Category Archives: Blog

Personal History: The Dot-Com Kid

North Hollywood, CA

North Hollywood, CA

Andrea and I flew out a couple days early to Los Angeles for some downtime before her Jeopardy experience. We would need to recover from the stress (for Andrea) and pain (for me) of traveling, plus get adapted to the time difference.

During the downtime, we decided to take a short trip to see my old stomping ground in North Hollywood, CA. Before the age of 30, I had sold a company and moved west. Today that seems like ancient history, and I wanted to show her my early life.

Before I get to Southern California, I have to share the story of how I ended up there. It is a bigger story than I expected, which is why I am dividing this into two posts.

I was not blessed with a college benefactor or scholarships, so I spent my early twenties working full-time at low-paying jobs while going to school part-time. The jobs may not have been ideal, but I made the best of them. This is where I developed work ethic, and had proudly been promoted in some way, shape or form, in all jobs after the age of 18.

Going even further back to the 1980s, at a young age, I had delved into computers. When we lived in San Francisco, my father was an early member of the Berkeley Mac Users Group, frequented by Steve Jobs and other early Apple figures. My first computer was an Apple II, which had a floppy and tape drive. Yes, that is tape as in cassette. I remember that if we wanted to play a game, we had to load tape after tape into the computer for a couple hours before it would be ready for play. Those were the days! My father also had a MacIntosh, one of the early ones, but he rarely let me touch it. He also had me learn some limited Basic Programming language when I was a teen. The language became outdated and I forgot most of it, but it would become the building blocks for my later career.

By my mid-20s, when I was working as an Assistant Manager at a gas station and living with a roommate a dodgy apartment outside Atlanta, I got back into computers. By this time PCs had taken over, but I had never shed my Mac roots.

This was in the early days of the PC explosion, and there weren’t exactly a lot of options for formal training. I took a break from my part-time college duties and did odd computer jobs on the side. These were mostly small projects. I became an official computer reseller, and would work with local distributors that would build them for me. My clients were generally older people who were trying to get a grasp on the new technology. I was a conduit for them, as I would get them a computer, install the operating system and software, and teach them how to use it. These were not the wealthy elite I was working with, so I hardly got rich, but it was good experience for me as an entrepreneur.

My next dead-end job would be Kinko’s copies, where I met someone named Paul and later, Amanda. I started as a copy clerk, which did not work with me. After a time, I was transferred over to the Computer Services department where I would help people with computer rentals, something I had was already doing on the side. Later I got promoted to Document Creation Specialist. I would create all sorts of things for customers, such as flyers, business cards, invitations, brochures, and the like. Even though we had both PCs and Macs for rent, I did all of my work on a Mac using either Adobe PageMaker or Quark Xpress. Even though the job didn’t pay much, the experience was invaluable. I learned a ton about desktop publishing while there.

As the Internet started becoming a global revolution, it inspired a personal revolution in me. I was intrigued, looking at all of these glorious web pages where you could learn so much. Many of the web pages looked spectacular. Many, or should I say most, looked like absolute junk. It was in the days at Kinkos that I started indirectly learning the building blocks about Web Development, although even then, most of this renaissance occurred on my own time.

I bought a couple of books, learned HTML, Photoshop and some other tricks, and started to become pretty decent at creating pages. Even though I had a little bit of a creative streak, I would hardly call myself an artist. That’s where Paul and Amanda came in. Paul was a genius at illustration and graphics. I never had that artistic flair. He started dating Amanda, and she also had that same talent, and she also had video and graphics experience from her job at CNN. They got into Flash website creation, and had amazing talent. The stuff they were doing then was miles beyond what was on the Web at the time.

We partnered and started building websites for people. The catalyst was that I got fired from the Kinko’s job for a dumb reason (and that’s another story). Needing to do something and not wanting to dive into a dead-end job again, I focused on my company, which was filed as a sole proprietorship. At first it was just me, and eventually Paul and Amanda worked with me on a consultant basis. We were basically kids and I had little experience running a business, so it was tough sledding most of the time. It seemed that everyone and their mother were trying to build websites for people. It was not easy finding clients, and the quality gap was monumental. We built good websites and charged a fair price, but others did shoddy, cheaper work. Most of my time was spent trying to figure out how to find new clients.

We obtained a handful of good clients. I remember one was a company that manufactured a product that could detect moisture in buildings. They were terrific people, one of my favorite clients. We got another great client that was a trade association. We built their website, and they offered our services as a benefit to their member base to build websites. That didn’t really pan out. The largest project was for Ford Motor Company, where we worked with a local architect firm to build an internal website where dealerships could buy add-ons. That one turned out to be a disaster because the backend were Windows-based engineers with no design talent, and we were strictly design people. You would think we could have worked together and forged a partnership, but they never understood us. We built some amazing graphics for them (Paul especially!), and they ended up chopping our work into something monstrous. Fortunately the world could not see that site. And we got paid. That always mattered.

There was another client who was an absolute nightmare. She was a local artist who was pleasant when we first met her, but turned out to be a psychotic harpy. Paul and Amanda did the majority of the work on a custom Flash-based website, which for the mid-90s was revolutionary. Paul spent an inordinate amount of time putting it together. We had quoted our per-hour rate, but the artist had no idea how long it would take to do what she asked. We tried to tell her, and she simply didn’t listen. I remember when we unveiled the final site to her, which was without question amazing, groundbreaking work. When she saw it, she was unimpressed and said “Can you make a chirping bird fly through it?” That became an inside joke with us for years. Thanks to Paul, we did fly a bird through it, and it made a beautiful site look like a joke. But that’s what she wanted. The final bill ended up being a whopping $30,000. The bird probably cost $5,000. Her jaw fell to the floor when we tried to invoice her. We ended up getting paid $3,000 and were happy to get that. We could have sued, but we just wanted to move along and forget this lady.

Because it was a struggle to obtain enough clients to generate a regular income, I took a job as Web Design Manager for a startup eCommerce company. Eventually I was able to hire Paul and Amanda as employees. That was a fun job and the salary was more than double my Kinko’s salary, plus I had some income from the side business.

Around this time, frustrated from some of our more difficult client experiences, we decided to build websites of our own. What did we have that we could offer the world? Well, we were Web Developers in a world that barely knew how the Internet worked. Paul and I developed a complex design that had a news feed with rounded corners, something that was cutting edge back then and is cliché now.

I created page after page of content, and that’s where I honed my writing skills. I spent days, months, years even, putting together pages that taught people how to make Web pages. The most popular was a lengthy HTML tutorial I wrote. There were other tutorials about programming, software, and design skills. Eventually we started doing product reviews and news alerts. A couple times we broke some news, and it was really something else watching the traffic flow in. It grew gradually and steadily, which was simply exciting. Later we added onto it, creating a network of sites including a forum community. All of a sudden, we had a miniature web empire, and people loved it.

We learned how to monetize the traffic, but even though we had high numbers, it was not quite enough to live on. My full-time job was lucrative and giving me useful experience, but I was growing antsy. It was stagnant while my own properties were growing exponentially. I was spending my evenings and weekends doing nothing but work on the site. I grew unhappy with some of the office politics at the job, and made what was probably a bad decision. I quit. Sometimes you have to be bold. Sometimes you have to be stupid. I was both, and it worked out.

A few months later, I learned that my friend Michael’s website about Internet Marketing and Search Engine Optimization had sold to a company in North Hollywood, California. He moved from the UK to live there. They gave him freedom to work on his site as a full-time employee, and he seemed to be happy. The entire network was in the top 200 web properties, which is impressive even for back then. I didn’t know the amount that he sold for, but I was intrigued. It seemed to be large enough for him to be happy.

I remember calling them out of blue one day, and asking the receptionist who I would talk to about selling my company. He paused a long time, and transferred me to a 19-year old kid. That was the beginning of the end of my web career.

Paul, Amanda and I flew back and forth to California to discuss the acquisition. It seemed like a wonderful gig. I met with other webmasters who had sold their company and worked in the offices. They were all completely happy. They encouraged me to do it.

I got the offer. It was for a good sum of money that I will not disclose, a bunch of stock in the company, and a full-time job with the same salary I had made at the eCommerce company. The problem was there was no job for Paul or Amanda. We thought about it, and with their blessing, I signed the deal. I gave them some of the money from the acquisition and they bought a nice car with it. I bought a car and some other things.

So, like the Beverly Hillbillies, I had struck oil and moved to Southern California. The next chapter of my life would be living the dream in North Hollywood.

And that’s where Andrea and I visited earlier this year.

To be continued …


Combating “Bike Lash”

Amy PCC

A couple of years ago, my wife and I were casually walking along the downtown streets of Charleston. We stopped at a red light, waiting for it to turn before we crossed, when all of a sudden a cyclist comes from out of nowhere. We hear him coming and look back, and to our surprise, he ignores the light completely, rolls through it without even touching his brakes, and disappears out of sight. We looked at each other and both shook our heads. “Stupid Cyclists!” I said.

And then it hit me that if I were thinking that way, what would someone who didn’t ride a bike think? I wouldn’t be so bold to do what this cyclist did, which was indeed stupid, but I have tapped my brakes and kept going through a stop sign if the coast was clear. I’ve done other things that people would frown upon or not understand. All of us have to a certain degree.

Last night I attended a function at Outspokin’ Bicycles where Amy Johnson from the Palmetto Cycling Coalition was speaking. I’ve mentioned them numerous times on this blog, and am a strong supporter of everything they do. The problem is, South Carolina is not Colorado, Oregon or California. Our legislators are not inclined to pass pro-cycling legislation, and it is through the efforts of people like Amy that have made an impact in the state.

Amy used the term “Bike Lash” as a way of describing some of the recent antagonism towards cycling in the state. I’ve already talked about the ludicrous bill that Representative Nanney tried to pass. She wanted bikes to carry liability insurance and to get registered.

What I didn’t know was her thought process for this absurd agenda. As it turns out, she was driving on a 4-line highway one day when she saw people hitting their brakes. Sudden stops can cause chain reactions and accidents, as cyclists know all too well. The culprit in this case, at least in the congresswoman’s eyes, was a cyclist that had been crossing traffic to try to make a left turn. When Representative Nanney saw this, she got the idea that they should carry liability insurance in case their actions caused an accident. They would be at fault.

What Nanney didn’t consider was that it is already illegal to follow too close. We’ll never know whether the cyclist jumped into traffic. It is hard to think that someone would be that foolish, but I didn’t expect the Charleston rider to blatantly run the red light either. Whatever happened, any accidents that occurred would have been the fault of the driver that first rear ended a car.

There was another bill proposed that didn’t get nearly the amount of attention, and actually came from a more benevolent place. A legislator wanted to ride on the sidewalk of a 55 mph 4-lane highway, but it was illegal due to a local ordinance. Sidewalk riding is permitted in most places in the state, yet some local governments may choose not to. It makes sense for downtown areas with a lot of foot traffic. We don’t want cyclists running into pedestrians. It doesn’t make sense when there’s a dangerous highway and no other alternative on where to ride. This gentleman tried to make it legal statewide to ride on the sidewalk. His mistake was that he wanted to make a sweeping change to address a local issue. Just like Nanney’s, his bill went nowhere.

The “Bike Lash” is occurring because so much progress has been made. Greenville is one of the top cycling cities in the southeast. They have done an excellent job with their cycling infrastructure. Some people don’t get cycling, and think that they are footing the bill for this progress. A lot of nonsensical arguments are made, one of which is that cyclists don’t pay taxes. We do. Most of us have cars, houses, and we buy stuff just like everybody else. Don’t get me started on all the taxes that I pay.

When a motorist sees somebody blow through a stop sign, stop light, or cross traffic to make a left, it gets them heated. As cyclists, we have to be conscious of how we present ourselves to the public. We have to be aware that there are other people using the roads that simply don’t like us.

Following traffic laws is just a small part of what we can do. I try to be aware of when cars are behind me. If there are several that cannot pass, then sometimes I will stop and let them go by. Sure, I cannot stand it, but it makes a difference. When a car waits patiently to pass me and gives me a wide berth, I will acknowledge with a friendly wave as they pass, thanking them for their courtesy. Some may still curse me as they drive by, but some will momentarily think: ‘That cyclist was a nice guy. I’m glad I was patient with him.’ The little things make a difference.

As tempting as it is to blow people up that disagree with us or simply don’t understand the realities of cycling, it is important to be civil yet assertive with the debate. Calling names does not help. People called Representative Nanney some names, and she probably was stunned by the response. Others spoke to her with respect and explained the flaws in her arguments. Hopefully she has come to a better understanding, and hopefully many more people will as well.

We have to be aware that there will be people who will try to slow us down, literally and figuratively. We have to be prepared for it, yet also make a good impression and keep pushing for progress in our community.


