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Author: Chris Minnick

Chris Minnick is a prolific published author, blogger, trainer, web developer and co-founder of WatzThis? (www.watzthis.com).

He has authored and co-authored books and articles on a wide range of Internet-related topics. His published books include: Adventures in Coding, JavaScript For Kids For Dummies, Coding with JavaScript For Dummies, Beginning HTML5 and CSS3 For Dummies, Webkit For Dummies, CIW eCommerce Certification Bible, and XHTML.

In addition to his role with WatzThis?, Chris is a winemaker, novelist, swimmer, cook, and musician.

Maybe I’m America’s 2nd Next Best Bartender?

Last weekend, a reality show called “America’s Next Best Bartender” had a casting call in Sacramento. As someone who is interested in booze production, serving, and consumption, I decided to go and see if I was America’s Next Best Bartender material. There was also some prize money attached to the title, which also helped persuade me to try out.

I have no idea what's going on here.
I have no idea what’s going on here.

The day started at noon, with a line of 20-30 people and some paperwork, followed by a lot of waiting around. This was my first reality TV casting call, so I didn’t really know what to expect. I could tell from the outfits and the over-the-top “attitude” that nearly everyone else there was a professional reality TV contestant.

Imagine, if you will…

Me (thinking): It just struck me that I’m the oldest person here. I hope there isn’t a dance competition as part of this thing. These seem like nice enough people, but they’re pretty loud. Am I not loud enough? Well, I’m sure my knowledge of bartending, beer, wine, and spirits will be far greater than any of these kids and I’ll get to be on this show. Do I want that, though?

Almost everyone else (very out-loud): Hey! Let’s get pumped up! Woooooo!

At around 2:00, I was called in for an interview with the producers and asked why I want to be America’s next best bartender. I said I didn’t care too much, actually, but I thought it could be fun. And, also, I like to drink. They told me to come back at 5 for the 2nd round.

I went back to my office, worked a little, prepared some snappy answers to the questions they were sure to ask (how about: “What qualities make a great bartender?”), and returned at 5.

After waiting for an hour or two in the crowd of other contestants (the 2nd round, oddly enough, seemed to be larger than the first round), I was called in for my 2nd audition, or interview, or whatever.

They asked me if I see myself as “The Parent,” “The Coach,” or “The Underdog.” I had no idea, except that I know I’m not a coach or a parent. I bumbled around a bit and then asked “what do you mean?” They asked me if I’d be able to handle the pressure and I assured them that I’m not afraid of anything, and I’m especially not afraid of being on a TV show.

There were no questions about bartending, or even about what the primary flavor in Galliano is or what’s in a Perfect Manhattan and what should it be garnished with. Ah well, I did well enough that I was invited back for the after party and casting announcement at 10:00.

I brought 3 of my nerdy friends with me to the party and we waited and people-watched. I drank a Gimlet, a couple beers, and some horrible shot from a test tube. The show producers watched the crowd of contestants from a balcony over the dance floor, and I thought my cool and aloof demeanor was sure to win me a spot on the show.

Oh boy was I wrong! At midnight, the chosen ones were called to the stage, one at a time, to dance around. Pretty much every one of them would have been my last choice for someone who would (in my opinion) make a great bartender. These were loud people who could dance and weren’t afraid to take their shirts off (but leave their neckties on, oddly enough) in a club.

I left the after party feeling relieved that I wasn’t picked, but a little disappointed as well. I’d be curious to see what this show ends up being like, but I won’t watch it, because I can’t stand and don’t understand reality TV.

Beginning HTML5 and CSS3 for Dummies is out now!

My latest book, which I co-authored with Ed Tittel, is out now and available everywhere computer books are sold! If you have no previous experience with web development and you’re interested in learning to create websites, or if you’re already a web developer and want to brush up on the latest HTML and CSS technologies, this is the book for you!

Here’s the link:
Beginning HTML5 and CSS3 For Dummies

In just about 400 full-color pages, you’ll learn all of the essential skills you need to create websites, including:

  • How to create the structure of a web page with HTML
  • How to use images and multimedia in your web pages
  • How to create links in web pages
  • How to use CSS to make your pages look great
  • How to use typography on the web
  • How to use CSS3’s new properties to do advanced text and shadow effects
  • How to optimize your web pages for mobile devices
  • and much much more!

Plus, there are full-color pictures of our cats, Sparky and Mr. Jones, for those of you who might be more interested in pictures of the cats than in learning to make web pages. This book really does have something for everyone!

 

Web 8.0: Are my predictions coming true?

Way back in 2006, when “Web 2.0” was all the rage (yes, it was that long ago), I wrote a blog post and created a fake conference about Web 8.0. Here are my 7 year old predictions. How am I doing? Do any of them seem plausible still? Did we skip over Web 4.0 or have we just not gotten there yet?


