Friday, September 13, 1996

"Uhhh, no. I'm not superstitous about anything these days. Watch out for the ladder...!"

Not-So-Subtle Changes.

nstead of leaving things alone, I like to mess with them constantly, adjusting, tweaking and fine-tuning whatever I can. It's not that I'm not satisfied, but rather I always want to make things better than they are. I've always believed that old addage, if it ain't broke, don't fix it applies to someone else, not to me or my stuff. Clearly then, my mandate is to fiddle.
Several weeks ago, I wrote about being on a crusade to change my website pages in a subtle enough manner that people would notice the difference, yet still feel comfortable with the metaphor and ambience they've become accustomed to in the last eight months of the award-winning Website's life.
Well, I did finally make the changes to my Website over the 3-day, Labor Day Weekend. It went from a Second Generation to a Third Generation Website. And the reaction so far has been amazing. Over 325 letters came in over the past ten days with comments that break down into the following (paraphrased for readability) categories:

283I like it the new version.
19I liked the other version.
10Duh. Whatever are you talking about?
11Will you build a website for my company?
2Just dropped by to see Pickles.

Considering these comments, I'd say it's a clear winner. And I really like it.
Oh, there's still lots of tweaking and fiddling to do with details, but 99% of it is in place now. It was a tough call, taking down a very popular and elegant Website and replacing it with a very different graphical structure. I didn't have any second thoughts; just a small worry that I couldn't pull it off this time.
Several people questioned my sanity and marketing acumen for doing this. My answer is that companies change packaging all the time; the brand equity stays the same and people (consumers) continue to adjust. A Website is merely the packaging for someone's content. Now if I had changed the name of the Website, it would be akin to Datsun changing its US corporate name over to Nissan, a stupid marketing move in 80s that they are just beginning to recover from.

Hurricane Fran.

By the time Fran got to the Susquehanna Valley in Southeastern Pennsylvania last Friday, the winds were only 45-60mph and slowly declining. Many trees, power lines and egos fell. Damage was pervasive. When one is in the presence of a natural phenomenon, one is quickly brought back to reality. There is very little else that can humble one such as tornados, hurricanes, floods and other events that are totally beyond anyone's control. But the real damage was done in North Carolina and Virginia, where Fran slammed into the Carolina shore with 145mph winds and an ocean-sustained fury.
People died; 27 at last count. Homes, property and dreams were lost. Some forever. Others were damaged just until the rebuilding phase kicks-in. And then the next hurricane roars through, starting the process all over again.
The clouds and their formations were awesome: soaring by at a speed that, at times seemed surreal. A natural phenomenon right in our faces. The wind changed direction at least thirteen times, that I counted in the space of just a few hours. Probably more than that. The rain was a hard, horizontal, driving rain. It could almost blind you; it did me for a few seconds.
I watched the evolving tapestry of news pictures on the InterNet newspapers and on TV; it was as bad as The Flood in Harrisburg this past Spring. Destruction on a scale seldom seen this far north and inland for a hurricane. There were some big ones in past years in this area. The long-time residents can tell you all about them. I once lived in Coral Gables, Florida, for 4 years in the mid-70s, so hurricanes and their concurrent damage are no stranger to me. Yet I am awed by their sheer power, utter disregard for anything and full-impact destructive force of anything in their path. It goes well beyond awesome, I think. Sometimes, living through one real bad event can be akin to having a religious experience.
And then, as suddenly as it appeared, it's over. The clouds were still amazing for days afterward; a myriad of shapes and forms and layers merging and avoiding each other. Speeding by with a most unsual alacrity in their spirit; perhaps knowing that it's all downhill from here, so make the most of it until the whole event is but a breeze. Fran deteriorated into a massive weather front, sporting rain and wind, moved over to Pittsburgh and then up to the New England area with noticeably-diminished rains. Finis.

Sunday Mornings.

Wow. Sunday mornings I can sleep late; to about 6:45am before leaving for work. It's technically a "short day" anyway; our hours of operation are only from 12noon to 5pm. But I get so much more work done if I'm in at 7:30am and there's no one, no phones, no nothing to interrupt my focus of attention. Besides, with the 25% Off Fall Nursery Sale that started Monday, September 2nd, it gets to be a madhouse quickly as soon as I open the front gate.
Years ago, I used to enjoy Sundays by reading The New York Times, making fresh, hot croissants from scratch, watching CBS' Sunday Morning TV show, lounging around, listening to classical music master Antonnio Vivaldi, taking care of the 200+ orchids I had in a collection in my condominium in Princeton, NJ, before I moved here to York, PA. When I enjoyed cooking for other people (I'm also a trained chef), it was a great day to go to the Shop-Rite and get fresh food at the markets. My fiancee and I did a lot of entertaining then. Times have changed.
Now, all the best I can hope for alone on the stage are re-heated croissant(s) from The Sure-Fine Market, 5 miles down the road in Stewartstown. No one carries The New York Times around here; it has to be specially-ordered-in by a local newstand owner, and only while you're seriously dating his daughter. Yikes; sign me up for home delivery!
Culture shock from New York City to York, PA? Yep, you bet.

Windows NT v3.51 WorkStation.

