Branding History of HoustonPhotowalks.com

Branding History of HoustonPhotowalks.com

Since the day I started the group in June of 2009, HoustonPhotowalks.com has been a real blast. There are hundreds of amazing photographers in Houston, and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many, many, many of them over the past 4 years.

Not The First Rebranding

To help keep the group’s web-site fresh (and to repair things that break when Meetup.com changes the header size or formatting options), our community’s web site has undergone a few “face lifts”. Through each rebranding, we maintained a few common features to remain recognizable: The Big Lens, the font, and (for the most part) our name.

Starting off Year Four – Going Back To Red

And now, at almost our 4-year mark, Meetup.com has kicked in with another major overhaul of their Look and Feel. Since we are along for the ride, HPW is going to rebrand too. This time, a bit more drastically than in previous years. Note however, to provide consistency in our branding, we continue to use the same font and message.

In fact, we are somewhat returning to our roots, going back to our original fire-engine red.

Old Logo History

I’ll admit it, some of these are sick-embarrassing to display. But they are what they are: our history in logos.

June 2009:

At first, the group was called “Houston Photowalk Events”, you can still see this reflected in some of our email addresses.

December 2009:

Meetup was tweaking their interface just like we were. And at one point, I was able to create large graphics for our header. Around December of 2009, we saw the familiar Orange and Black logo appear. Click to see full size.

February 2010:

It was about this time that our community really started to evolve. We weren’t just about “events”. The group was doing discussions, DIY’s, movie-theater presentations, and had eaten lots-and-lots-and-lots of food together. Rather than focusing on the nature of “Events”, the branding was changed so our community had a name. We rebranded to Houston Photowalks.

June 2010

In June of 2010, I couldn’t really keep calling the group an experiment. We had organized and executed dozens of photowalks and meetups. To celebrate our 1st birthday, I purchased the web site domain name we use today, and rebranded as a proper “dot com”.

September 2010

After organize events to small home-town parades, tours BEHIND the Galveston Strand to photograph the cracked walls and garbage dumps, and visits to the famous National Funeral History Museum, the group and our events were sometimes a little weird. So I added “Interesting and Unusual” to our branding too.

This logo remained with us from September 2010 to April 2013.

April 2013

On the heels of another major Meetup.com redesign, we jumped in and rebranded again. We kept The Big Lens, the font, and the branding. But as we near our 4th anniversary, we switched back to red. How long with this logo last? Time will tell.

September 2013

After Meetup made more GUI changes, part of our slogan was no longer visible on the site.  To help solidify our branding, we added the tagline to the image, below the URL.

December 2013

For the holidays in 2013, I had a little fun.

August 2014

Meetup made a GUI change that added a colored bar along the bottom of the header image.  For our group, that bar was red, and looked exactly like the underline we had been using since September of 2013.  So I recreated the logo without the red bar.  Also, in keeping with more current design standards, I reduced the intensity of the drop shadow behind the red text.

Its fun to see how branding and designs change over the years.  I’m curious to see where the HoustonPhotowalks logo takes us in the future!

Is Autism Support being Roadblocked by parents?

Is Autism Support being Roadblocked by parents?

10 years ago when Marty and I first started our journey as parents of a non-verbal, extremely anxious child, we had some very specific misconceptions. For example, we had to learn the concept of normal vs neurotypical … and start to understand our responsibility to help our child grow to be the best person he can be, rather than trying to make him “like normal kids”.

The Autism Community is (mostly) Self Educating

As a community, when we see facebook postings, emails or message board comments with things like “cure my child”, “cause of autism”, “making my child act/be normal”, etc, we typically react in one of two ways. Sometimes (let’s be honest), we react to words like “normal” a fair bit too harshly, which often leaves people who may have just recently received a diagnosis feeling attacked and unwelcome. We need to be more careful about that.