Chris Minnick’s Plan for Web 3.0 to Web 8.0

Web 1.0: Top-down, authoritative Web (finished)

Web 2.0: Bottom-up, community-driven Web (finished)

Web 3.0: Anonymity-seeking Web. Everyone’s sick of posting to their blogs. Search engines and social networking sites misuse and abuse customer data, and anonymity services that will remove you from the Web and mask your identity while you surf become popular. (early adopters entered Web 3.0 in September 2006)

Web 4.0: Proof of Identity Web. People realize that there are times when they want to be identified online, but this has become difficult as a result of the fake identities they created during Web 3.0. Encryption and digital signatures become widely used.

Web 5.0: Face-to-Face Web. Digital signatures and encryption are too difficult for most people to use correctly. Online video meetings become popular. The Virtual Hang-Out Machine, a $100 piece of consumer hardware that enables video conferencing between multiple people, is invented and becomes as widely used as social networking web sites were during Web 2.0.

Web 6.0: Protecting the Children / Censorship Web. A few cases of the Virtual Hang-Out Machine being used by pedophiles leads to government hearings and federal legislation to protect the children.

Web 7.0: Total breakdown of the Web. Web 6.0 laws have the effect of making the Internet much more difficult to use. People stop using it, and the number of Web sites starts going down.

Web 8.0: Resurgence of the Web. A new and improved Web emerges and it looks almost exactly like the one that was predicted at the 1st Annual Web 8.0 Conference, which was held in 2007.


Bumper Crop!

I’m overwhelmed with citrus! Despite my best efforts to thin out the lemon, grapefruit, and citron trees earlier this year, we have probably a hundred lemons, hundreds of grapefruit and perhaps 40 citrons.

Fortunately, I have ways of dealing with large amounts of citrus. Now, it’s just a matter of finding the time to deal with them. Here’s my plan (which, hopefully I’ll be able to follow through on).

1. We started a batch of limoncello yesterday, and are planning to start a new batch every Sunday until we run out of lemons…which could be some time in June.

2. Grapefruit wine. While I personally don’t like to drink it, many people have told me that they really enjoyed the grapefruit wine that I made in 2008 and again in 2009. With how much grapefruit I have, there’s really no chance of finding enough breakfasts before they start falling off the tree. So, I need to find some of these people who like grapefruit wine. Are you one of them?

3. Citron. If you’re not familiar with Citron, do a search on this very site, then come back. The best use in the world for citrons is citron marmalade. I’m totally going to make some more this year.

There you have it! If you have any other ideas for what I might do with the citrus surplus, comment below!

Online Learning Through the Instructor’s Eyes

I’ve been teaching an online course for several months now. For a year prior to that, I was writing the course and working with the team at Ed2Go to make it sparkle. My course gets an average of about 150 students each month.

Since I get asked about it pretty often, and since I feel like I’m starting to get a pretty unique perspective on online learning, I thought I’d share my experience with you, my excellent readers.

My course is called Creating Mobile Apps with HTML5. Needless to say, the course has to cover a LOT of technologies. To further complicate things, I designed the course to be useful for a very wide range of people — from those with very little web development experience to those with tons of experience, but perhaps not so much with HTML5 technologies. To elaborate and further set the stage….

I must teach:

  • HTML, JavaScript, CSS, JQuery, JQuery Mobile, JSON, web browser fundamentals, AJAX fundamentals, web performance tuning, offline database, web APIs, PhoneGap, and more.
  • In just 12 lessons.
  • To 150 students
  • Who are located all over the world
  • And who have varying levels of experience and knowledge
  • On the Web.

This is quite a daunting task…but I only have myself to blame for designing the curriculum and taking it on. When I first signed on to be an Ed2Go instructor, I was just finishing writing my book (WebKit for Dummies), and I was high on my knowledge of all things HTML5 and so I plowed on, despite my previous less-than-perfect experience with online learning.

I’m somewhat of a veteran of online teaching, having taught my first online course (for a community college) back in 2001. At the time, I was frustrated with the format and the lack of ability to really communicate with the students. After one semester, I threw up my hands and pretty much decided that online teaching was way more difficult than live teaching, and that it wasn’t worth the effort for the teacher or the students.

But that was then. Today, pretty much the exact same classroom software is being used for my online course (a learning-oriented forum system), but the entire process for developing and teaching the course has been very different.

I wrote my first online course (on web application development) over a period of about 2 weeks. It consisted of a sloppy powerpoint deck and some links to more information. There were no standards, no editorial review,  and no assistance from the school. I don’t think anyone else at the school knew what I was teaching.

Ed2Go, on the other hand, is extremely process-oriented. Deadlines are tight, and quality standards are very high. More importantly, both are strictly enforced. I consider my editor at Ed2Go to be one of the very best I’ve ever worked with. She kept me honest about whether I was doing my best work, edited me where I needed it (always making me look better than I am), and put up with (and maybe understood) my sense of humor and why I thought it was important to keep certain jokes in the lessons. Writing my course was probably the most difficult writing project of my career, and it took almost a year, during which I worked on it for 4 hours a day and got paid nothing.

