2013 NYIAS in Review

Easter Sunday may have been a day of quiet reverence or respectful celebration for many millions of people.  With perhaps a tinge of guilt, I spent the day at an altar of an altogether different sort.  The 2013 New York International Auto Show opened to the public last weekend at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.  It runs through today.  Like many here in the Northeast, I made the trip to Midtown Manhattan on Sunday to see all that the auto industry has to offer.

Personal Favorites
Every year I pick a favorite car.  Last year it was the all-new 2013 Ford Fusion that looks like a family sedan designed by Jaguar or Aston Martin.  The year before it was the 2012 Range Rover Evoque Coupe.  This year it’s a little more complicated.  No one car sold me instantly or wholeheartedly.  There was no love at first sight.  So I’ll share my thoughts on a few, and then include a slideshow near the end.

Favorite Interior
My favorite vehicle interior is that of the all-new, full-sized Range Rover in Autobiography trim level with the Rear Executive Class seating option.  Now I typically try to avoid paying too much attention to vehicles costing in the neighborhood of $130,995.  I’m fairly sure that I’d never buy one even if I could.  But I’m also a sucker for a fixed, rear-seat center console, the likes of which only occasionally appear in the most expensive sedans on earth.  I don’t know why a fixed rear console appeals to me, but it does.  Big time.  And this Range Rover has one.  I love it despite the fact that it limits rear seating rear capacity to two, and further reduces curb-side egress to only one of the rear-seat passengers.  Obviously I’m not going to find myself chauffeured around in one of these Range Rovers any time soon, and I’m almost certainly better off for it.

Favorite Relatively Affordable Vehicle
I went to New York expecting to dislike the 2014 Jeep Cherokee.  When I first saw spy photos of it months ago, I wrongly assumed that it was replacing the current, very attractive Jeep Grand Cherokee.  And I wasn’t thrilled with what I was seeing.  I wasn’t very happy with Jeep’s official photos either when they became available, though I was assured that it looked better in person.  And thankfully, it does.

It turns out that the new Cherokee is a just-big-enough, just-capable-enough, all-terrain SUV, provided that you opt for the Trailhawk configuration, 271 horsepower 3.2L V6 engine and Trailer Tow Group.  Otherwise it’s just a Grocery Getter.  The abundance of black plastic on the 2014 Cherokee in all trim levels leaves me thinking that black paint is the only appropriate color choice at this time.  I’d expect body-color trim to arrive at some point in the future, making the Cherokee more attractive in other colors.  Somehow I could see myself driving one of these in the snowy but densely-packed Northeast.

Favorite Technology Item
Audi builds great looking cars, though I worry that their long-term upkeep may bankrupt anyone not comfortably ensconced in the Top One Percent™.  They also brought my favorite thing to New York that was not a car.  Audi teamed up with Tagboard to feed their electronic signage with social media updates throughout the week.  Those who Tweeted or similarly mentioned hashtags #Audi and #NYIAS might see their post on the 30-foot screen in Audi’s booth.  I’d love to see some metrics behind Audi’s social media outreach during the show as a result of their partnership with Tagboard.

The 2014 Silverado / Sierra
I happen to drive one of the best-selling vehicles sold in the United States, the current-generation, full-sized Chevy Silverado pickup.  Think of my choice as a throwback to my rural Indiana childhood.  My Silverado, in 4×4 Z71 trim, is capable, confidence-inspiring, and good looking too.  The new 2014 Silverado and its GMC Sierra stablemate are at least two of those three adjectives, with the looks being somewhat subjective.

To my eye, the all-new 2014 Silverado looks ever so slightly more squared off, masculine and purpose-built.  And that’s great.  For a truck.  But sooner or later, GM will have to release a new Tahoe, Avalanche, Suburban, Yukon and Escalade on this chassis too.  The current Tahoe and siblings look absolutely gorgeous in my opinion.  They look at home anywhere from the construction site to the country club, and at a kids’ soccer field in between.  I fear that a Tahoe or Suburban based on the new Silverado design will only look appropriate in black with S.W.A.T. team members riding the foot rails on both sides.  Now there’s a market for that, just as there’s a market for movies featuring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.  It just happens to be a slightly narrower niche than the pool of potential buyers for the current Tahoe, et al.  I hope that GM proves me wrong with a full-size SUV holding broad appeal.

And now for some random pictures taken using an iPad…

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The New York International Auto Show, and similar auto shows in other major cities, are always a little bit overwhelming.  Sensory overload, and all that.  At the same time, it’s a whole lot of fun.  And there’s almost always a technology tie-in too.  For instance, I heard a salesman describing the aforementioned 2014 Silverado as, “like having a Nexus or an iPad on the dash.”  He was speaking figuratively, of course, about GM’s feature-rich touchscreen console with 4G LTE connectivity.

Now my day at the show ends sooner or later, and it’s time to go home.  Which in my case, ironically, doesn’t involve getting behind the wheel at all.  The train took me from Midtown back to my little city in Connecticut, and practically right to my front door.  At least I’d have a reason to drive the next day.

The 2013 New York International Auto Show runs through 7:00 PM this evening at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.

Meanwhile, I’ll be working on a real tech post for next week.

Why and How?

I value knowledge more than just about any other commodity.  That’s not to suggest that I posses any great knowledge or insight, only that I’m inclined to pursue knowledge when I’m at my best, and that I’m at my best when pursuing it.  I’m the guy at work who, when he discovers a new bit of technical information that should become common knowledge among the team, feels compelled to write it up and share it.  Perhaps, then, it’s inevitable that I would start this blog.  But enough about me.  For those readers who might feel compelled to follow a similar path, let’s walk through one way among many to get it done.

Unlimited Options
When starting a blog, the range of options, considerations and costs are nearly as boundless as human creativity itself.  You can do it entirely by yourself at no financial cost other than the value of your own time.  At the other extreme, you can outsource the entire effort to a professional who will, if successful, transform the vision in your head into reality.  Some professionals may well exceed your initial vision and introduce you to ideas that you had no idea that you wanted until you saw them.  When putting together snnyc.com, I ran it as a lot of technology projects are run these days.  I brought together the right mix of professionals, products and service providers from diverse locales via the Internet.  With so many options available, where do we begin?

Your Topic
If you’re going to go to the effort of starting a blog, you’re undoubtedly motivated by something.  Are you motivated by your work?  By a hobby?  Is it your family or friends?  Music?  Fashion?  Pop culture?  Writing on a regular basis can be difficult, even to those who naturally enjoy it.  Choose a topic that you can’t help but think about a high percentage of the time anyway.  Writing about it will feel the most like fun and the least like work.  In my case, there was little question that my primary topic would be Information Technology.

Selecting a Name
While selecting a topic for your blog may be as simple as listening to your heart, selecting a name becomes dramatically more complicated as we have to consider the technical realities of publishing on the Internet.  At this point, the non technically savvy reader may need to seek the assistance of an Internet consultant while the technical professional may be bored by much of this section.

Your blog’s Internet domain name must be unique from every site currently in use on the Internet.  While there are some free hosting services that add your blog’s name as a prefix on an established domain name, taking a format such as  http://myblog.wordpress.com, we’re going to focus on finding a unique Internet domain name belonging only to you as I have with http://snnyc.com.

At the time that I began writing this post, there were over 93.7 million active domains registered with the most common extension of .com.  In the prior 24 hours, over 74,000 new .com domains were created and over 61,000 were deleted.  With 93.7 million .com domains registered, you’re not likely to find that your first idea is still available with that extension.  The situation improves if you’re willing to go with a .net domain, but even so, there are 13.8 million .net domains active at this time.  So how does one find a unique name?

