Archive for the ‘Projects’ Category

CoachAccountable: My Personal Project

January 16th, 2013 No comments

Yesterday I wrote about personal projects, and I would be remiss not to mention my own.  It’s called CoachAccountable.

It’s a SaaS business, cloud-based software for managing and structuring professional coaching relationships.  Reborn from the ashes of version 1 which was built nearly 4 years ago by me and my partners, it carries forth the pretty pixels created by my fab design partners Lee Robinson and Rob Fieldhouse.  Otherwise, like I detailed about personal projects yesterday, I’m fully responsible for however it’s great and however it’s not.

My work on CoachAccountable is the reason I haven’t posted here in over 7 months1, as that writing bandwidth has been essentially redirected to the CoachAccountable blog.  So if you’re curious what I’ve been up to, there you have it.

If you’re reading this chances are good that the content of online coaching software might not be interesting to you, but the craftsmanship of it might be.  I’m proud to have my signature all over it.

You can see my baby here:


  1. Lordy, has it been that long?  Goodness, how time flies when you’re having fun!
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The (Sometimes Instant) Good Karma of Open Source Contribution

March 18th, 2012 3 comments

I’m tickled by the good that can come of the noble act of releasing an open source project.

Two months ago I released trueDAT, a web-based GUI for MySQL databases and the first real project I’ve ever taken the time to open source.  While I always figured good things eventually came to open source contributors1, I didn’t have expectations for myself while showing off trueDAT for the first time at a Meetup group back in mid-January.

While demoing my baby, I made the acquaintance of two folks eagerly looking to birth their web vision: a user generated content site focused on promoting the best with prize-laden contests.  They were then working on learning PHP and MySQL, and so trueDAT, a tool which makes a really novice-friendly way to interact with databases, made a nice topic of conversation.  (They were also a bit displeased with the progress on their site with their current provider, so we had plenty to talk about.)

The instant good karma of open sourcing trueDAT is summed up in the following 2 snippets from emails from them to me over the two days that followed:

…  I’d like to talk over potentially hiring you to build Masspire. I’m not that enthused about my current menu of options, and I’d like to explore a bit more. …


… Basically, if we can think up a mutually agreeable version of the site that you’d be willing to build for $… I’d be happy to work with you. I’ve got a bit more faith in someone who makes something like trueDAT for fun than an Indian firm.  …

These words simply tickle me:

I’ve got a bit more faith in someone who makes something like trueDAT for fun than an Indian firm.

I share them not to brag on what a great open source guy I am (I’m not, I’m new to this game–trueDAT hasn’t even been downloaded 100 times since I released it two months ago), nor to revive the notion that I’m anti-India (I’m just anti-cheap slop).  Rather I wish to share that experience with my fellow programmer: that open sourcing can make such a powerful and immediate impression on the type of person who could/would/should hire you.

In hindsight?  Makes total sense.

Beforehand, I only knew open sourcing as more of an ideologically good thing.

Today, about 2 months later, we have high fived over the successful build of their site, which can be seen now at  I had a solid February as a contractor, and they’re pleased with the value and end result of their work.

Our connecting professionally was a tidy win-win, and a direct result of chops effectively demonstrated through an open source project.

Doing well by doing good, illustrated.  Viva open source.


  1. E.g. I’ve donated a few bucks here and there to some of my heroes for creating modules I’ve found useful
Categories: Essays, Projects Tags:

Design in a Pinch: Simple Extrapolation

January 31st, 2012 2 comments

My fab sister-in-law is getting married in June, and as is oft the case in my familial circles, I as web guy was a natural candidate to make the wedding website.

“Would love to,” I said to Jen upon her request, “just give me whatever text, images, and design elements from your invitations and I’ll put it together.”

She did a bang-up job in giving me the site pages + content–it was one of the easiest copy-and-paste jobs I’ve ever done.

In the visuals department I got a shot of the wedding venue, a vector art graphic of a monochrome tree which adorns the invites (in a lovely shade of blue, #315683), and photo of the happy couple in Italy, taken in the proud tradition of heads tilted together smiling at an outstretched arm.

In total, this is not a whole lot of guidance, design-wise: a single motif in a single color.  I generally love (and prefer) collaboration with a designer who supplies me with pretty pixels that I get to bring to life in web form.  But in this instance, no such luxury.  I’m not a designer myself, but I can pass for one in a pinch–this makes another occasion in which my experience with and lessons from the exceptional design talent at Playground comes in handy.

Turns out a single color and a single image can go along way to create a comprehensive aesthetic.

By picking a suitable matting color (in this case white to serve as the background for blue text) and picking a darker shade of the same hue for low-lights (in this case #0D2B4C, picked fairly willy-nilly from the ColorZilla color picker), you’ve got a nice base for a unified look of text, image borders, backgrounds, drop shadows, and gradients.  The monochrome motif can be employed in a few places tastefully as ornamentation (in this case, part of the header image and a large content background, muted by a partially opaque white mask).

The result?  Not too shabby, methinks.  From a single graphic and one color, the whole design comes out as an extrapolation: resizing the graphic twice, deriving two other colors and some CSS3 goodness were all design prowess it took to take the WordPress 2011 theme to the end result,


Categories: Design, Projects Tags:

Introducing trueDAT4

January 12th, 2012 No comments

God bless open source software.

