This is my old blog and the content is probably out of date. For the latest, go to blog.stevecochrane.com.

Steve Cochrane likes to make websites.

Why “cookie”?

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“The name ‘cookie’ comes from a comparison to an unopened fortune cookie, because of the hidden information inside.”

In case anyone else was pondering the etymology of those little text files, there you go. Thanks, Wikipedia.

Remember when people were terrified of these things? Terrified of despicable marketers shadowing us across the internet, using our hard drive space to record our every move? When I was in college, with Netscape 6 as my browser, I enabled a setting that would prompt me, for every cookie, whether I would authorize or block it. Whenever I went to a new website I would get like four or five of those things. God, I wasted so much time in college.

Thrilling Advances in Online Retail

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So, GoldenHook. It’s a site where you can order a custom-made winter hat.

Let’s get started. Step 1: choose a general model for your hat. Nothing out of the ordinary here, I’ll just go with “Classical.” Step 2: edit colors. Wow, I can set the color of each individual stitched row in the hat? Crazy. Okay, I think I’ve settled on a design. Let’s order this thing. Next.

Step 3: Choose a grandma to knit your hat. Boom goes the dynamite.

Choosing Grandma Lydia at Goldenhook.fr

Brilliance. This is extremely funny, it demonstrates that their hats are made with love and care (by actual grandmas!) and it’s cleverness like this that gets people to show off the site to their friends. This is how you go viral, or whatever.

IE Collection

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Internet Explorer Collection (a package of all versions of IE, that runs on a single machine) is a godsend for browser testing.

(via Marc Escobosa)

Scrapbooking

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I heard an especially inspiring story from the frequently inspiring podcast The Sound of Young America the other day, and I thought it was worth sharing.

It’s from an interview with “internet troubadour” Jonathan Coulton, an ex–software engineer who decided to quit his job and become a full–time musician.

Jesse Thorn: You [quit your job] just as your wife was pregnant with your first baby. Wasn’t it?

Coulton: Well, it was after she was born… well, actually, we probably had the conversation when she was still pregnant. But, yeah, that was a big part of the impetus as well, because it was sort of a wake–up call in terms of my own mortality. I don’t know if other people feel that way, but that was one of the things I felt the most keenly. It was like, oh, wow, I get it, now I’m a dad, my dad just became a grandfather, and my grandfather is dead. So, I see where this is going, you know? (laughs) And on top of it, I felt a new pressure to be a good role model. I started looking at myself through my daughter’s eyes. What would I see if I were my daughter?

The answer is that I would see a guy who had aspirations, and who maybe had some talent, and just never took the chance, and instead got bogged down and stuck behind the safety and comfort of a job that was not really what he wanted to do. I didn’t want to look like that to her, and I wanted her to have the ability to make the brave choice. And in order to do that, I needed to make the brave choice.

You can listen to the whole interview and a bunch of his songs at the TSOYA website. In a few months, I’ll be seeing Coulton perform in front of potentially 50,000+ people at the Penny Arcade Expo, so he seems to be doing pretty well for himself now.

His story reminded me of the heart-rending “Things I’m Going to Do” page in the scrapbook from Up. This is a man who is bravely filling in the remaining pages of his life’s scrapbook exactly how he wants to.

Debug ActionScript from your browser

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I have emerged victorious from my month-long ActionScript adventure, and I owe it to this tutorial on how to read trace() statements from your browser.

Typically when coding ActionScript, you run trace() statements to output debug messages like any other compiled language, or like console.log() for Firebug. But when the SWF runs in the browser, those trace() statements are no longer visible, which simply isn’t good enough for me when I’m running something with a lot of background API calls like Google Analytics Tracking for Adobe Flash. Things can behave very differently in the browser.

After going through the tutorial to set this up, which doesn’t take long, those trace() statements will output to a log file that you can view as it changes. Not only is this incredibly useful for fixing bugs, but you get major geek points for having lots of text scrolling by in Console.app, the geekiest of all apps.

Why I do what I do

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People occasionally ask me why I work on the web for a living, and why I’m so passionate about it. Here’s what I tell them.

In short, the web is magic. You write some simple code in an inexpensive text editor, and when it’s ready (or not) you upload those bits to a server somewhere. You probably don’t even know where your server is, but it doesn’t matter. In that instant, anyone, anywhere in the world can type a tiny address into their web browser and instantly view a perfect reproduction of your work. Provided the server can handle the capacity, even millions of people could view your site at once.

