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Unplugged

I have a shocking confession to make: I'm an electricity junky. There, I've admitted it. I need to be somewhere near small holes in the wall where I can plug in something and have it do its thing. When the power goes out I find myself flipping on light switches I know won't work. I can *feel* the lack of energy in the walls. I miss the thrill of all those electrons, buzzing around in the walls.

And I'm not alone--even my chinchilla is addicted. I gave him one of those heated rocks that are really meant for reptiles, and it's his best friend. When the power goes out he just seems *sad*.

It's odd to think that in the last 100 years much of the world has become *addicted* to electricity. If you think you aren't, go to the circuit breaker in your house and switch it off. And NO batteries (they're just canned electricity). Turn off the main water valve if your house has a well. Without power, just try to buy something at any store, including the supermarket. Try to drive without stop lights. Climb six flights or more of stairs in a high rise. Try to send e-mail, surf the web or watch TV. Of course you *can* live without these things, but you'll suffer serious withdrawal pains.

I'll come over and video tape you (since these reality/voyeur shows are so popular, we can call it "Electric Island") and we'll see how long it takes before you try to knock me out and take possession of the laptop, flashlight, and portable refrigerator I've brought with me. Then you can tape me as I have an *out of battery experience.*

If you live in California, the high-tech capital of the world, then you know what I'm talking about. Every day 33 million Californians are told their power may go off. California has the 7th largest economy in the world and more computers per capita than anywhere else on the planet. So it's ironic that we may not have the power to run all this high-techness.

The reasons are complex and debatable. Many Californians say it's about greedy out-of-state power producers who are price-gouging--charging 700% more than they did last year (and there's truth to that). Political types explain it's the fallout of badly written deregulation laws, and the free market is getting more than the market can bear (also true). Still others will say that it's the fault of bad zoning laws that don't require solar power and other clean ways to make buildings more self-sufficient (true again).

I personally have begun to wonder if it isn't just the Universe's way of telling us to slow down.

You see, there could be a good side to being unplugged for a few hours a day. It gives us more time to nap. It's a good excuse to go outside. It's even a good reason for missing deadlines: "I'm sorry, I couldn't do that work, my power was off." It sure beats "my robot dog ate my Zip disk!"

More good news--suddenly mundane everyday things, like making toast or washing clothes, turn into naughty luxuries. Yes, I made toast this morning. I'm bad! (Of course, while toasting I also warmed my hands since my thermostat is set to 60.)

And while "turning-off" sounds good, I have to admit I'm grumpy about it. I've been saving energy for years. I don't use air conditioning. I have a low-power LCD computer monitor. This year our power bill shows we're using 25% less power than last year (despite my wife's penchant for heating the bathroom until endangered rainforest creatures could move in and feel right at home.)

Yet I don't get any credit for this. I don't get back any of the power I saved. I know, virtue is its own reward and I'm helping the environment, but even so, once in a while the power company could leave my power on or at least send a fruit basket.

Instead, during our new and exciting "rolling blackouts," I end up with a $1,500 paperweight on my desk. The "paperweight" is my computer, and it sits there dark and silent while I write with a Fisher Space Pen.

So here are some suggestions to help alleviate this "crisis."

All "stationary" and "spinning" bikes, treadmills and other repetitious equipment in gyms and fitness centers should be attached to generators. The more you use them, the less your membership fee is (since the club makes money selling the power you generate). I mean, otherwise people are just getting all sweaty and creating nothing. This solution also works for kids and rodents (my chinchilla, however, won't run on these little wheels because he's too classy).

Make it a law that all politicians must wear small windmills in front of their mouths. They give off enough hot air to light up the eastern seaboard. In a similar vein, political analysts and stock analysts should also generate power from all their backpedaling.

Daniel Will-HarrisAnd for my birthday this year, my friends can all chip in and get me a solar panel. A big one.

To see how much power we use on this planet, and where we use it, look at this remarkable picture of the entire earth at night from space (35K). Here's a bigger one, 550K and worth it.

To save it, right click and choose "Save Picture As..." (or on the Mac, hold the mouse button down for two seconds, then choose "save picture as...")

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The Art & Science Of Web Design--
Live And In Person With Me

Are you in the dark about web design? Pathetic when it comes to programming?

If so, have I got a seminar for you. "The Art & Science of Web Design," lead by me and best-selling author Bruce Eckel (Thinking in C++, Thinking in Java) is a 3-day seminar on web design and technology.