Social Media Wins Again

Facebook

What I love about the modern age is that there are consequences for everything. If someone does something irresponsible or stupid enough to be noticed, chances are word will be spread and it will come back to haunt them.

We’ve seen this numerous times with the cycling community. I’m sure everyone who reads this blog remembers the pummeling that Specialized took for harassing a local bike shop for using Roubaix in his products. After remaining silent for a few days, they inevitably apologized.

Not too long ago, some Georgia lawmaker proposed licensing all bicycles in the state. The cycling community spoke up, and the bill was retracted promptly. The excuse, as you can see in this link, was that they wanted to start a discussion.

Wendy Nanney, enter stage left.

A congresswoman from Greenville proposed a bill to not only license bikes in South Carolina, but force them to get liability insurance. It was a preposterous suggestion, and as many have pointed out, would have never made it to a vote.

Someone found the bill online and posted it to Facebook. Whoever made the discovery deserves a ton of credit for what followed. It spread like wildfire. I saw it posted to a friend’s feed, then it started being shared, and shared, and shared again. I posted it to the SteepClimbs Facebook page where it got a TON more traction than most of my posts. I’m not taking credit for it spreading around the internet, but I’m glad to have posted it to raise awareness. My post alone got 5,000 views, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. On Sunday night, this story was all over my news feed.

It doesn’t end there.

Representative Nanney has a Facebook page of her own.

I wish I had screen-captured the first post she put up. Basically, it gave an overview of how a bill becomes a law, which shows me that she had at least watched the video below.

I responded, thanking her for the government lesson, and asking if she could share the process of voting idiots that proposed ill-conceived legislation out of office. She deleted my comment as well as many others. Frankly, I don’t blame her. Today that post no longer exists.

What’s amazing is that this congresswoman is from Greenville, which is one of the top cycling destinations in the southeast. Their Swamp Rabbit Trail is a model for urban cycling development. Greenville at one time hosted the US PRO Cycling Tournament, and holds plenty of other smaller tournaments. Her bill would have effectively banned anyone from out of the state from participating in any of these tournaments. I know firsthand how much revenue these events can generate. Her bill would lose the city millions, maybe tens of millions, in Greenville tourist revenue alone.

Lots of people ride bikes in Greenville and throughout South Carolina. I’ve met many of them. We don’t often talk about politics on the bike, but I happen to know that many of them are ultra conservative, many are ultra liberal, and many are smack dab in middle. I also know that they are a passionate bunch, and they all vote. This is the type of issue that could unite a whole host of people, and was a major misstep for the congresswoman.

The saga concluded today with the retraction of the bike bill. She explained it eloquently in this Facebook post. I love those first few words, “After the overwhelming response from the cycling community, I have decided to drop the Bike Bill.” Again, she was just trying to start a discussion.

We cannot take full responsibility. As it turns out, the Palmetto Cycling Coalition had learned of this bill a couple weeks ago and had been working behind the scenes to shut it down. I have no doubt that even without social media, they would have been successful. That said, it’s a terrific feeling to unite with thousands of people you’ve never met, yet share the same opinion, and together make things happen.

The Cycling Community is a force to be reckoned with. We won again.


Blue Ridge Outdoors

Highway 80 up to the Blue Ridge Parkway

Back in the early days when I first started this blog, someone complimented my writing style. I had done my share of writing in the past, including once having a book deal (that’s a story for another day), but had not given it much thought to do anything further. I didn’t need the money, and frankly, didn’t have the time.

As I got more comfortable writing and riding, I did develop a style, and when people would suggest I pitch stories for magazines, I didn’t rule it out.

One day a magazine contacted me. It was Jack Murray from Blue Ridge Outdoors, a regional and free magazine with a large distribution that spans the entire southern Appalachian area from Georgia to Virginia. They cover a wide variety of topics, most of which are up my alley, such as hiking, kayaking, swimming, and of course, cycling. Oh yeah, and sometimes beer too.

Steep descent down Hogpen begins.

Jack was writing a piece on mountain centuries of the southeast and wanted to hear descriptions from people with experience. He was looking at specific events, and I was able to give him some material for his piece, and I also told him about some big ones that weren’t on his radar. Those were included as sort of a sidebar. The piece came out well. Jack did a nice job. You can read it here. That photo is one I took of Jeff Dilcher as he was about to descend the steep part of Hogpen Gap.