The geographical distances or the limited materials that used to restrict an idea no longer apply. And it gets better: you’re not a special case here. Anyone who can afford a computer has the power to do this. There has been no better time in history to be creative.

Now, expedited by an economic recession, we’re seeing the effects of this sudden leap forward. Multi-billion dollar industries who were doing just fine even a decade ago have had the rug pulled out from under their feet. It’s easy to pop some popcorn and get a little schadenfreude out of watching these lumbering dinosaurs fall, but either way, when the dust settles, we’ll be in a much better place. Now we’re in the interesting part, where we figure out how to get there.

So it’s easy to see why I’m utterly fascinated with the web. I’m no history buff, but it’s probably the most significant human advancement since the printing press. I want to be involved, to watch the web grow, and hopefully, to help make it even better.

Dispatch from the Frontlines

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I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to write a thing about the whole VidSF thing for (Emmy-award-winning!) Mark Joyella’s Local TV News blog (a fine blog).

Sorry if you already saw that on either of my Twitter feeds. Ugh. I figure it was important enough to post on all three of my channels, but now I feel like I should pay some kid to write all my tweets so that I can go speak at conferences about Web 2.0 Social Media Something Something Profit! Apologies for being “that guy.”

Two and a half years

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It’s been two and a half years since the debut of stevecochrane.com v3. You know, the one with the owl.

It was a textbook case of over-design and I worked on it intermittently for roughly eight months. I made a lot of mistakes, and I always enjoy when people that I respect publicly acknowledge and laugh at their own mistakes, so here goes.

A web design is not an excuse for the designer to show off their skills. When I saw Jeffrey Zeldman speak at An Event Apart once, one of the many brilliant things he talked about was what he calls the “guitar solo” approach to web design. This is where the designer does a bunch of crazy, superfluous stuff to show off how awesome they are to fellow designers. This was exactly what I did, and the result was pretty clunky and vague.

Don’t start a series that you have no intention of supporting. You know the giant tagline at the top, “Web standards make me want to rock out”? That’s a play on a lyric from Art Brut’s “Modern Art”, and my intention was to have a series of lyrics twisted into web jokes. “I’ll think of more later,” I said. That never happened, and the first one stayed up for the life of the site.

Don’t publish a site until everything is final. Obvious, right? Well, I spent so much time on the index page that I got impatient and said “let’s do this thing,” slapped together the rest, and shipped it. The other parts of the site, like the single post view, the comments, and pretty much everything other than the index, never looked quite right. Also, the About page has been “Coming Soon!” for two and a half years.

The best creative tools are the ones that stay out of your way so that you can do your work. The current blog is built with WordPress, which is a good platform, but it requires too much maintenance for me. Most times I log in I get prompted to upgrade, and the essential caching plugins wreak havoc on my file system, wasting even more time. So I’m experimenting with the impeccably designed Tumblr and planning for a possible switch, in the hopes that its simplicity will encourage me to write more regularly.

Do something memorable. This is one I’m currently struggling with. Even though it’s basically window dressing, people like the owl and the scrolling speech bubbles, and they remember my site because of them. I want to cut it because I feel it’s very distracting to a reader, but maybe the best answer here is to just tone it down a bit. But ideally I would do something that is memorable and that has functional value.

Now I need to work on some design iterations. Also, maybe not have so many posts that are all “me, me, me.”

Real Priorities

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“Mud Rooms, Red Letters, and Real Priorities”, in which Merlin blows my mind for the third post in a row.

I know I probably link to it too much, but I really can’t recommend 43 Folders enough. Reading (and re–reading, and re–re–reading) the site over the last couple years has completely changed how I work.

Fancy T-Shirts

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I enjoy fancy t-shirts. This is no secret.

Yet for some reason, I’ve never shared the love here. So, here are three personal favorites that help show off your design knowledge, spark geeky conversations, and look stylish simultaneously. I own all three of these and people like them.

Typography: Ampersand tee by House Industries.

Ampersand t-shirt

Grids: Grid Systems tee by YouWorkForThem.

Grid t-shirt

The Golden Ratio: Ratio M tee by Brooklyn Industries.

I Feel Golden golden ratio tee