You'll learn how to demystify design and the logic behind it; the step-by-step process of effective design; plus my techniques for successful web design and navigation. On the technical side, you'll learn how to understand the whys and hows of web servers; how to interact with the server using CGI, and the basics of using databases on the server.

You'll also get great views of Lake Geneva, in Chexbres, Switzerland. (Live, not through a web-cam, since the seminar is, in fact, in Switzerland.) What's not to like?

To get the most out of this seminar you should have some experience with creating web sites and a basic understanding of how they're built.

The Swiss location is convenient if you live in Europe, or if you want a good excuse to visit Europe. The seminar is May 9th through the 11th, 2001. Registration is limited, and there's a discount if you sign up early. Read more about it. I hope to see you there.

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Add Forms, Start A Conversation

If you just post your site and never ask for your visitors to talk back to you, you're *really* in the dark. If you've got a site, you want to hear from your site visitors. At least you *should.*

The simplest way is an e-mail link. You can add a "mailto:" link easily in HTML, or NetObjects Fusion (in NetObjects Fusion, just choose external link and select "MAILTO:" from the drop down where you see "http://"

If you want to add forms to your site, where people can fill information into fields, then it gets trickier. Creating forms themselves is fairly easy (especially in NetObjects Fusion), but doing the "backend" work of processing them isn't.

There are, however, a few ways to make it a lot easier.

http://www.response-o-matic.com has always been one of my favorites, because they handle all the complicated server stuff, and just mail you the form results. To learn how to make forms in NetObjects Fusion (and don't miss the tutorial specifically about adding Response-o-matic forms, the link's at the end of this article).

 

Lately, however, Response-o-matic has added more and more ads to the "form sent" page, so your visitor are confronted with a frightening mass of ads that look kind of like a cartoon character threw up. You can eliminate that by paying them $5 a month, which is quite reasonable considering how easy it is.

It gets even easier if you use another service from the same company, http://www.freedback.com/ - all you do is fill in a form on their site, and they create the HTML for a form which they will then process. Of course, you don't have as much control, but it could hardly be easier. You can use the service for free if you don't mind the mind-boggling ads (they don't look very professional), so paying the monthly service fee is probably in your best interest.

If you use NetObjects Fusion, there's a http://club.coolmaps.com component called Club Mailer. You're just a click, skip and a jump away from having live forms on your site, with Coolmaps handling all the back end work. An excellent solution.

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Adding Html To Netobjects Fusion (It's Easy!)

OK, so you want to add something like a form or PayPal "buynow" button to your site. Or maybe you want to insert a search box or other kind of form.

If a site (or person) gives you a chunk of HTML, how do you get it into Fusion? Easier than you might think.

Before you start, Choose View/Object icons. This will insert a small blue icon wherever you insert HTML. Then:

  1. Create a text box, or double click inside of an existing text box.
  2. Click your mouse where you want the HTML code.
  3. Press SHIFT-ENTER (or just plain ENTER) so that your code will be on its own line--this helps prevent formatting problems.
  4. Press the space bar once or twice. (This is optional, but it helps make the HTML icon easier to see, select and edit later).
  5. Click on the property palette's "HTML" button.
  6. Cut the HTML code from PayPal (or any other source).
  7. Paste the code into this box and click on OK.

If you want to edit the code later, just double click on the blue icon and the HTML edit window will appear.

It's important to have the View/Objects icons turned on--otherwise you can't see where you've inserted HTML, and you could accidentally delete it (HTML added this way will be deleted, without warning when you delete the text it's in).

It's also important to preview your page (the fastest way is by pressing Control-P). Most of the time it will be absolutely fine. You've got your great-looking NetObjects Fusion page, and your easily dropped in form.

However, forms and other HTML *can* change the layout of your page, if the form itself is wider than the space you provided. When that happens, you may have to delve into the HTML itself and make the fields narrower (usually the code will say something like SIZE=21 or "input size=15"). To change those numbers, double click on the HTML icon, make those numbers smaller and try again.

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Do good for free with just a click

NOW is the time to visit these sites, and click to donate for free. Make sure to visit the sponsors who support the site--that's why it's free to you.

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One Final Word

When the power goes out, my favorite pen is the Fisher Space Pen. No, this isn't some kind of Jerry Seinfeld reference, it really is an amazing pen that *always* writes right, upside down, under water, you name it. http://www.spacepen.com


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The SchoomozeLetter is ©1998-2005, Daniel Will-Harris, all rights reserved. If you'd like to use any article on the web or in print, please ask for permission. If you're an agent or publisher looking to publish these pieces, just drop me a note.