Sunday, July 22, 2018

20 Years Ago on AOL.com: July 22, 1998 -- The Death of Astronaut Alan Shepard (and the First Mid-Day Update)

[In the late 1990s, I programmed the content for the AOL.com home page, which relaunched with a new design on July 14, 1998. I printed screencaps and saved them. 20 years later, I'm scanning them in and posting them with a little commentary.]

July 22, 1998: The first American in space, astronaut Alan Shepard, died in California late Tuesday night, and we got the news Wednesday morning.

While this version of the home page wasn't set up for breaking news (or really, any news at all, save for the My News promos in the center column), we knew we were going to get there eventually, and Shepard's death, though tragic, gave us an opportunity to try things out during the business day.

The page lineup shown here wasn't the one that was originally scheduled (obviously); this is a publishing tool preview that shows I'd swapped out the first text promo with the news story. You can't see the time stamp in the scan, but it shows that the screenshot was taken at 1:27pm ET.


This bought us some time until we got Shepard's photo and turned it into a graphic promo, which I then swapped in. I don't know how long it actually took (this next screenshot is one I generated from the publishing tool the following day), but it was probably at least an hour.

Our inability to rapidly turn around graphics with integrated text to react to breaking news would be a strong argument for switching to text headlines in graphic promos... but that would take a while.

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Saturday, July 21, 2018

20 Years Ago on AOL.com: July 21, 1998 -- The Rise of NASCAR

[In the late 1990s, I programmed the content for the AOL.com home page, which relaunched with a new design on July 14, 1998. I printed screencaps and saved them. 20 years later, I'm scanning them in and posting them with a little commentary.]

July 21, 1998: Back to a legit screenshot from the live site. My first NASCAR-related graphic promo.

I worked with the AOL Photo team to get wire or stock photos, then gave them to a designer to integrate the text into the final graphic. The requested lead time for this whole process was a few days, which was... not ideal and caused loads of heartache for all involved. (We eventually found ways to streamline the process. Eventually.)

The way we handled photo credits in those early days was to put them in a separately scheduled promo spot at the bottom of the page.


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Friday, July 20, 2018

20 Years Ago on AOL.com: July 20, 1998 -- A Headline Lapse?

[In the late 1990s, I programmed the content for the AOL.com home page, which relaunched with a new design on July 14, 1998. I printed screencaps and saved them. 20 years later, I'm scanning them in and posting them with a little commentary.]

July 20, 1998: Another screenshot from my offline copyfit mockup.

One thing I just noticed that annoys me: The first three text promos (in the top block) use headline case, with articles and prepositions of less than four letters left uncapitalized. But the fourth promo—the Shopping promo—has everything in the headline capitalized.

I want to say that it was given to me by someone on the Shopping team, but it just might have been a lapse on my part.



The timestamp on the bottom shows that this screenshot was done ex post facto.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

20 Years Ago on AOL.com: July 19, 1998 -- All-You-Can-Eat AOL

[In the late 1990s, I programmed the content for the AOL.com home page, which relaunched with a new design on July 14, 1998. I printed screencaps and saved them. 20 years later, I'm scanning them in and posting them with a little commentary.]

July 19, 1998: Third text promo is "Unlimited Time Offer: 'All-you-can-eat' AOL, $21.95/month." I don't remember if I wrote that gem solo or in consultation with the member marketing folks. Note that we're also still pitching 100 free hours in your first month (in the right column). ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Also in the right column, check out the AOL NetMail promo. A lot more about Netmail in the coming months.

1998_07_19

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

20 Years Ago on AOL.com: July 18, 1998 -- We Add a Lame Disclaimer

[In the late 1990s, I programmed the content for the AOL.com home page, which relaunched with a new design on July 14, 1998. I printed screencaps and saved them. 20 years later, I'm scanning them in and posting them with a little commentary.]