The most helpful way to respond is to gently nudge that parent into the fold by helping them understand the community and culture — educating them. This way, we can help parents to stop thinking of their child as “broken”. All children have challenges of one type or another. As parents, we guide our children in the right direction using whatever methods we personally feel is most appropriate. Some prefer therapy and training, some use medication, some prefer natural approaches — the list is endless.

Sudden Up-Swing in “High Functioning”

Marty and I have been reading New Member applications for our Houston-based support group for about 4 years. In the last year or so, I’ve seen a growing number of parents describe their child as “High Functioning”. The parent of a recently-diagnosed child often includes long descriptions of what makes their child “high functioning”. In fact, it often feels less like an “introduction to the support group” and more like an explanation of why the Dr. got the diagnosis wrong.

Today a parent left the AutismHouston.com support group and sent me this message:

“My daughter is high functioning and I’m concerned that she may see others worse off and sort of lump herself in with them…she already has low self-esteem b/c of not being “normal” ….plus she is resistant to being labelled “autistic” or as having Aspergers.”

The term “High Functioning” has been around a long time. Its the recent use — and frequency of use — that its concerning. The thing I find most disturbing is that its used as an excuse to exit from the community entirely. Somewhat like the Cochlear Implant is leading some families to avoid providing support for their child (not joining the Deaf Community, learning sign language, or even “admit” their child is deaf, etc).

You Tell Me!

Am I off-base with my assessment of the recent use of the term “High Functioning”? Is it being over-used? Should it be an area that we should focus education and encouragement? Is “High Functioning” a crutch (or an excuse) for believing “My kid doesn’t belong with kids like yours.”? Feel free to reply with your comments below.

How To Fix Broken Google Webmaster Tools for Meetup.com

How To Fix Broken Google Webmaster Tools for Meetup.com

For years, meetup.com let us use “custom domains”. As part of their rebranding and refocus efforts, they are doing away with this feature. Fortunately they are grandfathering (kinda) those of us who were smart enough to brand our groups with a unique URL. But this change has broken access to Google’s Webmaster Tools.

The Issue

And by Kinda Grandfathering, I mean that Meetup.com will accomodate those who already have a domain pointing at meetup.com, but then submit a redirect to your group on their domain. In other words, if you own “houstonphotowalks.com” and point it at meetup before June of 2013, everything worked pretty snazzy. After June ’13, your group members started being redirected to http://www.meetup.com/HoustonPhotowalks/.

Ok, as if that wasn’t bad enough, for those of you tracking your branding and traffic using Webmaster tools, you suddenly realize Webmaster Tools says you don’t own the domain. The reason is your domain cannot be Verified with the Google Webmaster Tools. And to add yet more insult, a lot of the Webmaster Tools aren’t going to be useful because any “houstonphotowalk.com” traffic is automatically shifted to “meetup.com/HoustonPhotowalks”. [sigh] (One note, so far Google Analytics will still work as long as Meetup doesn’t disable those too.)

Workaround

Google will also search your Zone File for TXT entries when trying to verify a domain. If your domain management software (I use godaddy) allows you direct access to edit the Zone File, then open the Webmaster Tools, go to Verification methods, and select Alternative Methods. Simply add a TXT entry with the google-generated TXT Value and pop, you’re verified!

Let me know in comments if you found this helpful!

I Can Never Return to that Pawnshop Again …

I Can Never Return to that Pawnshop Again …

Administrators: Force Secure Passwords Because Users are Lazy. This is the story of how a stolen laptop and a careless employee got me banned from my favorite pawn shop.

The Punchline

The punchline to this story is hidden in my phone call to a complete stranger:

Stranger: How do you know Bob?

Me: All I know about Bob is what I found on his laptop.

And later in the call:

Stranger (to someone in the office with him): This guy on the phone is standing outside a pawn shop in Houston and …

Loud voice in the background: OMG, he found our laptop?!

