Online Entrepreneur, WordPress Developer, Logo Designer, Surfer Dude

Camping In The Dry Tortugas – Florida Keys

In early 2019, one of my best friends and I embarked on a camping trip to the Dry Tortugas — a chain of tiny islands off the coast of Key West. We camped from January 6th through the 9th, the maximum number of days allowed for camping on the island. It’s primitive tent camping. There is no running water on the island. You must bring all your own gear, food, and water.

I’ve included a camping checklist, helpful information, and our expenses. Click the links to skip to those sections.

I kept a daily log of the journey. Here it is.

The Decision To Leave Hawaii And Move To The Mainland

Emily and I have sold our home on Maui, and we’re moving back to the mainland. I’m sad to be leaving, but excited for the next chapter of our lives. In the 10 years total I’ve lived in Hawaii, this is the 3rd time I’ve left. However, it isn’t any easier.

I’ve been extremely fortunate to live in these amazing islands for most of my adult life. It has shaped me as an individual. Hawaii is a part of me. It’s difficult to explain to somebody that hasn’t fully experienced this land, or ʻāina. A vacation could never do it justice. I know the rocks, trees, reefs, and crevices of this island. I’ve paddled its bays, swam with its inhabitants, and crawled through its veins. After several years of exploring the shores of Maui, I’ve gained a spiritual connection to this wonderful land. In terms of natural beauty, weather, and the ocean — Hawaii is heaven on earth. I will carry those experiences and memories with me for the rest of my life. I’m sure I will be back, even if it’s just to visit.

If you’re reading this article and it’s your dream to live in Hawaii, please don’t use our decision to leave as any justification for not moving to the islands. That would be like not going to a great college because it’s expensive and far away.

The responses I receive when telling people we are leaving Hawaii for Florida vary, but they usually don’t favor Florida. The most common response is, “Why would you ever leave Hawaii?” That’s a fair question. However, if everybody chose their home solely by its level of comfort, beauty, and perfect waves, Hawaii would be the most populated place in the world…

Free Is No Longer Appreciated

When I first began creating websites over 10 years ago, finding free resources for web design was very difficult.

The digital resources I was looking for included stuff like vector icon packs, stock photos, fonts, themes and any bit of code I could sink my teeth into. I scoured the web endlessly, usually to no avail. So, when I finally found a quality resource, I was super thankful. I appreciated the free work of others, and it led me to share my own.

Back When Free Was Appreciated

In 2009, I released the free Structure Theme. At the time, folks were chomping at the bit for free WordPress themes. I quietly released the theme on my blog, and within days it was discovered. It went viral. There were hundreds of thousands of downloads.

People appreciated the theme, and they told me. I started to see my design when randomly browsing the web. It felt good to provide something that was so useful to others. The positive response motivated me. In fact, it helped launch Organic Themes.

Free Ain’t Easy Anymore

That wasn’t terribly long ago. However, the landscape of “free” has changed. Now, it’s difficult to give something away — even if it’s a great product.

For instance, I rebuilt the Structure Theme from scratch over a year ago. I drastically improved the design and integrated all the latest WordPress functionality. It was months worth of work. I was proud of the product, and excited to release it. I submitted the theme to the official WordPress directory. After 6 months waiting for the review, it was finally accepted.

At last, it was time to tell the world! I blasted a newsletter out to over 50,000 subscribers announcing the new theme. I shared it among our social media followers. I informed popular blogs. The Structure Theme was back, and better than ever! Surely, this new and improved free product would be as popular as the original, right?

Wrong. Way wrong.

Even with an enormously larger reach, the response paled in comparison. Still, the theme has only 400+ active users. That’s less than any of our other free themes. What really chaps my ass is that I know it’s a great product! I can’t even give it away, give it away now.

Now, Free Is Expected

Free digital goods are no longer appreciated, they are expected.

It’s not just WordPress themes and my little corner of the digital world. It’s apps, games, music, fonts, photos, content… Free isn’t good enough, but it’s not bad enough to pay for the premium version. Am I the only designer, developer or artist that has experienced this zeitgeist? When did our society become so entitled to the free work of others?

We gave away the farm, and conditioned the online world to expect free digital resources. It’s too late to bottle these goods back up and slap a price tag on them. Even if I could, I wouldn’t. I like free stuff too. However, the result has been a shift in attitudes. Users demand time and support for free products. It’s often a struggle to get a positive review. In fact, I’ve received angry feedback from people that expect more from a free product — even outrage at the mention of paying for support or a premium version. Some days, it’s discouraging.