I loaded NT into the office computer, but retained the complete use of Windows For WorkGroups v3.11 with a dual boot capability of either O/S. Well, actually Pete Barry of Manchester Industries did. He convinced me that a powerful O/S such as NT would cure some of the problems I've been having with Windows and The InterNet, it now seems like forever! All the other programs I run - Word v6.0, Works v3.0, Excel v6.0, Office v4.0 and many others - would run just fine under NTs Operating System. And it looks just like v3.11 too. Soon NT v4.0 would arrive, be loaded over v3.51 and look just like Windows95. A very simple transition. Except that NTs manage everything much more professionally than Windows95 or anything previously available from Microsoft. NT is Windows95's big brother.
It's an impressive piece of software; I kicked the tires and took it for a spin around the block today. Lots of new features and benefits. New toys and tools. I was pressed for time and couldn't get too far into it; my customers require my immediate attention, and we did get quite a number of people coming through that needed help.
I'll go a little further every day until I get the feel for what it is capable of. If anyone has any kind of experience with an NT, let me know how it's worked for you. Throw a rock at my head if I'm doing something stupid, and you know it!

Automated, Guided Tour.

One of the new features I just installed into my Website is the Guided Tour of some of the interesting areas here at the Garden Center & Nursery. The Guided Tour link on the new nav-bar activates it. I saw it first on Jeffrey Zeldman Presents Website, so I saved the page to HotDogPro and played with the HTML. I asked Jeffrey some questions about exactly how it worked, and he was most informative. This was a few weeks before I called him to help re-design and re-structure my Website.
I used a special HTML tag that automatically pulls one page into the browser; then another and another. The time of view duration can be set, as can the next URL it calls up for the viewer.
In case you're interested in the HTML code, it's...


Put the code very first on the page above everything else. Just insert the next page (URL address) you want to come up into URL=?.htm". In CONTENT="?, insert the number of seconds (limit 60) that you want this page to wait before changing to the next viewable screen. Also, don't forget to put the brackets (<>) at the start and ending of the entire command, as well as in front of 'meta'. Don't ask; I can barely understand this stuff.
If you want the complete code, send me some mail and I'll provide it. Or find it on the tour.htm Pages. Simply go to the Toolbar above, select VIEW, then DOCUMENT SOURCE. Now save the page to your HD where your HTML text editor lives, and check it out the next time you open the editor. De-bug the pages before you put them up on the Web. Remember, when downloading graphics, figure everyone has a 14.4k modem; set the CONTENT= 30 to start with, then adjust depending upon how the graphic is loading. I have a 33.6k modem, and 30 seconds is just right to accomodate the time lag of the tags. The gif or jpeg must finish loading before the time set, or it appears to hang-up at that frame, so give it some extra time. Test it out with other people to see if it works. Now if I just had a few extra thousand a month for an ISDN, a T-1 or T-3 Line...

A Little Humor.

We all need some. Especially me, after doing battle with Netscape, Windows, Windows NT and all the shitpy stuff that makes life on the InterNet a real headache. Both 586 Pentiums still have this problem. I got the living shit beat out of me for the last 10 days or so, by both my 'puters. I'm afraid to look at the score; it's something like THEM - 17 and ME - 0. The frustration is unreal sometimes.
Here's a good one...

God was fed up. In a crash of thunder He yanked up to Heaven three influential humans: Bill Clinton, Boris Yeltsin and Bill Gates. "The human race is a complete disappointment," God boomed. "You each have one week to prepare your followers for the end of the world." With another crash of thunder they found themselves back on Earth.
Clinton immediately called his cabinet. "I have good news and bad news," he announced grimly. "The good news is that God exists. The bad news is, God is really mad and plans to end the world in a week."
In Russia, Yeltsin announced to parliament, "Comrades, I have bad news and worse news. The bad news is that we were wrong: God exists after all. The worse news is God is mad and is going to end the world in a week."
Meanwhile, Bill Gates called a meeting of his top engineers."I have good news and better news. The good news is that God considers me one of the three most influential men on Earth," he beamed. "The better news is we don't have to fix Windows95.

New Gardens.

Change is inevitable and usually for the good. With the thousands of people coming here weekly, it's nice to present a different scenario each time they arrive. The plants put on an ever-changing show of form, shape, texture and color from Spring through the Fall. People are stunned at what we have done with the Display Gardens in just 6 years. But I wanted more. I always do.
I re-designed the entire Western Display Gardens Site and built a most amazing 6,500sqft Alpine Garden. In preparation to build the new gardens, we had to dig-up, divide and repot hundreds of perennials and ornamental grasses. Dozens of rare, unusual and hard-to-find conifers and deciduous trees were also moved. It took six men, two dumptrucks, two days and both my JD Skidloader and JD 955 Tractor to get it completed. Large canopy trees, for immediate shade value, were brought-in from my extensive growing fields of nursery stock to give some relief to the western summer sun's whacker rays.
Designing something in a small area requires a much more judicious use of space than an area which has lots of elbow room to work. Every square foot and cubic inch is precious. So I brought in 25 tons of soil from our stockpiles at the back of the 20-acre complex, and built undulating mounds all around the area. I installed walks, both broken flagstone and fine crushed 1/2" bluestone gravel throughout, so people can walk among the plants, instead of standing and viewing from afar.
I also installed over 250 alpine perennials, miniature (under 1ft) conifers and deciduous trees, and several trays of sedums and sempervirens for an overall stabilizing effect. Beautiful! If this had been a residential job, the price tag would have been well over $10,000 for the project.
My office windows overlook the entire vista. Wow, what a difference! I'll have some pictures up in a week or so. As soon as I can find time to get to the film developer's hut at the shopping center.

J o h nS h e l l e y

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