleum industry – The Grapes of Wrath turned on its’ geographic head, with Peak Oil as the new Dust Bowl. My writing partner was at the time heavily invested in the oil sector and is an avid researcher, so he was already quite familiar with Mr. Simmons. Together we spent a couple of years deeply enmeshed in the study of Peak Oil, oil production and energy economics.
In the days that followed his death, I was constantly reminded of the man and his message. I mentioned his passing to people at work and casual acquaintances, but few seemed aware of him at all. This was amazing to me. In a country where we talk ceaselessly about national “energy independence” and freeing ourselves from Middle East oil, we are painfully ignorant of the technology and industry surrounding oil production.
I am entirely unqualified to describe in detail the science or politics of Peak Oil, and a blog post is the wrong format anyway. Instead, I hope to introduce a few of the basic concepts, dispel a few myths, and suggest some useful and interesting things to read and watch if you’re interested.
Peak Oil is a Fact, Not a Theory
Peak Oil, both as a term and a controversial topic, goes back to the 1960s and a man named M King Hubbert. He was a geoscientist who worked for Shell in Houston and is most famous for Hubbert’s Peak – the curve that describes the production lifecycle of oil resources. Hubbert’s theory, proven repeatedly since, was that the production capacity of an oil resource – whether of an oilfield or a nation or a planet – follows a bell-shaped curve. Oil is increasingly plentiful on the upslope of the bell curve, increasingly scarce and expensive on the down slope.
Hubbert famously predicted in the 50’s that United States oil production would peak between the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. He was pilloried for this during the 60s, when US oil production was at an all-time high. But when production capacity clearly peaked in 1970 and began to decline, people started paying a lot more attention to his theories. The Peak Oil movement was born.
Hubbert is most well-known for his studies on the capacities of oil fields and natural gas reserves. He predicted that, for any given geographical area, from an individual oil field to the planet as a whole, the rate of petroleum production of the reserve over time would resemble a bell curve. Based on his theory, he presented a paper to the 1956 meeting of the American Petroleum Institute in San Antonio, Texas, which predicted that overall petroleum production would peak in the United States between the late 1960s and the early 1970s. At first his prediction received much criticism, for the most part because many other predictions of oil capacity had been made over the preceding half century, but these had been based purely on reserve and production, data rather than past discovery trends, and had proven false. Hubbert became famous when this prediction proved correct in 1970. (Wikipedia)
A half-century of studying oilfield production has removed Hubbert’s peak from the realm of theory and placed it squarely among other established scientific facts. Global oil production, like US production in the 60s, will in fact peak – there will be a moment after which, and in the face of a steadily increasing demand, we as a planet are producing less oil than we did before. The question that remains is not whether, but when it will happen; moreover, maybe it already has.
Peak Oil Isn’t About Running Out of Oil
Peak Oil advocates are often painted as Cassandras or conspiracy theorists. Many people may find it difficult to imagine that a scant hundred years of industrialization has depleted a million years of the planet’s oil-making capability. Some claim that OPEC withholds oil from the global market to keep the price artificially high. And others believe that historic oil production trends are irrelevant due to vast improvements in the science and technology of oil production.
There are degrees of truth in each of those claims; but none of them address the problem that is Peak Oil. Obviously, we will not deplete the planet’s last drops of oil; there will always be untold amounts of black gold beneath the earth’s surface. The central question is not when we will run out of oil, but when we can no longer afford to pursue it.
The main implication of Peak Oil is that at a certain cost, oil extraction is no longer economically feasible. Just a few years ago, the cost of oil spiked to nearly $200 per barrel, driving the cost of a gallon of gasoline to nearly $5 in some parts of the country. Peak Oil spokesmen, Simmons included, jumped to the mic to declare the era of cheap oil over. When prices eventually returned to a more normative $30-40 in December 2008, pundits wasted no time declaring Peak Oil debunked.
However, when prices spiked in 2007-2008, the global economy was growing at a torrid 5+% per year. The global recession in the last couple of years has seen global economic growth slow to between 1 and 2 percent per year; yet oil prices continue their upward trend. (Oil prices in 2009 doubled while global economic growth was cut in half.) Evidence is mounting that oil price volatility may have as much or more to do with the global recession as the meltdown of financial markets.