We’re Trying To Help, Mostly

The goal is to help our fellow designers, developers, artists and small business owners. If we all contribute a little of our talents, we make work easier on all of us. We collaboratively advance the progression of technology. That’s the spirit of open source. It’s not entirely selfless. If creators get recognition in the process, it’s a well deserved side effect. The side effect fuels the motivation.

This isn’t a woe-is-me post. I’m not crying myself to sleep because nobody appreciates my free stuff anymore. It’s an observation. A paradigm shift in the expectations of others has taken place on the web. The result is a growing sense of entitlement.

On The Up Side

Free resources today are phenomenal. The quality of free stock photos from Unsplash and Pikwizard blows away most paid stock photography. Icons from free sources like Font Awesome, Icomoon or Icon Monstr are amazing. Google Fonts delivers tons of quality web fonts for free. The WordPress theme and plugin directories are teeming with thousands of great digital products. WordPress itself is entirely free software that I have built a career upon. We freely consume the work of others on Spotify and YouTube. When was the last time you busted out the Encyclopedia Britannica thanks to Wikipedia? The web is a better place because of the enormous catalog of amazing free resources, but has it made the people better?

Let’s Show A Little Love

I’m guilty of taking advantage of free products and resources without showing a little love. It’s important to remember that living, breathing people spend their time and talents creating this free stuff — much of which is extremely useful. I’m going to take my own advice, and show appreciation more often.

Let’s turn this train around, and share the free stuff that has made our work and lives a little easier. Consider upgrading to a premium version, paying for support, or leaving a positive review for the amazing free products you’re using. Appreciation, respect and humanity are desperately needed in the digital world.

So thanks to the thousands of designers, developers, writers, artists and businesses that have made my life better with your free resources. I appreciate it, greatly.

Featured image by Igor Miske downloaded from Unsplash.

Hawaii Has An Abandoned Car Problem, This Is My Theory

Cars litter Hawaii, quite literally. When visiting the islands you’re likely to see abandoned cars on the road, in fields, in ditches, and sometimes even ablaze.

Hawaii is full of transplants that ship their vehicles from the mainland — including myself. It’s not uncommon to hear stories of how a transplant lived out of their car for “x” number of days/weeks/months upon their arrival in Hawaii. It’s a lifeboat, and practically a right of passage when moving to the islands. As time passes, the vehicle gets older and depreciates. After some years, it’s affectionately referred to as an “island beater.” Island beaters are full of sand, salt, rust and used to transport surfers, boards and wet dogs from one remote surf spot to another. Hence the name, they take a beating.

A torched van I passed while riding home on my scooter.

Whether it’s after 2 years or 20 years, the vast majority of Hawaii transplants eventually leave. When a transplant leaves Hawaii, it’s often economically infeasible to bring their island beater back to the mainland. Ideally, they would sell it before leaving, but that’s easier said than done.

Selling a car requires 3 documents — a registration, safety inspection and title. Acquiring and keeping these documents up to date is difficult, expensive and time consuming. Obviously, it shouldn’t be. However, it’s easier to paddle the Molokai channel than deal with the Hawaii DMV.

How I Met My Wife

In 2014, I was living in Maui. At the end of the year, I flew back to Florida for the holidays to visit my family. It had been a very long year for us all.

It started with my beloved grandma, Nanny, passing away at the age of 88. Then, my Australian Shepherd, Kona, died quite horribly from a rare bone cancer at the age of 6. Next, my Dad suffered a massive heart attack on our yearly family vacation in Long Boat Key. My mom and I watched him flatline in the emergency room at Sarasota Memorial. Thankfully, they brought him back, after what felt like a lifetime. We spent the 4th of July watching the fireworks over the bay from the hospital. Shortly afterwards, I went through a divorce. That’s always fun. As if that wasn’t enough, my Uncle Tom passed away from a heart aneurysm. He was an extremely kind-hearted man with amazing musical talents, taken way before his time. Frankly, it was a shitty year — at least until the end.

By the last quarter of the year, I was putting the past behind me and enjoying my new found freedom.

I went on a surf trip to Costa Rica with friends. Dimitri and I spent the days surfing perfect 8-foot waves in Nosara, and the nights driving around the jungle in a golf cart, drunk on local tequila.

I spent some much needed bro-time with my brother, Elliott, in LA. We did a lot of drinking and talking. He took me to a roof-top Youtube party, and I forced him to drive me to Santa Monica so I could catch some waves.