Author Note: Pawn shops are often a great place to find older camera equipment (I’m hunting for old 35mm Canon lenses for my XSI with adapter ring for artistic shots). I have the expectation that nothing for sale is stolen. This article is not about pawn shops, it’s about security. So no flames please. 🙂

While walking through the electronics section of a pawn shop, I noticed a Dell laptop in the WinXP screen-saver mode. Interested to see if it was worth the $200 price tag, I tapped the space bar for a closer look.

That’s when I met Bob.

There was no login password, dismissing the screen-saver took me right to Bob’s desktop. 2 seconds later, it was obvious something wasn’t quite right. If someone was going to sell their old laptop for a few bucks, chances are they would delete personal and company information; Bob didn’t give up this laptop voluntarily.

Sifting Through Data

Knowing that Bob would probably like to have his laptop back, I spent several minutes sifting through files looking for contact information. There was directory after directory of company financial data, historical pricing information, bid sheets (won and lost) and client contact information. Finally, in a online purchase receipt next to his credit card number, I found Bob’s company phone number.
I found enough information to contact Bob by rifling through the company’s sensitive financial information that was on public display in a resale shop

Calling Bob’s Boss

Bob didn’t answer the phone, but his boss did and was happy to get my call. He notified the police investigator working the recent office robbery and a few hours later, the pawn shop manager received a visit from two officers. After lifting some fingerprints, the nicked laptop was returned to its owners while the manager of my favorite pawn shop was out $200 bucks.

Apparently, the office robbery was perpetrated by someone looking to nab some computer equipment. But had Bob’s laptop been stolen by evil-doers from a rival company, the damage would be immeasurable. For the ripe sum of $200, anyone could have bought this company’s laundry and Bob’s credit card receipts.

Users Hate Security

When it comes to IT security policies, I’ve worked in polar extremes. At one design shop, every C:\ drive was an open share. On the other hand, when working IT litigation support for Enron, VPN was restricted to using company-provided software and our home PCs were required to have extreme password policies enabled. Logging in from home was a 5 minute, multi-step process that IT felt was warranted.

Secure systems are inconvenient for users. For the sake of efficiency, they may choose convenient passwords (or disable security entirely). Users may also prefer the same password for every system, even for their CBS Survivor fan site.

Statistics suggest as many as 600,000 to 1 million laptops are lost or stolen each year

Number of USB Keys lost or stolen yearly is impossible to calculate

Reduce Risk, Fix Bob, Bob is Lazy, Long Live Bob

System and site administrators have to design security with the expectation that users are lazy and have no concept of security. The majority of your users may be well-informed and aware of their responsibility to security. But it only takes one Bob to lose a laptop with a lousy password (if any) to put a business at severe risk.

Enact password and drive encryption policies in your organization to prevent an over-night robbery from turning into a company destroying event. This is not the job of IT managers, CEOs, CFOs or building security. It is the responsibility of system admins and developers. Your company’s data is in your hands, is it worth a $200 laptop resale?

Be a Company Hero

When a member of the sales team forgets his laptop in a taxi and his director storms in your office wanting to know the risks, you can confidently say there is no exposure. The hard drive was encrypted and the login password is impossible — the device is useless without reformatting first. Someone in the world gets a free laptop, but the company is not at risk.

As a side note, the pawnshop owner saw me standing by the laptop for several minutes. So now I can never show my face in that place again. Maybe that’s not a bad thing.

NOTE: I originally wrote this article while working for Dzone.com, August 23, 2008

Forcing Drupal into Perpetual Cron Jobs

Forcing Drupal into Perpetual Cron Jobs

Something went screwy. That’s the shortest explanation I can provide. To fix it, I had to run the Drupal Cron job hundreds of times until the queue drained.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t interested in sitting at my computer for hours clicking the Run Cron button. So I inserted this little hack into my page. Its an absolute total hack, and very temporary, but gets the job done.

try
{
	var i = document.getElementById('system-cron-settings');
	if (i!=undefined) i.submit();
}
catch(e){}

Pretty simple stuff. It looks for the cron form, and if it finds it, the cron is submitted. So each time the page refreshes, it automatically resubmits.