Read: Peak Oil (Wikipedia), Oil Prices Caused the Current Recession (Jeff Rubin),
From Persian Gulf to Gulf of Mexico
In the US, oil exploration has long been used as a political wedge issue, as if undue concern for the environment is the only thing keeping us from capturing the vast reserves of oil in protected areas such as ANWR, or remote and dangerous spots like the bottom of the ocean. The fact that our production peaked over forty years ago is willfully ignored by those who believe we only have to swallow our political and environmental concerns in order to achieve the energy independence that is our manifest destiny. Deep water drilling has always been among the technologies that promise to save us from the coming resource crunch.
The high cost of extracting the planet’s remaining oil was brought home over the last several months as BP’s Deepwater Horizon well spewed hundreds of thousands of barrels of the precious fluid into the Gulf of Mexico. Before the infamous spill, BP was fighting a gusher on a similar nearby deepwater drill site. And less than two months later, they spilled another 100,000 barrels at Delta Junction on their Alaska Pipeline Operation.
Drilling and refining oil from such far-reaching corners of the planet exposes the cost incongruity that Peak Oil describes. If you include the real costs of producing oil at the bottom of the ocean – including the eventual cleanup costs of continuous spills and disasters – it is startlingly clear that the easy oil has all been extracted, the big finds exhausted or practically out of human reach. If you examine the human costs – not just the eleven dead from the BP explosion, or the 25 dead after the Upper Big Branch coal mine exploded only days earlier in West Virginia, but the millions of people whose health and livelihoods will be destroyed by the toxicity left behind in the Gulf of Mexico and the Niger Delta – Peak Oil looks more and more like the world we live in, and less like an unknown and unpredictable future.
Which Brings Us Back to Matt Simmons
Matt Simmons is most respected for the definitive research he did about the Middle East, Saudia Arabia and the production capacity of super giant oilfields like Ghawar. To oversimplify his thesis, he argues convincingly that the Saudis are overstating, maybe vastly, the size of their reserves. This fact, coupled with no new similarly large fields coming online since the 60s, paints a stark picture of oil availability in our lifetime. His arguments are backed by remarkable economic and scientific data too thorough and compelling to begin to recite here. Read Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy.
Middle East production capacity is at the heart of the Peak Oil controversy, but it may not be what Simmons is remembered for, at least in the short run. Many people have become much more familiar with him since the Deepwater Horizon disaster. CNN called him “The Gulf Coast Oil Spill’s Dr. Doom” because his estimates of the damage so far exceeded those of the industry and the government; and because he consistently accused BP of lying to cover up the financial and environmental cost of the spill.
Among his shocking claims about the spill:
- BP has killed the gulf. (Business Insider)
- It will cost a trillion dollars to clean up.(Zero Hedge)
- The leak we were all watching on TV was the wrong one, and inconsequential.(Examiner)
- The entire gulf region is so toxic as to require immediate evacuation.(Washington Post)
- Only a small-scale nuclear device could seal the well.(Bloomberg News via YouTube)
Frightening, but his understanding of the science and engineering and his predictions about outcomes were typically accurate enough that he may have been right about all of it. Watch these videos – appearances on MSNBC’s “The Ratigan Show” and elsewhere – and Google for a wealth of differing opinions and detractors – and decide for yourself.
Regardless of whether you agree with him, or with Peak Oil, Matthew Simmons impact on the discussion about our global energy future has been a profound and lasting one. He will be missed, but his work will never be forgotten.
Development Strategies for Emerging Technology
When I arrived at Pop Art in April, the team was hard at work on a campaign for the Oregon State Lottery. Megamillionizer.com is unique – a 3D interactive experience that combines augmented reality, community participation and social sharing to create awareness and engagement for the Lottery’s newest game, MegaMillions®.
The campaign encourages users to enter a contest by creating a video of themselves interacting with 3D objects. Website visitors can vote on the videos they like best and share them on social networks. The winners get great prizes, and the brand gets access to a demographic that increasingly demands more and deeper online engagement.
Like a game, the application should be fun and easy to use. Also like a game, the underlying technology is anything but trivial:
- The Augmented Reality engine is open source, the Flash-based FLAR Toolkit.
- The “green screen” effect — replacing the video background — is done with mathematical algorithms using custom AS3 code.
- Recording the entire Flash user experience – a feature unique to the site – involves Apache, PHP, Red 5 and FFMPEG.
If you have not yet heard of some of these technologies, you are not alone. For the development team, the project was both thrilling and daunting. We had envisioned for the client a rich, engaging and innovative experience, but the technology to pull it off did not yet exist. We were about to follow the road to innovation a step or two into a very dark part of the woods. The journey taught me a few lessons that I will be reflecting upon for a long time.
Life at Internet Speed
Marketing products and services on the Internet has never been more exciting or challenging. Companies have more tools at their disposal to connect with their customers and prospects than ever before. Facebook and Twitter provide opportunities to connect with hundreds of millions of users. Flickr and YouTube support sharing of multimedia content to millions more.
Meanwhile, mobile web browsing is increasing so rapidly, both in capabilities and adoption, that it threatens to eclipse traditional desktop browsing in the next few years.
Keeping up with this increasing rate of technological change, and meeting the expectations of customers who are using these technologies every day, is a huge challenge for most companies. Having a great website is no longer enough. Customers expect engagement at the Internet destinations where they choose to hang out, from any device they choose to use.
- Social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Tubmlr
- Model View Controller (MVC) frameworks like Zend and PureMVC
- HTML5 and CSS3
- Device-specific development, such as iOS (for iPhone/iPad) and the Android SDK
- Cross-device development, using WebKit and PhoneGap
- Lightweight CMS platforms like WordPress, Drupal and Joomla
Now more than ever, companies need interactive partners to help them reach an online audience. Most companies are too busy developing products and services to also maintain deep expertise in web development. Even interactive agencies with dozens of developers on staff work very hard to keep up with the number of languages, platforms and technologies required to play in these vast new spaces.
Why Pop Art?
Another longtime client recently hired us for an iPad project. We worked very hard to turn around a proposal in a couple of days, not just because we were so excited to design for such a cool device, but also because our long history with them provided such a rich palette for exploration.
We won the project, but not by claiming the deepest iPad expertise. We stood out because we proved we understand their company and how to bring it to life, whether at a trade show, in a web browser, or on an iPad. Rather than claiming expertise on a given platform, or mastery of a programming language, we prefer to immerse ourselves in the company, their industry and their audience, and to seek out the tools and techniques that enable authentic conversation with their customers.
We choose a technology after we devise a strategy and a user experience to solve a business problem, not the other way around.
Small agencies are better at some things by design. Our project estimation is precise because we aren’t dependent on huge retainer revenues. We don’t let projects drag on, because our success depends on throughput. We never recommend PHP as a solution just because the PHP team isn’t busy enough. You never see the “A Team” in a presentation, but get the “C Team” for the project. We throw better parties.
Still, because there are so very few of us here at Pop Art, there are some things we’ve never done before. How do we implement new technologies, at large scale, with so few people?
Interactive agencies too commonly bring on freelancers as a response to projects that are under-resourced and over budget. There are thousands of talented and dedicated freelance developers available for hire in these situations, but involving them last minute is severely challenging and expensive.
As a small agency taking on large projects, Pop Art maintains deep relationships with other firms and individuals comprising the best minds in the business. Far more than a list of address book contacts, these are people we have worked with successfully on many projects in the past, and with whom we enjoy spending time and solving problems.
For Megamillionizer, the video recording solution required highly specialized knowledge of Red 5, an open source Flash Media Server. Rather than adding cost and risk by tackling this development ourselves, we called Colin Black. Not only did Colin help us create Force Fate, a Facebook application for Nike Canada for fans of the Olympic Hockey Team, but he also lives a few blocks from the office. If he weren’t over here working with us, he’d be dropping by for lunch anyway.
Amateurs Borrow, Professionals Steal
Learning by studying the best content on the web is a core competency of modern software developers. The universe of code available today is immense, and is no longer limited to traditional open source environments like Linux.
For Megamillionizer, Pop Artist Anton Legoo mined the web for mathematical algorithms for edge detection and object collision. He reused a known approach to learn the problem domain, then threw it away to design a better one. No single source of information handed him a solution; but by learning a little from each example, he developed an amalgamated solution that was simultaneously inventive and derivative (and better than Apple’s Photo Booth).
We are lately getting heavily into iOS (iPhone/iPad) development in response to increasing client interest. Developers new to these platforms have advantages tantamount to “standing on the shoulders of giants”: Apple’s free tools, documentation and tutorials are powerful, and thousands of brilliant contributors to the App Store have shown the way with elegant, compelling applications.
If I Had A Hammer
Many interactive agencies specialize in a given technology or platform. These agencies can become very good at delivering solutions on their chosen platform stack, but struggle to deliver in emerging platforms or recommend appropriate solutions. As the saying goes, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
The websites and software tools that companies deploy today must be relevant and effective tomorrow and for years to come. Many factors determine the right combination of technologies and platforms — existing enterprise technology standards, size and skill level of development and system administration staff, frequency of content and feature updates, and the momentum of disruptive technologies, all contribute to our architecture analysis. A focus on appropriateness – matching a solution to the world it will live in – means always trying to reduce the total cost of ownership and increase the leverage that a given technology solution can provide.
Providing your audience with fun, new ways to connect with your brand is always exciting and scary. Choosing a partner who is an expert in your business, rather than in a given technology or software, can mean that you make an impact instead of an empty investment.
Living Small: A Four Part Series
Part One: Introduction
I am Chris Cortez, the new Director of Software Development for Pop Art. I moved to Portland six weeks ago with my wife and two daughters from Austin, Texas, where I was Director of Technology for the interactive agency Schematic. I am writing this initial blog series to kick off my tenure here and explain my beliefs about and approach to software development and project management. I will also probably write a little about rain, kids and bicycles.
Working for Schematic in Austin was an unbelievable opportunity, a great experience that shaped my thinking in ways I haven’t even figured out yet. Schematic is a recognized leader among interactive agencies, well-known for big projects with marquee brands like ABC, Microsoft, PGA Tour, NBC Sports and Cannes Lions. In Austin, we were the Interactive Agency of Record for Dell Computer and Reliant Energy, evolving their approach to user experience, social media, and integrated campaign strategies.
By contrast, Pop Art is a compact (read: tiny), razor sharp agency with a strong client list of national, regional and local companies. Pop Art defines nimble, adapting to changing times and business climates through fluidity of project type, staff mix, and client list. While reviewing a recent refresh of the Pop Art website (coming soon), I learned that we have produced over 500 projects since 1997, across as wide a range of services as any large agency — from software to branding to social media – to a set of clients so diverse it includes both local non-profit organizations and global Fortune 500 companies. The opportunity to shape and lead the technology discipline here is a dream job for me, and I am blessed to be surrounded by the most creative and tech-savvy agency team I’ve ever seen. (Also, more foodie knowledge than even the culinary institute up the street…)
Whether as a consultant, an agency employee, or director of software project teams, I have long held the same three goals for my career:
- “Move the needle” for clients through unexpected innovation and outsize results;
- Provide employees and partners the opportunity to work on challenging, engaging opportunities that grow their skills and further their careers;
- Make significant contributions to the continued development and community of the Internet and related technologies.
For a bunch of reasons I will describe in this series, a multidisciplinary boutique like Pop Art is a breath of fresh air for clients, employees and the web itself, an ideal place to innovate and put into practice the lessons I have learned in fifteen years of providing technology services to the world’s leading brands.
Innovation is the heart of interactive marketing. Fresh thinking and new technology leads the way, and successful campaigns rewrite the rules, change the game, instead of just changing the score. Over my next three articles, I will describe the characteristics and strategies of the small agency – of Pop Art specifically – that make us best suited to delight your audience with innovative and exciting campaigns and products.
Part Two: Surviving Innovation: Why We Code, and When We Don’t
Working in emerging technologies is exciting, for agencies and for clients. It can also be expensive and fraught with risk. Knowing the difference between high-value “imagineering” work and commodity development activities allows for amazing leverage in software resourcing.
Part Three: Tooling Up: The Project Management Tax
With agile methodologies, tech-aware employees and collaboration tools like Basecamp, are project managers still necessary? Small agencies are succeeding at revolutionizing the project management role and delivering increased value to clients and the bottom line.
Part Four: Conclusions: The Big Agency Model is Broken
The Internet changes fast these days, even for the Internet. The intersection of traditional, social, mobile and physical technologies provides historic opportunities and equally historic challenges to large and small agencies alike. The large, “full service” agency is proving to be a poor model for helping clients react quickly to the business opportunities made possible by this changing tide. These agencies, and their clients, are more than ever turning to nimble experts like Pop Art for exciting and thoughtful experiments with emerging technology.