I hung out with my cousins in Utah. We took a trip to Vegas for a WordPress conference, and some good old fashioned gambling. We went trout fishing, and combed the desert in a Hummer in search of a crystal mine. We found it.

By the holiday season, I was back in Florida. During that time, I found a killer deal on a 6-foot Jimmy Lewis twin fin surfboard. That’s gibberish to any non-surfer, but I thought it was fate finding a Maui made board in Florida. After picking up the board, my friend David and I left for a weekend of surfing at Sebastian Inlet. The waves were almost non-existent. So we spent most of the time fishing, listening to Alice In Chains around the campfire, and punching raccoons in the face that were trying to steal our Pringles. Good times.

All in all, the year had taken a sharp trajectory upwards. Thankfully, it kept moving in that direction.

My 5 Favorite WordPress Themes

I’ve been designing and developing WordPress themes since 2008. As a result, I’ve created a lot of themes. These are my favorites.

Before sharing my 5 favorites, I’m going to explain the principles upon which they were built. When building a WordPress theme, I adhere to certain standards:

Minimal Design

Unlike most web design trends, minimal design never goes out of style. I work to find clean and legible fonts that pair together seamlessly. I strive to create layouts that are familiar and fresh at the same time. Creating a beautiful, practical and unique minimal design is the ultimate challenge.

Simple Code

Minimalism also translates to code. I strive to develop themes with as little code as possible. That’s more difficult than it sounds. I avoid using excessive scripts, overly flashy effects, unnecessary image files and as few custom options as possible. When options are needed, I integrate them seamlessly into the native WordPress customizer. Developing minimally keeps themes light, easy to customize and fast when it comes to load times.

Less is more when it comes to the design and development of WordPress themes.

Ease Of Use

I make themes that don’t require any knowledge beyond the basic usage of WordPress itself. Ideally, a WordPress theme should be ready to use immediately upon activation. It should not be reliant on several options, frameworks, shortcodes or plugins to function as advertised. If some setup is required, it should be accomplished within minutes using familiar WordPress settings.

In addition, the native WordPress customizer should be utilized for all theme options and setup. WordPress is placing a huge emphasis on their customizer, introducing new features with each update. In the future, all themes should utilize the customizer instead of bulky custom options panels.

Open Source

The themes I develop are open source. That means the code is freely available to be taken, copied, reused and distributed as desired — preferably with credit to the author. I believe in furthering the progression of web technology, and that’s accomplished by the thousands open source developers that contribute their talents online. I don’t encrypt or attempt to protect the code I write. In fact, I make it as easy to understand and modify as possible.

So, now that you know where I’m coming from, the following WordPress themes were created with those principles in mind.

Surfing In Sarasota?

If you found this post, you’re probably a surfer that’s relocating to the Gulf Coast of Florida. Whatever it is that brings you to the snow white sands of the Suncoast, it probably isn’t the lure of elusive gulf waves.

Before I moved from Maui to Sarasota, I spent countless hours scouting every inch of gulf coastline for surf on Google Earth. Could the rumors be true? Is there no surf on the Gulf Coast?

Man, those sure do look like waves from space!

A true surfer can’t live without swell, and you may just need to know if the Sarasota area can sustain your surf addiction. The good news is, it can. The bad news is — barely. You’ll need a flexible schedule. Waves on this coast don’t last days — they last hours!

Building A Digital Product Business In Hawaii

In 2008, I lived in Waikiki. I was freelancing my creative skills to any takers. I wandered down Kalakaua Avenue, past the Silver Man and caricature artists, promoting my services along the Waikiki strip. If you visited Oahu around that time, I apologize if you witnessed my hideous animated advertisements for parasailing, swimming with sharks or whale watching tours. When I wasn’t creating awful Flash ads, I was designing logos and websites. It was a matter of survival, but I was always working on something bigger.

I tried anything that required only my creativity and a laptop. I co-created a children’s puzzle video game. I sold t-shirts on Cafe Press. I was the lead animator for the first, and possibly only cartoon ever produced in Hawaii. I sold textures for 3D modeling. I created a Hawaii hiking website for my first experiment with WordPress. I learned how to build a WordPress theme from scratch for my personal portfolio. With everything I made, I hoped thousands of people would finally recognize my talent, skills and hard work. I naively thought everything I created was going to be huge.

Until something was.