July 18, 1998: The first Saturday home page, which means it was scheduled on Friday. You can also see in the printout header that it's a screencap of the offline HTML template mockup that I used for copyfitting.

There's a fairly small but telling change that was added in the days after launch that most people would miss (I nearly did just now): Just below the nav bar, and above the promo block, we added a tiny text line that says, "America Online's Internet@Large Experience."

It looks like a slogan, but it's actually more of a disclaimer: I forget exactly why we were told to add it, but I think it had something to do with the fact that some of the execs were concerned that people would confuse AOL.com with the core AOL service offerings.

Of course, this little line of text would do absolutely nothing to alleviate that; it was a tiny piece of ass-covering that we were told to add. 1998_07_18

Ad spot of the day: Lower right in the ad block, the ad for Cybermeals: "HUNGRY? Point. Click. Eat." Yeah, like that would ever become a thing.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

20 Years Ago on AOL.com: July 17, 1998 -- Tiger and Mel

[In the late 1990s, I programmed the content for the AOL.com home page, which relaunched with a new design on July 14, 1998. I printed screencaps and saved them. 20 years later, I'm scanning them in and posting them with a little commentary.]

July 17, 1998: We're name-checking a young, up-and-coming golfer named Tiger Woods. I wonder what ever happened to him?

You'll also notice that the four text promos are color-coordinated with the adjacent graphic promo. The designers would create the graphic, then give me the hex color codes for the table rows to match.

I'll talk more about the graphic promo creation process later; it was a point of contention between design and editorial.
 1998_07_17

Monday, July 16, 2018

20 Years Ago, on AOL.com: July 16, 1998 -- A Word on Web Centers

[In the late 1990s, I programmed the content for the AOL.com home page, which relaunched with a new design on July 14, 1998. I printed screencaps and saved them. 20 years later, I'm scanning them in and posting them with a little commentary.]

July 16, 1998: Nothing particularly interesting; the graphic promo is a fairly generic promo for the Travel Web Center.

Web Centers were just categories; they almost, but not quite, aligned to the AOL Channels. Part of the reason was to increase the available ad inventory (at least it was, later on): they weren't extensions of AOL Channels on the web, they were completely different, and differently sellable thing. That was our story, and it was true (at least as far as they reflected the organizational relationship between AOL.com and the AOL service channels.)

Also, If you look in the Web Centers column, you see that they're listed in order of popularity, not alphabetically.

1998_07_16

Sunday, July 15, 2018

20 Years Ago on AOL.com: July 15, 1998

[In the late 1990s, I programmed the content for the AOL.com home page, which relaunched with a new design on July 14, 1998. I printed screencaps and saved them. 20 years later, I'm scanning them in and posting them with a little commentary.]

July 15, 1998: There's Something About Mary opens in the US. (Note the current slew of articles about the film's 20th anniversary.)

Naturally, we used a Cameron Diaz photo for the graphic promo spot:


1998_07_15

Free AOL Hours Offered: 100 (in your first month.)

Saturday, July 14, 2018

20 Years Ago, On AOL.com: July 14, 1998

20 years ago on AOL.com, on July 14, 1998 (Bastille Day), I was part of the AOL.com team that relaunched the AOL.com website.

It featured a new home page that I did the content for; at the time, that just meant writing the 4 daily text promos and text/graphic promo spot (more on that in the future), and some text promos below the fold that rotated on a weekly-ish basis. Everything else on the page was static (well, except for the four ad spots in the top right):

1998_07_14

Depending on the specific time period, there were actually a few different versions of the home page: one view for non-AOL members (people using external, standalone browsers) that was mostly an ad to sign up for AOL (this is the version that the Internet Wayback Machine would tend to crawl); an AOL member version seen by people using the (much-hated) AOL client web browser; and later, a version for AOL members signed in to their Webmail accounts using external browsers.

The promos that I wrote were most visible in the member signed-in views.