By now I think folks who are cognizant of it at all pretty much know and agree that it makes the world a better place.  I think there is no better way to experience this than by taking stock of the open source contributions which have helped you while making one of your own.

trueDAT is the home-brewed database GUI tool that I’ve been using for over 8 years now.  The original tool to go by that name was conceived by Charles Guthrie back in ’03, in Classic ASP.  It was then a roguish way to get development work done on a network of servers where the admin overlords expressly forbid the installation of a more conventional and heavyweight solution like myLittleAdmin, and I loved the spirit of taking matters into one’s own hands and crafting the tools necessary when other solutions were unavailable.

In early ’05 as I was getting my own chops at web development I took a crack at writing a version 2.  I wanted to add a few useful features which I knew would be useful after months of working with the original.  The notion of creating things to scratch your own itch (as brilliantly articulated by 37 Signals) is a powerful premise indeed.

Three years later, with the sexy possibilities AJAX and MooTools well under my belt, I created trueDAT3.  Lee Robinson, one of my design peeps at Playground Creative, provided me pretty pixels so that my database tool would be a little zen garden of a workspace.  I don’t know if you know this, but a lot of developer tools are ugly, spartan, rough on the eyes (trueDAT1 and 2 were no exception!).  I realized then that developer tools should be sexy.  They make the work that much more enjoyable.

Now, three and a half years later still, we are at the current day.  I’ve matured a bit as a web craftsmen, enough to take real stock of all the contributions which have been made to me by complete strangers who thought well enough of the world to share their teachings, code, and skill.  Doing so makes me desire deeply to give something back, and thus I figure perhaps some good will come of sharing trueDAT with the world.

Version 4 adds in the features which I’ve come to recognize as useful after years of enjoying the last one, and opens things up drastically to be a bit more openly applicable for folks.

The result can be found at trueDAT’s own little website,  There you can tour the features, download the source, demo it out on a database filled with data that you don’t care about, and even go fork it on GitHub.

I have no idea how many people will ever use this, or even if it will ever catch on in any significant way.  Before any of that happens or doesn’t happen, though, I sit here now super satisfied to have put this all together as a gesture of following in the footsteps of my heroes of this trade.

Here’s to the great contributors of open source, who by their generosity have taught and given us all so much.

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Sometimes You Gotta Rebuild

November 27th, 2011 2 comments

This is project that was a long time in coming, and in a short time in doing.

I first became acquainted with the Zowzee team back in January when I went in to pitch on their then new project, DealNation.  Frustrated with the progress and process of working with a firm in India, they wanted to know if, in addition to building DealNation, I could expand their Zowzee application (built specially as a deal-of-the-day site) to be more of a general purpose marketplace of deals: let deals run for longer than a day, enable visitors to peruse and purchase from a collection of deals, and so on.

Tempting as it would be to pick up the extra bit of work, after poking around the code I had no interest: it was buggy, carelessly architected, and loaded with code duplication (meaning if you wanted to change something, you better be sure you found and updated every instance of it, or face new bugs and inconsistencies).  I couldn’t responsibly quote prices or time frames for any non-trivial work, to me it would all be subject to pitfalls and gotchas.

I said to Paul with earnest sympathy and apology (because I know it sucks to get the kind of news I had to give) that it would need to rebuilt if I were to make any substantial changes on it (I mean, who wants to hear that 3 months after you launch?).  I scoped it out and wrote it up, and estimated a solid two weeks to do everything and add in the big new features.  “But at that point” I told him, “you’ll have a super solid foundation from which point I’ll be able to make it do whatever you want, easily and without concern of introducing obscure bugs.”

Paul was open to it (a real testament, I think, to how it was going with the firm in India) but it was not in the budget at the time, thus Zowzee would trudge along in its current state for a while longer.

This month, with me now in house as CTO of DealNation, we found gap enough in my usual duties to direct our attention back to the Zowzee redesign: our sights were now to reincarnate it as SpotlightDenver.  Paul took the initiative to mock up some fab wire frames that really gave a clear vision, hired some design help to give me some pretty pixels to work with, and we were off.

Centered around the concept of a marketplace of deals, I built an e-commerce application nearly from scratch that was perfectly tailored to the needs in just over two weeks amidst usual DealNation duties.  The end result is, launched Monday, November 21th.

My team tells me that the whole thing went smoother for them than launching some of the deals on Zowzee, let alone the whole Zowzee site.  And the best part for my team is me delivering on my original promise of the rebuild: we’ve now got a super solid foundation that is easy to extend upon, and since launch I’ve been taking requests and building out new features that make everyone’s life easier and better.

The whole experience has reaffirmed for me that yes: though generally unpleasant news upfront, sometimes you gotta rebuild.  The good news is the other side can be quite gorgeous, workable, and profitable.

Categories: Essays, Projects Tags:

Being Awesome Is Awesome Fest

May 28th, 2011 No comments

Just for show and tell, here’s a tidy example of what web application development prowess can achieve to bring more life and vigor to a project:

Being Awesome is Awesome Fest is something I created as part of coaching a leadership program with the folks at Landmark Education.  Using the fantastic design work of Anne Richardson, I took about 2 days to create a website to power the project: user profiles, project submissions, status updates, email communications.

Categories: About Me, Projects Tags: