Easy Mac websites and podcasts

I’m sitting here listening to MacVoices’ Chuck Joiner interview Steve Sande about Steve’s new ebook, Take Control of iWeb: iLife ’08 Edition.

I had the privilege of being the editor on this project for Take Control Ebooks. Steve’s got a wonderful way of explaining things, and he did a particularly good job of pointing out some powerful hidden features in iWeb, a part of Apple’s iLife ’08 software suite.

Let me start by saying that iWeb has nowhere near the power of full-fledged web design software like Dreamweaver and GoLive. You absolutely cannot muck with the HTML code (though you can paste “HTML snippets” into the templates). But iWeb virtually guarantees that, using its attractive templates and themes and taking advantage of its tight integration with iPhoto, you’ll have an impressive-looking site. (That’s why, though I blog with Google’s Blogger, I did my professional resume with iWeb.)

After working with Steve on his book, I was inspired to put some audio and video pieces online with iWeb. It turns out that putting up videocast files from iMovie or podcast files from GarageBand can be done in a matter of seconds with iWeb. Steve also shows you a variety of ways to put iPhoto content onto the web, and has some downright amazing ways to edit images for the web using iWeb’s Instant Alpha feature.

Previously, iWeb required you to publish your website on Apple’s membership service, .Mac. Now, though it still requires .Mac membership, you can publish an iWeb-designed site seamlessly through .Mac so that it appears at your personal web domain (i.e., http://www.yourdomainname.com).

Taking a cue from Google’s Blogger, the new iWeb allows you to add widgets with RSS feeds, forms, e-commerce—it’s quite slick. Interested? Steve explains it all, with tons of great screenshots to illustrate the processes.

Deep messaging

1990 Civic station wagon

2009 Fit

The best marketing communication doesn’t come from the marketing department.

It comes from the customer. The language can be eloquent, or unvarnished. Sometimes the communication is non-verbal.
Like the fellow who drove up to our house Saturday to look at the 1990 Honda Civic station wagon I’d posted for sale on Craig’s List.
He was driving a 1990 Honda Civic station wagon with 240,000 miles on it. Mine, with a mere 80,000 miles, was going to be an upgrade.
As it happened, he didn’t get the car. He’d wanted a few days to get an inspection, but I had so  many good prospects, I was able to get a substantial cash down-payment from the second fellow who saw the car.
To my astonishment, by the time I removed the car from Craig’s List (less than 48 hours after the initial posting), I’d received more than 30 calls. 
A few were from folks simply looking for a low-mileage car for less than $2,000. But most were from people who wanted a low-mileage circa-1990 Honda Civic station wagon. When the fellow called from Eureka, California, and wanted to drive up and pay cash, I was a bit surprised. But then I got similar calls from Masschusetts, Texas, and Pennsylvania. 
And then there were the local folks who offered to pay as much as $150 more than the asking price if I’d return the down payment and sell to them instead. As I chatted with these folks, and put a couple of them into the “back-up offer” category, I discovered they had one thing in common: They all owned, or had owned, a 1990 Honda Civic station wagon.
The phone rang as I was writing this, and it was one more prospective buyer, Jim Kerr from Florida. After telling him the sad news that the car had gone on to its next home, I said I just had to ask why on earth he was looking at a car all the way out in Seattle.
“Because I have one just like it,” he said. “If my car was to get destroyed, it’s gone. There’s no way to replace it. So what I’m looking for is a replacement.” 
Oh, and the Honda Civic he’s got now? He’d flown out to Phoenix to buy it, driving it back to Florida.
Honda could certainly sell a lot of those Civics if they ever made them again. The Civic itself is the second-longest continuously-running nameplate from a Japanese manufacturer. Interestingly, Honda stopped making a Civic station wagon in 1991, rendering the fourth generation (1988-1991) station wagons like mine instant classics.
One of the reasons I’d clung all these years to a car that lacked air bags, lavishing frequent checkups and annual full detailing on it, was that I simply could not find a small, inexpensive car that combined great visibility, proven reliability, station wagon access, and tons of configurable cargo room. 
The reason I was finally able to let go? The 2009 Fit. Of course, it’s by Honda. While I wait for my Fit to be delivered this summer, I’ve been fortunately to be able to borrow my mom’s car—a 2005 Honda Civic sedan.
Can we say “brand loyalty?”

Drink different

If you think that Steve Jobs’ big contribution to American culture is the Mac or the iPhone, you didn’t see Howard Schultz’s performance at this morning’s Starbucks shareholders meeting.

In a clear, passionate two-hour presentation—remarkably familiar to anyone who has seen an Apple keynote—Schultz wooed a packed house of worried stockholders (Starbucks stock has drifted down from 32 a year ago to 17 as of this morning) with video clips, third-party endorsements, flashy new hardware (two coffee machines) and tasty wetware (Pike Market blend). He even led into his announcement of the acquisition of the Clover French-press technology with Jobs’ trademark keynote teaser “One more thing…” And, in contrast to last year’s kinda lame video chat with Sir Paul McCartney, Schultz brought his friend K. D. Lang onstage for a soulful and highly appropriate rendition of “In Cold Dark Places (I Think of Spring).”

In Jobs’ 1997 letter to shareholders, he asked rhetorically “how does a company manage to lose a BILLION dollars?”

Schultz was similarly blunt, and similarly disarming, announcing shortly after he took the stage that “performance has not met your expectations. Or mine.”

Will the Starbucks CEO pull off as amazing a turnaround as Jobs did in his legendary return to Apple? I came away convinced that he will. And that’s what the presentation game is all about, isn’t it?

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest

Amazon and Penguin have announced the 10 finalists for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.

I was one of the National Book Critics Circle reviewers who perused the initial batch of 800 manuscripts. It was a thrill to find that one of the 12 books I vetted (and loved) was chosen as a finalist.

As I’m not a fan of period fiction, I was truly surprised to find myself charmed by The Wet Nurse’s Tale by Erica Eisdorfer. Set in 19th century England, and narrated by a second-generation wet nurse, the story broke stereotype in many ways: the narrator was less than attractive, even the nastiest characters were complex, and the plot, while grimly realistic, didn’t lack for humor and passion. In short, this read like a brilliant memoir.

But don’t take my word for it. You can download and read the first three chapters of The Wet Nurse’s Tale (and any of the other nine finalists) from Amazon.com. And you can post a review that will be taken into consideration for the final judging.

Keeping our wits about us

Terry Pratchett, author of the renowned Discworld series, lives with a diagnosis of a rare form of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Pratchett recently donated half a million UK pounds ($1 million US) to the Alzheimer’s Research Trust in the UK, and this sparked a Match it for Pratchett campaign. In the US, donations (by phone, online, or by check) can be made to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Imagine what could happen if each of us who have been delighted and inspired by his work gave one hour’s worth of pay to this cause. I invite readers of this blog to join me in donating that amount in honor of Terry and to combat this as-yet incurable disease.


(Thank you to Whump for alerting me to the campaign.)

Serious about content?

Really serious? You might want to check out the content folks, from marketing to technical communications, gathering at a Ning group called The Content Wrangler Community.

Scott Abel, who leads the wranglers, is the organizer of major content management conferences including Web Content 2008 in Chicago in June.

Much of the discussion at Content Wrangler seems to involve folks in large organizations with complex requirements for content management systems. But there’s also a fledgling sub-group devoted to blogging issues. And it’s valuable to have the Wrangers as a resource to get a sense of emerging issues in the field, many of which will eventually trickle down to the small-organization level.

Care and feeding of your fellow bloggers

It’s been a busy but very satisfying week, with significant progress on a number of projects and some inspiring get-togethers with friends, new and old. By the end of the day today I’d cleared my desk for the first time in some weeks. (It will be tempting to avoid checking email tomorrow!)

Travel, work, and socializing had me neglecting my usual blog reading, and I’m trying to catch up this evening. Just came across this great post from social networking expert Jim Benson on four ways to nurture your blogging community.


Ready to scream if you hear the term “social networking” one more time? Usually I am. But I’m glad I got over it long enough to read this insightful piece by Josh Holat, “The state of social networking.”

Too many of the pronouncements about social networking sites are being made by the people who design them, invest in them, or study them. Josh’s observations come from actually using them.

Read it and laugh

At the heart of every annoying situation is an element of humor, and I tend to find the humor fairly quickly; it’s difficult for me to stay annoyed or angry.

I think I learned this from my father and his brother, Bob. I recall them sitting in big comfortable chairs in Bob and Arv’s family room (a room notable for its floor-to-ceiling bookshelves overflowing with art books, collections of essays, and fiction), reading aloud to each other from the works of mid-century masters like James Thurber, E.B. White, and Robert Benchley.

I was slow to catch on to the Benchley, but Thurber delighted me right away. My favorite Thurber story was “The Night the Bed Fell,” an apparently simple tale about things going bump in the night at the Thurber residence in Columbus, Ohio.

Re-reading the story last week, I was struck by what a narrative gem it is. The setup in the opening paragraphs is deceptive swift and casual. Watch for the mention of the grandfather: We never meet him, but he’s essential to the story’s equally concise conclusion.

Some of the details (three generations living in one house; young Thurber sleeping on an army cot; an attic bedroom; and the use of liquid camphor as an inhaled stimulant) date the story. But the meddling mother, the eccentric grandfather, the moody father, the self-absorbed house guest, and the snarky attitude of young Thurber, still ring true.

Though the piece seems chatty and detailed, it’s really a masterpiece of understatement, alluding to darker themes. “My father had decided to sleep in the attic one night, to be away where he could think,” is all Thurber says of the action that triggers the tale. It’s a marvelous piece of foreshadowing. By the time you’ve finished the story, you have a much better idea of what Thurber senior was trying (in vain) to get away from.

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