If you’re looking for a unique Internet domain name, you could just go straight to a domain registrar such as Scottsdale, AZ, based GoDaddy.com and start punching in your ideas.  They will tell you if the domain name is still available with any particular extension, and may also show you close alternatives to your original idea.  This should be easy enough.  If you find an available domain name that you wish to purchase, I’d urge you do so the moment you discover that it’s available.  Unless you’re on a very tight budget, don’t take a few minutes to think about it.  Definitely don’t sleep on it overnight.  You don’t want to let your idea become one of the 74,000 new .com domain registrations that someone else does today.  A 2-year .com domain registration with GoDaddy.com including private registration recently cost me $38.32.  Once registered, no one but you can use that domain name for the duration of your registration period.  Each time that your domain name comes up for renewal, you’ll have an opportunity to renew the registration and retain control of your name indefinitely.

I took a slightly different route to come up with snnyc.com.  As a matter of personal preference, I wanted a .com domain that was as short as was still available.  Given my current proximity to and personal affinity for New York City, I wanted to try to work the letters ‘nyc’ into the domain name if possible.  Finally, with my primary focus on Information Technology, I needed it to sound “techie.”  So, I  did a Google search for ‘domain name generator,’ where I found NameStation.com, a free service created by New York-based Acceli.  Once there, I entered my parameters and quickly found that snnyc.com was available.  I felt instinctively that I had a winner and I registered it on the spot with GoDaddy.

Technology people seem to see all the letters from the word ‘sync’ in snnyc.com and interpret it as an adaptation on that concept, despite the letters falling out of order.  Though few seem to notice, it subtly pays homage to NYC.  Finally, if you pronounce it phonically as my 4-year-old nephew does, it sounds like ‘cynic,’ which I choose to interpret as ‘cutting through the hype.’  The subsequently designed logo serves to cover both the ideas of ‘sync’ and ‘cutting through the hype,’ while conveniently forming a stylized S at the same time.

[While I was the first to register snnyc.com as a domain name for use in this technical blog, others have used the same combination of letters ‘snnyc’ for other purposes.  Neither the snnyc YouTube channel nor the OkCupid profile are mine.]

Pick a blogging technology
Choosing a blogging technology is akin to choosing a word processor prior to the Internet era.  Just as you might write a traditional letter using Microsoft Word, you need specialized software to create, post to and manage your blog.  I went with WordPress software almost by default, as I wanted to become more familiar with this most well-known platform as part of the exercise.  At the time of this writing, there are over 25 million blogs based on WordPress.  Examples include several New York Times blogs, TechCrunch and Think Progress.  There are over 1,300 themes and 13,000 plugins available to help customize the look of your WordPress blog.  Best of all, WordPress software is free and open source, so there’s no charge to acquire or use it.  Other blogging platforms include Google’s Blogger, TypePad, Movable Type and even Apple’s iWeb.

Pick a hosting provider
After determining which blogging technology you plan to use, you’ll have to determine where your blog will be hosted.  In other words, you’re selecting the Internet servers that your blog content will reside on.  If you don’t know enough about this to care one way or another, it may make sense to get started with one of the free hosting options such as WordPress.com, the hosting arm of the WordPress.org software.

I went with LA-based hosting and virtualization provider Media Temple at a cost of $200 for 1 year of their Grid Service.  While feedback on Media Temple has been somewhat love-it-or-hate-it, a potential concern, they bill themselves as an organization designed to host sites such that they can sustain a sudden rush of traffic.  While I’d prefer to never buy something based on a sales pitch, Media Temple is also one of four hosting providers mentioned on the WordPress.org site, which I took as a tacit endorsement.  The process of signing up for Media Temple and performed a ‘1-click install’ of WordPress 3.1 into my account was a relatively painless, as it should be.  My site has loaded quickly every time that I’ve looked at it since.  So far, so good.

[Update: Media Temple suffered their first service outage affecting the snnyc blog four weeks after this original post.  Details are here.  I noticed no other issues affecting the site through the remainder of 2011.  If anything, the performance has improved.  Nearing the one-year point, I couldn’t be happier with Media Temple.]