Anyway, I'd write the promos in an HTML template to make sure the copy fit, then paste it into our publishing tool (I think we launched with the Java-based Shakespeare), then use a push tool to publish it to the staging server, then out live to production.

As part of my process, either from the preview staging server or after it went live, I'd take a screenshot and print it out. (This July 14th launch version was definitely the live version, as you can see from the header URL.) I don't think I kept the soft copy screenshot, just the hard copy, which went into a folder and that I kept, even after all this time.

(One other thing: The footer with the legalese often printed to a second page; you can see here where I cut it out and taped it to the first page.)

Anyway, to commemorate the launch, and to open that time capsule from the late 1990s, I bought a new scanner (after I upgraded to High Sierra, my original 4-in-1 wouldn't scan anymore) and now, mostly as a writing prompt, will be publishing an image of the AOL.com home page from that day, 20 years prior, with a little commentary as appropriate, and as best my faulty memory can recall. (I'm also publishing all the scans to a Flickr collection: 20 Years Ago On AOL.com)

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Eulogy for My Dad

As written and delivered, Saturday, March 24, 2018, St. John the Apostle Roman Catholic Church, Linden, NJ:

Many of you know the story of how my father came to the US and gained his citizenship. It’s a long one, with lots of dramatic twists and funny stories, and my sister Theresa does a much better job telling his story in her documentary film about his life, “Every Day Is a Holiday.”

That phrase comes from one of Dad’s sayings after his time as a prisoner of war: "Every day as a free man is a holiday." I didn’t really, truly understand that until my sister, after years of prodding, finally got him to open up and share his story.

We can also see his story in the people who are here today to pay their respects, many who have traveled hundreds (even thousands) of miles, over journeys lasting many dozens of years: fellow veterans and members of the American Legion; classmates from Manhattan College and University of Bologna Medical School; colleagues from the East Orange VA; neighbors and friends from a long life well-lived.

And of course, his loving family.

As we honor Dr. Paul Yokwah Loong and say farewell to him, we remember many things about him: the pains he endured and the sacrifices he made; his kindness, care, and compassion for all those he helped; and most of all, his devotion to God; his steadfast patriotism for his country; and his tireless  love for his family.

My father rarely had a problem falling asleep, and always slept well. He liked to say that the reason was simple: It was because he had a clear conscience.

Dad is at his eternal rest now, and I know he goes there with a clear conscience.


Thursday, March 08, 2018

Why I Haven't Been Around

I've been scarce lately because my dad had a stroke just after Valentine's Day, and I've spent much of the past 3 weeks in a hospital near my hometown trading off days and nights with my family. (Thankfully, my bosses are fine with me working remotely, and the wifi is adequate.)

I'll spare you (and myself) the medical details. After a night in the ER, dad was moved to the Critical Care Unit, surrounded by tubes, wires, sensors, a rotating staff of nurses and doctors, and a general sense of helplessness felt by the rest of us.

A series of tubes.
After a week, he was moved up to a regular room, where we remain (with a brief diversion to sub-acute care until a complication popped up).

Right now, NJ just went through a winter storm (parts of the state got over 2 feet of snow, though our area didn't get nearly that much), so I figured I'd catch up on a few things.

I guess I've been lucky up until now, as even at my age, I haven't had to spend much time in hospitals, either as a patient or a visitor. Though I'm definitely catching up now: Over the years, I guess hospitals figured out that it was better to let a family member stay overnight. Hospitals are disorienting enough as it is; after a while, I was having trouble keeping track of the days.

They're also pretty difficult places to get actual rest, with all the tests, scheduled medications, position changes, and beeping machines. (So much beeping.) A recliner helps, though.

Dad's is pretty much out of the acute phase of things, and we're all trying to figure out what happens next. I won't get into his prognosis, though we're trying to be optimistic and realistic.

Anyway, I figure I'll be spending a whole lot more time in NJ and traveling back and forth. I'm also trying not to commit to anything I can't easily get out of over the next few months.