Blest Life

Blessings—that's how I see my life. I've had the opportunity to experience many things, and I trust that there will be many more. Each experience has left an indelible mark on my life, and there are some that have left their mark on the Interwebs.

Web Development, Etc

I have designed websites. I've also worked on large web projects, most notably as a lead on ocvote.com, which requires a different mindset than designing for a single individual. But instead of calling myself a web designer, I prefer the term web developer because I feel that my work is about both the planning and building of my corner of the Web. I design the pieces that the public will see (HTML, CSS, JavaScript), but I also work on the back end and the databases and server-side scripting (PHP, MySQL). It's such a good feeling to see all the pieces come together and to witness people using it and enjoying it.

ocvote.com

I was involved in the entire re-design of ocvote.com in 2011. This has been a labor of love which I am still updating, tweaking, adding to, revising on a daily basis. Most of the website has been a collaborative process with executive management and content matter experts, but there are a few corners that I were handed off to me in their entirety, and those were probably the most fun to develop.

benhamatake.com

Yes, I bought a domain name that is my name. I'm egotistic. And I'm not afraid to say it. Just to get that out of the way.

In all seriousness, after a few years in the social media void, I realized that I wanted to be in control of my online presence, and online experience. The leading social media website afforded neither to me, so I started building my own. And that's how benhamatake.com came about—I just wanted my own space online where I could do whatever I wanted. So I bought this domain name and signed up with a webhost. No, it's not free, but the nominal annual fee allows me to be free instead of only moving in the circles prescribed by some for-profit organization.

The first thing I did with this domain name, aside from cloud storage before "cloud storage" was a common term, was set up a spot for me to dump all my little code snippets. The ones that take hours or days to figure out but that only get used once a year or so and are completely forgotten in the interim. Hence SnippetLib was born. It served its purpose, and continues now as an archive for me. But most importantly, it introduced me to WordPress :)

Since then I've added a lot to this domain and it's become a great asset to me. Very much worth the few dollars a month to host it.

Geography & GIS

Years ago, I happened upon the graduate program in Geography at California State University, Fullerton. I have never turned back since. Of all the vastly broad fields of study in academia today, my humble opinion (read: bias) is that Geography encompasses the most overarching and urgent subject of all: how people and planet interact. Climate change, record drought, ozone holes aside, the way we and Mother Earth get along is about the most important temporal subject we'll ever face.

After five years of study—actually, two years of study plus three years of trying to finish my thesis—I finally graduated with a Master's in Geography.

My graduate thesis, Spatial Little Saigon: Mapping an ethnic community, now lies among countless others in the "published thesis space" of higher education. It was a labor of love that stretched me beyond my limits, only to find that I had a little left to give. How indicative of life.

I'm posting it here as well. Hopefully it finds a researcher who needs to know how to map ethnic communities using census blocks and voter records.

All of the maps you see in this thesis were generated using ArcGIS, student edition. I finished the project just as my license expired :) I am an avid user of QGIS now, and as a lover of open source and free software, I can honestly say that the vast majority of my GIS needs are met with this open source project. Except geocoding 1.5 million addresses—I was glad to have ArcGIS for that.

The good 'ol days (serious reminiscing about the WWW)

My expectation of the Web, instilled in me during my tender middle school years when the family's first PC was opened up in the family room and out popped A Beginner's Guide to HTML, is that it provides me a space to build a home and connect it to the greater community. To create and design and dream and muse, and share it with those of shared interest and concern. In the beginning of the World Wide Web, Berners-Lee's main objective was just that: to share information among people in the same field of study. That's how the little HTML guide presented it to me, and so I hopped on AOL and joined myself to geocities (in the Soho neighborhood, to be exact). In those days, very few of us knew HTML, and there wasn't much to be known as different browsers rendered HTML differently and web design standards were still a long way off from general consumption. So we all fiddled with themarquee tag and blink tag and animated background gifs and all the things that make webpages hard to read. But it was okay because it was the frontier and we all learned from each other. It felt like a community, like a shared experience, because we were all trying to figure out how this thing worked and how we could make it better. My homestead in Soho is long gone, and unfortunately I have it "archived" on a Zip drive disk which is now obsolete as well, so those first pages have been lost to history. But I do remember one of my favorites: a starry background with white text that spanned the entire width of the display (center-aligned, of course). What it said, I don't remember, but I do remember sitting back in my chair and staring at that page with such pride. Pride in what I had created with my own two hands ten fingers and a little guide to HTML.

Reign of Social Media

Fast forward to the reign of Social Media. The trend has swung the full spectrum from adventure and self-sufficiency and ownership to commodification and intense consumerism. Not unlike the trajectory of any society, I suppose, but nonetheless disheartening to those of us who enjoyed building our log cabin in the woods. Now there's nothing to build, no knowledge or skill needed, no uniqueness or diversity of design, no personality, no learning from each other. Just the sterile blue-gray of corporate-owned Social Media, which does all the "work" for you, then exacts its reward by skewing your search results and advertising to you in the most pervasive ways. Yes, yes, you in the back with your hand raised: I know that it is thanks to Social Media that your grandma can finally stay in touch with her grandchildren. I've heard that. We've all heard that. But have we forgotten that long before Social Media, grandmas were keeping in touch with their grandchildren as well? And can we bring ourselves to believe that perhaps those grandmas were more engaged in more meaningful ways with their grandchildren? I'm sure that grandmas seeing photos of their grandchildren sticking things up their nose is great, but at some point, doesn't such mundane, ephemeral sharing become surrogate to the actual physical experiences we are meant to share? Do experiences on Social Media replace the need to see loved ones as often as in the past?

Real online communities

I remember blogging before blogspot.com was part of Google. And I remember using the HTML Element widget, which I styled and hooked to a little JavaScript to show/hide on a click, to post "mini updates" on my blog, before Twitter made it big. I remember the time I joined MyBlogLog just because of one blogger I respected very much, and that little community meant so much to me because we were all creating content that was important to us, and reviewing each others' work and feeling like we knew each other because of it. In all, there were probably 4 or 5 of us, max. And that was enough back then. And my RSS reader bringing my daily news, and ICQ for when I just felt like watching people talk. And flickr, oh flickr, back when it was a haven for photographers who cared about ISO and f-stops and felt that the meta data was as important to share as the photo itself. All of these disjointed services and platforms, and yet a feeling of belonging and community.

Now, the Social Media decides what I will consume and how I will consume it and even if I will watch the video in my newsfeed. No, I don't want to watch the video of your cat rolling on your carpet. Sorry. That is not a shared interest between us. But Social Media thinks so, and will automatically start that video as soon as I scroll over it. And then it will try to sell me organic cat food with crafty ads conveniently positioned next to photos of my grandchildren.

So I've all but given up on the Next Web in terms of social. I can't articulate it, but there was something material about the relationships I felt in my little corner of the Internet backwoods, connected to a few people through different communities. That's why you won't find me active on Social Media anymore. I guess I'm old school.