Do you need an SSL certificate?
If you’ve ever done online banking or made a purchase from a web store like eBay or Amazon.com, then you’ve used Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption.  This technology protects your web traffic by encrypting it such that anyone who observes your traffic in transit across the Internet can’t read it.  The technology behind SSL includes the use of a certificate at the server that is typically issued by a well-known, trusted certificate authority.

If you plan to post to or administer your blog from public settings such as coffee shops and airports, you may want to protect your login credentials by encrypting them in transit using SSL.  Frankly it’s a smart precaution regardless of where you’ll post from in the future.  For snnyc.com, I purchased a one-year SSL certificate from GoDaddy.com for $49.99.  I then installed that certificate in my hosting account at Media Temple, which was once again an easy process.

Do you need professional artistic services?
Those who have known me for years have seen me illustrate some fairly convincing logos and take some decent photos using professional equipment.  That was awhile ago.  As I got started on this project, I was under a fair amount of unrelated mental stress and wasn’t feeling particularly creative.  I felt from the start that creative services might be a good investment.  You’ll need to make an assessment of your own skills and time available in transforming your creative vision into reality.

The snnyc.com logo is the result of Melbourne & San Francisco-based 99designs and freelance designer ‘seerdon‘ (Charlie Symour M. Caballero) of the Philippines.  I launched a $295 contest at 99designs.com to create the new logo.  Seerdon’s winning entry was one of 86 design variations submitted over 7 days.  At the conclusion of the contest, I paid the fee and received the image in the formats requested along with a document transferring ownership of the work.  Needless to say, I was very satisfied with the outcome.

Next, I wanted a photo of myself for the header image.  Finding a photographer in New York City is as easy as posting an add to the Creative Gigs section of Craigslist.  Be prepared to take your add back down within twenty-four hours, as you may well get a hundred responses in that period of time.  Joe Giraud was the first to respond to me.  It was obvious from Joe’s web site that he has the necessary photography tools, experience and vision to do great work.  I didn’t have to wonder whether he could capture the image that I had asked for.  His quote of $200 for a photo  session and unrestricted use of one edited photo, while not the lowest, was a solid value.

Working with Joe was easy.  He and his Assistant Cat met with me the first time down at the southern tip of Manhattan.  After taking the photos, Joe sent me two edited views later the same day.  Ultimately Joe and I got together for a second session in Midtown to pursue a new slant to the original concept, an idea suggested by a friend who I’ll introduce in the next section.  Our second session yielded the header image that you see today.  Joe was as pleasant, professional and accommodating the second time around.  I paid another $200 for the second session, the outcome of which was clearly worth it.

Do you need web design or WordPress customization services?
Snnyc.com is based on the Twenty Ten theme, the default theme shown when you install WordPress 3.0 or 3.1.  You’d easily find tens of thousands of sites based on this theme alone if you were to look very hard.  Having said that, I may not have arrived at what we see here today without the valued assistance of WordPress Guy, all-around creative genius and respected friend, Brian Watts of Olmstead Township, OH.  In addition to injecting an idea into the photographic process from 500 miles away, Brian patiently translated my various requests into technical reality.  Over a period of two weeks, Brian fielded a series of requests ranging from modifying the style sheets several times to researching and deploying certain gadgets to repeatedly moving around, resizing and adjusting the shading of the logo relative to the header photo.  Brian made good use of his 10.75 hours and charged me a modest $537.50 for his work to this point.  Again, this was money well spent in turning the vision in my head into technical reality or better.

Begin Writing
If you’d been running a calculator while reading this, you’d note that I spent $1520.81 launching this blog to the point that I was ready to write this first post.  Like so many IT projects these days, this effort pulled in contributors and service providers from as diverse a geography as the Philippines, Melbourne, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Scottsdale, Olmsted Township, OH, New York City and Connecticut.  Launching in this manner way was a logical extension of who I am and my place in time.  And Thomas Friedman is right.

In future posts, I hope to bring the minimum narrative necessary and more technical how-to information.  If you have questions or ideas for upcoming posts, leave a reply below.  Thank you for reading today.