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RE: hort.net moving, part II (LONG)

WOW, Chris.  I knew you were under pressure and were driven, but how have
you stayed sane?  That's a long time to be juggling.  I do so hope your life
will be less complicated and you will be able to fulfill your dreams.  Is
there anything any of us can do to help you do what you WANT to do?

Bonnie (SW OH - zone 5) 

-----Original Message-----
From: owner-gardenchat@hort.net [mailto:owner-gardenchat@hort.net] On Behalf
Of Christopher P. Lindsey
Sent: Wednesday, August 23, 2006 6:20 PM
To: gardenchat@hort.net
Subject: [CHAT] hort.net moving, part II (LONG)

Hi guys,

First I plead for solutions and broadside you with huge changes, then
disappear.  I apologize for that -- I meant to stay involved in the
discussion, but life got in the way again.  Everything bad seems to be
happening this summer.

Anyhow, this time I'm going to give you a lot of background, some future
planning, and a lot of rambling.  *Then* I'll disappear.  :)  OK, I'll try
not to.


When I was studying Landscape Architecture as an undergraduate, I really
wanted to apply my knowledge of computers to the industry.  I started
developing plans for landscape design software, plant expert system
databases, etc. 

While researching available resources I met Gary Kling, an Associate
Professor at the University of Illinois who was creating a digital
encyclopedia of plant material in collaboration with IBM and the USDA ( this
evolved into the UIPlants project at http://wp.nres.uiuc.edu/ ).

Gary and I hit it off and I soon joined the graduate program working on
UIPLANTS.  The Web wasn't around yet, so we wrote everything under Windows
and scanned our images in a whopping 400x267 256-color format.
We could barely fit the images onto our $2000 1GB disk drive.

(The program was used through 2000 or so under Windows and OS/2, but I
rewrote it for the Web at a later date.)

Anyhow, that project only whetted my appetite for larger projects.
I knew that I had a background that could help the industry -- I knew about
plants and was well-versed in all things computer, able to do anything from
run a server to write assembly language code to do graphic manipulation in
three dimensions.  In 1996 I founded Mallorn Computing to help provide
technical solutions for the green industry.

What I really wanted to do with Mallorn was innovate.  I wanted to use LPS
(local positioning systems) and/or RFID tags to help nurseries, arboreta,
and botanic gardens catalog their plants.  I wanted to write inventory
management and design software, plant identification and selection software,
etc.  But to do that, I needed money.  

I started taking on Web clients and would pretty much do 'anything moral'
for a buck.  We hosted La Leche League, another ISP's Web pages, some
mailing lists, and then a bunch of nursery Web sites.  I was ecstatic when
we got Heronswood as a client.

The goal was to do the work for the nurseries, then funnel the cash back
into Mallorn to fund my projects.  Unfortunately, each client had a diverse
set of needs and required a substantial amount of my time.  I found myself
paying for more bandwidth and installing more software as they became more
and more needy, eventually to the point where I had no time of my own left.
Or rather, when I did have time I didn't WANT to spend it innovating for
hort.net -- I wanted to be away from the computer.  Having a full-time job
in the computer industry didn't help things either.

This continued pretty much until present day.  I always balanced just the
right number of clients with our network costs, but could never make more
money because it took too much time.  We would just break even.

hort.net was created when I realized this might happen.  I thought that
maybe I could provide an online resource for people, and if it was getting
paid for by Mallorn's funds and we were breaking even, great!
I even started envisioning a shift towards Web-based services, making
hort.net a great community for horticulturists everywhere.

But again, bandwidth, time, and money were issues.  Our network was too slow
to allow file sharing and other features that I wanted.  I couldn't increase
the bandwidth because it cost too much (we were paying as much as $800/month
for connectivity at one point) and I couldn't work more to cover it because
I didn't have the time.  We were always hovering right on the threshold and
I secretly wished that something would happen where Mallorn could shut down.


My wishes came true.  :)  When Burpee outsourced Heronswood's Web site to
India, Mallorn's finances took quite a blow.  I lost even more interest in
the site because we were losing money, and subsequently other clients left.
I was embroiled in a political struggle within an organization that we
hosted Web space for and found that taking up even more time, but it became
clear that they would soon be leaving when they fired their Web development

At that point I decided that Mallorn had to go away.  I don't want to kill
hort.net, so I thought that hosting it on a server somewhere else might be a
valid solution.  It would only cost us $200/month instead of the $600/month
that we're paying.  With this in mind, I started contacting more needy
clients and telling them that we couldn't support their sites any more.  


The differences to hort.net *shouldn't* be noticeable at first.  The site
should keep running as expected, maybe even faster than before.
My hope is that I'll have time to start adding features and innovating again
since I won't spend my time doing work for clients.  The Web site should be
paid for by site-wide advertising, and some extra consulting work on the
side should pad the coffers in case advertising hits a lull.
Even the bandwidth will be greater, so we'll be able to add all of those
features we've always dreamed of.

The only sad part for me is that the original vision for Mallorn Computing
is dead.  I don't see any way to develop the level of software for the
industry that I've wanted to without giving up my day job.  Maybe hort.net
will take off and become profitable enough for me to pick up the reins
again, but I'm doubtful.  For now, I'll have to content myself with Web work
and a community of great online personalities.  :)

And maybe, just maybe, this change will reduce some of the stressors in my
life so that I can be a happier person.


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