20 August 2009

Searching for Max's Hat

Many moons ago (by my rough count around 445...but who's counting?) a friend's father gave me his hat. Max was his name (the father, that is) and his hat was one of those classic pork pie jobs seen in Steve McQueen movies of the 60's. Bluish black in color with a dark maroon and blue striped band, it added a jauntiness to my usual attire of bell bottom jeans, colorful (read: loud) print shirts and square-toed harness boots. (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, watch Easy Rider and you'll get it.)

have always had a penchant for hats and in my teenage years the affection blew into an affectation. In search of myself -- the definition of being a teenager, essentially -- a hat was a necessary part of my persona, the final dotting of the "I" that I was. My real fantasy was to find a slightly dented stovepipe hat...I'm sure it had nothing to do with me being below average in height. But Max's pork pie was eminently more practical and one day, when Max learned that I secretly desired his hat, he impulsively gave it to me. Never mind that he thought that I and his son were going to hell in a hand-basket, he was that kind of guy.

I loved that hat: it looked spiffy and it fit real good. (Can't imagine wearing some old guy's hat? These were the pre Puricell, pre sani-wipes placed strategically near shopping carts, elevator buttons and toilets near you days. The days when sharing a smoke -- tobacco or otherwise -- was a rite of sorts. Or, so I'm told.) Unfortunately, Max's hat and I parted ways a few short days later.

Less than a week after first donning the hat, Max's son and I were taking a late night drive up Ortega Highway. For us, that road was what separated us from the sterile sobriety of suburbia and the misty mountain fantasies of the unknown. There were the forbidden hot springs, a thriving party spot for those willing to hike in the dark, bathe naked with other souls, and occasionally head for higher ground when the sheriffs would decide to end the party early. There was the semi-mythical nudist colony that we had long heard about, half-heartedly searched for and in the end left as legend. There were the divide roads. Bumpy, rutted tracks, one heading south through the Elsinore Mountains and affording sterling views of the same-named lake and another heading north to the summit of the Santa Ana Mountains, Santiago Peak. Along its way, this north divide road afforded access to the hiking and camping wonderlands of Trabuco, Holy Jim and Horsethief Canyons.

Those were the mountains that we were heading into when we stopped for the proverbial bio-break (though that term had not yet been invented). To this day I don't know why I removed Max's hat and put it on the roof of my friend's Datsun. It's normally not necessary to doff one's hat when "visiting nature" but there it was: on the roof. And there it stayed -- for a second or two, perhaps -- as we drove off.

It was maybe five or so minutes later that I realized I was hatless...it may as well have been five years. We searched and searched but the hat was not to be found. I KNEW where we had stopped but I knew not where the hat had gone. The next day, fully confident that the sun would reveal what the night had stolen, I went back and searched again. To no avail. I was desolate (well, perhaps that is too melodramatic a word) and disappointed in myself. I felt embarrassed around Max and hoped he would never ask "Where's my hat?" He never did. His son was very supportive: "I can't believe you lost Max's hat!" And so it went. Eventually the memory of Max's hat faded into the sleepy past like a paisley shirt long exposed to the sun. Only to be re-woken last week.

In southern California for my yearly family visit and my mother's impromptu suggestion to sample the wines of the Temecula Valley led us to drive up the Ortega Highway once again. My last sojourn up this road was probably some 27 years ago, long before the housing tracks encroach as they do, long before mountain bikes tamed many of the trails that were little better than game tracks, before the hot springs resort opened and closed yet again, pre-Google and pre-GPS, when the 20-year old maps and a compass were your best and only way to find your way.

Driving up the canyon again brought back a flood of mostly warm memories: the hot springs turnout (where I chatted with an amicable young ranger about the old days); the divide roads stretching left and right beckoning to explore yet again; the windy, dangerous hairpins where a friend was side-swiped not once, but twice in an evening; the long straight-aways where my hair streamed behind me, in the hitch-hiked ride of a
convertible sports car; the approximate location where Max's hat was last seen.

It was the virulent and ultimately stupid political message posted on a store marque at the summit that brought me back to the 21st century. Memories are good things and we all indulge in them now and then. Take them out, shake off the dust, gaze fondly for a bit and then put them back in their box. Leave them out too long and they take on the rosy sheen of nostalgia. That sheen quickly turns to the self-indulgent, and highly memory-selective patina of "it was a durn-sight better in our days!"

Try as you might, you can't
really go home again. Search all that you can, Max's hat still remains lost. As it should be.

03 August 2009

Do you need a Portal?

No, I'm not talking about some Stargatesque gateway to shuttle you along the wormholes of the universe nor am I speaking of the Guardian of Forever
from which with a short step you can relive your childhood, or perhaps your children's children's children's childhood. As interesting as those particular portals sound (and to me, a science /
scifi / history / philosophy geek, they sound pretty damn fascinating) I am writing of the much more prosaic (and much less speculative) web portal.

I built one. Here's the why, the whats and the how.

The Why.
I've had a photo website for quite a few years. It's grown long in the tooth, is difficult to update in any kind of easy, timely workflow fashion, is comprised of static pages, is irredeemably not optimized for search engines, and has no connection to the rest of my life. All of the above but the last statement was enough of a reason to rebuild the photo site from the proverbial ground up. But since embarking upon this new phase of my life last year in this so-called gig economy (already commented upon in a previous post) I found that trying to manage and maintain multiple online presences as well as businesses was a challenge. Clayhaus Consulting, Clayhaus Photography, a Twitter page, my Flickr photostream, Facebook (both personally and professionally), this blog, microstock photography accounts, my published book and more! Yikes! There was no easy way to gain access to, Clayhaus.net, the "brand." Until a friend (thank you Cory!) planted a seed, or perhaps more accurately watered the nut of the notion that I needed ONE access point to the Clayhaus.net online world. A portal.

The What. The timing was perfect. I had been (still am, actually) dithering on making a decision around my photo site: open source or compiled code solutions. At the same time I was consulting for a startup non-profit, RERSLC, and they elected to retain a local web developer (Third Sun) who builds sites on the open source content management system called Joomla. In the open source CMS world there are two heavy-weights: Joomla and Drupal. They both have their advocates and they both essentially do the same thing: once setup and initially configured, updating websites' content (they are after all, content management systems!) becomes trivial (well, pretty close to that anyways). No HTML programming is necessary as plenty of templates, documentation, robust help forums, and extensible modules and components exist to help you through the forest. A piece of cake? A walk on the sunny beach at low tide with a lollipop? No, not quite. I'm a reasonably savvy IT guy with some Logic (yes: capital L) education, but with little in the way of true programming training or skills. I went with Joomla because that was what my client was implementing because that was what the developer was most skilled in (that's the way these things work). (The logic being that what I learned on my own, would help support my client as well.)

The How. I started by installing XAMPP on my Windows box. What is that? Straight from their page...XAMPP is an easy to install Apache distribution containing My SQL, PHP and Perl. If that is all Greek (or, perhaps Geek) to you -- and yet you want to learn more -- go to the Joomla pages that discuss installation on a local system. Other sources? VEOH or Miguel Sanchez. At any rate, make yourself very familiar with the Joomla installation pages...please. The bottom line is that I wanted to build a site offline -- meaning on a local system -- and then upload to the shared hosting at my Internet provider. So after installing XAMPP I then downloaded the latest version of Joomla 1.5 and began learning and configuring at the same time. You have the option of loading sample content into your new site and that is exactly what I did. I was able to reverse engineer some of the installation and eventually added my own templates and components and modules. It was an iterative learning process. This included the eventual upload to my ISP, XMission. After they set up the MySQL database, I FTPed the Joomla files and a new configuration file (a must!) and the site went live. I few more permissions tweaks and I was also able to administrate my site. Add metadata and voila! The hoards will be banging at my virtual door! Naaah, but that is the subject of another post.

I succeeded: the Clayhaus.net portal is live. I still have to maintain and manage all the other Clayhaus accounts and pages and sets and sites, but that's my job. You the Internet Traveler, do not have to bookmark, write down on a post-it, request an email link, etc. any of those pages. Just remember Clayhaus.net, and you are good as gold. (Don't believe me? Enter clayhaus.net in Google or the Yahoo search engine...see?)

The site is live, but not static. With a CMS, change can always be afoot. I will add a forum and some other features and functions shortly. Now though, I must turn my attention to...the photo site...it will morph soon and you will hear about it. Lucky you.