Now I’m teaching the course (and getting paid, thanks). My students get a new lesson every Wednesday and Friday. The lesson contains 5 chapters of pre-written instruction, an assignment (usually a little programming task), some frequently asked questions, a list of additional resources, and a quiz. At the end of the 12th lesson, students take the final exam, which consists of 25 multiple choice questions. I’m available to answer questions in a forum area during the duration of the course, but the students’ successful completion of the course is based solely on how they do on the final exam.

The format really works, and the vast majority of my students that I get to interact with seem to get a lot out of it and have a good time. They rank me highly on the surveys at the end of the class and say really nice things in the course feedback.

So, where’s the big “but”? There really isn’t one. I enjoy interacting with my students and I firmly believe that I’m teaching them some really valuable skills and passing on some great information.

There is an occasional challenge brought on by a software dependency that suddenly makes part of the course obsolete or incorrect. Sometimes, a student may get frustrated and take it out on me (that’s what they make the delete button for!), and sometimes I may come home from happy hour too late and fail to do as good of a job explaining the inner workings of JavaScript arrays as I could have done several beers back. But, all in all, I’m really happy with my latest online teaching experience and I’m feeling really positive about the potential for affordable and high-quality online learning.

psst…Want to take my class? A new session is starting soon. Click Here!

Goodbye to the Crazy Sideburns

I shaved off the insane sideburns that I had been sporting for the last couple of years. They served me well. I enjoyed the attention and compliments that I would get on them, and I did a great Martin Van Buren impersonation (see figures). But, alas, it was time to move on. Also, they were less than comfortable in 100+ degree weather.

Is this the real Martin Van Buren?
Or is this Martin Van Buren?

I’m worried now that no one will recognize me. I wouldn’t.

I have face blindness, aka Prosopagnosia. I didn’t know that there was a name for my condition until very recently. I just thought that I had a bad memory and that there were actually only 3 or 4 actors in the world: Matt Damon, Sandra Bullock, and Lawrence Fishburne, right? Well, when I scored below 50% on this test, I started to suspect that I may have a problem besides forgetfulness.

My chops were about more than just face decoration: they were how I recognized myself. Now that I don’t have them, I feel lighter and cooler, but a bit worried. I rely on extreme features like huge sideburns, beards, unicorn horns, mohawks, and Frank Zappa noses to identify all but my closest friends and family. When these things change, I get confused and uncertain.

If I see someone I’ve previously met, but they’ve changed their hair, or lost weight, or aren’t in the context that I associate with them, I’ll sometimes get a feeling that I’ve seen this person before, but I’ll have no idea who they are. This has happened with people I ought to know quite well…including some relatives and business contacts.

So, just in case you have face blindness like me and you’ve met me within the last few years, here’s the before and after shot. Unlike with the Martin Van Buren pictures, both of these are actually me!

Me, two weeks ago, with chops and long hair.
Me, today, with short hair and no chops.

 

How Writing a Book and Alcatraz Ruined My Health!

Last year, I wrote a book and an online course about mobile web apps. As you know, writing is generally a pretty sedentary activity that happens to go well with booze. Writing is also really hard work (mentally), and so it’s important for a writer to reward himself frequently with ice cream and various other snacks.

In spite of all these factors pulling me towards completely ignoring my health, I did make some attempts to be fit and forty early in the year (oh yeah, I forgot to mention that last year was also the year I turned 40). I registered for a 5k race and for a swim from Alcatraz, both of which helped me to focus on my training so that I wouldn’t die or get eaten by sharks. The problem, however, was that once the races were over, I felt like I didn’t need to exercise ever again. And, so I didn’t.

I think you can see where this is headed–writing and the successful completion of amazing feats of physical endurance have wrecked me! I’ve gained about 30lbs in the last year, and I have way more clothes that don’t fit now than I have that fit.

And so, like so many people with lame excuses for why they’re fat slobs, I’ve decided to start turning it around. I don’t have the guts to post a “before” picture of myself, but I’ll let you use your imagination. I look something like this:

Boss Hogg

And so, here I go! Stay tuned for updates!

Mobile Web Apps for Smart People!

My latest book (and my first book since 2001) is almost finished! The title is WebKit for Dummies, and it’s available for pre-order now!

I’m excited about the publication of this book (coming in February), and about the topic, but I’m finding myself having to explain what exactly it’s about pretty frequently, so I thought I’d write something about that here in order to clear up some misconceptions and possible confusion.

WebKit is the name of the open source browser engine that powers every mobile device’s browser except for Windows devices. This includes iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry, Nokia, and more. It also runs a large and growing percentage of desktop web browsers (Google Chrome, Apple Safari). My book isn’t really about WebKit, however — it’s really about how you can take advantage of the fact that WebKit is so widely available on smartphones and tablets in order to create cross-platform mobile apps with HTML5.

Also, the book isn’t really just for dummies. It is part of Wiley’s huge and successful “For Dummies” series, of course, but I want smart people to buy it as well. That’s not to say that dummies won’t also learn something, but I don’t think anyone needs to be excluded — with the possible exception of people who can’t read.

Now that you know all that, I hope you buy and enjoy the book!