Since then, I have heard from them periodically. Devan Boyle asked me to contribute to a piece about bike lanes on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The genesis of the article was pretty interesting. It was a question and answer argument piece, with two opinions of either for or against. My first reaction was that there should be bike lanes everywhere and anywhere. I even wrote a piece saying as much. As I thought about it further, I started to reconsider, and eventually I was steadfastly against bike lanes. I’m very proud of my defense, and feel that most people agreed with me. Even though I’ve written professionally on salary and with a book publisher, this was my first paid freelance article gig. However small, it was exciting. You can read it here.

Around the middle of last year, as I was ramping up my training, I decided to ride the length of the Blue Ridge Parkway with the Kinetic Potential Coaching crew. That was a terrific topic, which I thought could be bigger than just the blog. I reached out to BRO and pitched the story. They loved it, and I was making preparations to not only ride, but write along the way (which in hindsight, probably would have been impossible). The injury bug changed my plans, and rather than write about myself, I wrote from the perspective of another rider. That ended up being Julie’s story, which is another one of my favorite articles. You can read it here.

I have a great relationship with Blue Ridge Outdoors, and as of recently, am considered a regular contributor. In fact, if you pick up the latest issue, you’ll see my mug near the table of comments in the contributor round table. They asked who my favorite outdoor hero was, and I named Jens Voigt. They had to edit down my full response, but it was something along the lines of “I’m embarrassed to say how many times I have borrowed his mantra of ‘Shut Up Legs.’ There is another round table in next month’s issue where I may have been included, and I should appear periodically going forward.

We’ve worked together on ideas for a couple other pieces, one of which is about this lengthy injury process, but we are going to wait for there to be an ending — hopefully me back on the bike. It will be tough to condense this nearly two-year saga into 800-1000 words, but I think I’m up for the task.

There is another that I’m currently working that I’d rather keep quiet, but I know that readers of this website will find it interesting.

For a free magazine, they have high quality content. I have been a regular reader ever since I was first approached by them, and it has deepened my appreciation for all things Appalachia. It has given me so many ideas about things to do off the bike, that the next big trip I take up there will probably have a little more variety. This last month they had an excellent article by Jess Daddio about Zoe Romano’s experience running the Tour de France route. Yes, running. It’s an accomplishment that I followed avidly last year through her Facebook and blog, and I thought Jess did a fine job of telling the tale.

I know people will ask, where do I go from here? Will I start pitching to other, larger scale magazines? That answer is no. This blog is pretty much regional and even though I’m a transplant from the west coast, I’ve come to love the southeastern USA. That doesn’t mean I won’t venture away from here and check out some exotic cycling destinations. I’ve already done that to some degree, and have plans to do so again next year in Europe (more on that later), and have a lifelong plan to travel the USA. I know that a lot of those adventures would be a good fit for larger publications, so I won’t rule it out if i become healthy and have some free time, but for now I’m good where I am.


Ride Mitchell For Me

mitchell summit

I’ve said many times on this blog that the Assault in Mount Mitchell is my favorite ride. Even though I’ve only ridden it three times, it is the one that I planned to ride every year for the rest of my life. There’s just something about the excitement and anticipation of the event, the fact that you travel from downtown Spartanburg to the highest point east of the Mississippi. It is the ultimate fitness goal, whether you are not competing against others or with yourself. Just achieving the summit is a major accomplishment, but setting a time goal, training throughout the winter and into the spring, and then beating that goal is something to continually strive for.

There will be no Mitchell for me this year. If I were on the bike with even a basic fitness level, I could possibly ramp up my training and get in adequate shape to complete the ride. That is what I did last year. Even though it is a disappointment to not ride, I know many other close friends who are giving it a shot. I hope to be able to attend as a spectator or volunteer and cheer them on.

In the last several years that I have been following the event, it has been a quick sellout. Last year was a little slower, and this year there are still several spots remaining. Since I cannot ride, I’m going to ask that I live through the experiences of my readers, many of whom I know will attempt Mitchell this year.

I’ll ask that people send a paragraph descripting their experience and I’ll post as many as I can after the ride. Please send me an email, or comment on here or Facebook if you’d like to be part of that.

There is a button to the right that will take you directly to the registration page.

Please know that this is NOT an advertisement for Mitchell. I still and never will accept advertising on this website. This is just my way of supporting my favorite ride.

Please register and see why I love it so much.

The Mitchell summit looked a lot different than the base.