Cocoa Beach Is Trashy

I was recently driving back to Florida after an awesome week in the mountains of North Georgia with my fiance. It’s a long drive, and checking out the billboards to pass the time is a good way to lose all faith in humanity. There’s an abundance of billboards for anti-abortion, adult superstores, “spas” with trucker parking, and my personal favorite, “Hell? …Oh, I forgot about that.” It’s like Jesus and the Devil are duking it out for advertising space. Closer to the Florida state line, Cocoa Beach starts to join in the fun. Their billboards litter the road side like cigarette butts in the sand at, well… Cocoa Beach.

For the ill informed, the billboards and advertising paint Cocoa Beach as a sophisticated, tropical paradise along the Space Coast of Florida. For those of us that grew up surfing those dirty waves, we know the truth — Cocoa Beach is trashy.

Theme Development: Make Elements With Background Images Match Image Height

Let’s say you want a responsive WordPress theme to utilize a featured image as a full browser width page banner using parallax with content above the image. Something like this:

The Restaurant Theme using this technique.

To accomplish this, you’ll need to employ the use of a background image. However, background images applied to HTML elements do not inherit the height of the source image. That presents a problem when you want the element with the background image to match the height of the uploaded image. Otherwise, the element will just collapse.

Most developers use javascript or CSS height properties with media queries as a workaround. Most these solutions seem bloated or jittery. Instead, I found a solution that works well. Hacky or not, it’s simple and effective:

<?php $thumb = ( get_the_post_thumbnail() ) ? wp_get_attachment_image_src( get_post_thumbnail_id(), 'featured-image-size' ) : false; ?>

<?php if ( has_post_thumbnail() ) { ?>

  <div class="page-banner" style="background-image: url(<?php echo esc_url($thumb[0]); ?>);">
    <h1 class="headline"><?php the_title(); ?></h1>
    <?php the_post_thumbnail( 'featured-image-size' ); ?>

<?php } ?>

Get the source of the featured image and apply it to a variable. Then, call the image path for the inline background image style. The page title and the featured image are added within the the page-banner element.

Note: The featured image added within the element is what will give the element the same height as the image.

.page-banner {
  background-position: top center;
  background-attachment: fixed;
  background-repeat: no-repeat;
  background-size: 100% auto;
  width: 100%;
  min-height: 380px;
  position: relative;
  line-height: 0;

.page-banner img {
  max-width: 100%;
  margin-left: -9999px;

Style the background properties for the element. Then hide the featured image within the element using a large negative margin.

The result is a background image applied to an element that reflects the height of the image and scales seamlessly without the use of media queries or javascript. Now parallax can be applied to the background image and content can be vertically centered within the element.

How Long Have You Lived In Hawaii?

After living in Hawaii for a while you’ll find yourself asking, and being asked this question often — “How long have you lived here?

I’ve lived in Hawaii for roughly seven years. Long enough that J.O.J. newcomers look up to me as a knowledgeable local. Short enough that veterans still question my longevity. You could say I’m at the seven-year-itch.

When explaining that the priorities in my life are changing, I’m asked by some locals, “But you’re staying here, right?

These questions seem meaningless, but they’re actually a gauge of your longevity and commitment to the islands.

You see, Hawaii has an extremely high turnover rate. The islands are like a recycling center for haoles. Because, unless you’re filthy rich or born and raised here, life is a struggle in the islands. No matter how you justify it, it’s really expensive and far from — well, everything and everybody.

There are generally two types of transplants within my age group (25-35) that arrive in Hawaii — those seeking adventure, and those seeking escape. God knows it’s not for career opportunities.

Speed Racer Is A Great Movie, I Swear!

So, what does make Speed Racer a great movie?

The acting!? No!

Spritle and Chim Chim!? No!

The ridiculous over saturation of colors!? Not really.

The heart and soul of this film? Yes.

Speed Racer is an underrated movie. It’s probably unlike anything else you’ve seen. The colors, the transitions, the anime inspired style, flashy effects and campy acting — it was unfamiliar territory in film making. So unfamiliar, that many people hated this film when it was released. I mean, look at the source material for God sakes! It’s based on a children’s cheesy 1960’s anime racing cartoon! What did people expect!? Drive?

I was told not to see the movie. That it was a disappointment. I wasn’t a huge fan of the cartoon as a kid, and I wasn’t particularly jazzed to see it as a feature film anyway. So I didn’t think much of it. I ended up renting the movie randomly from Netflix many years ago — back when I had DVD’s delivered in the mail. I had absolutely no expectations.

I thoroughly enjoyed Speed Racer. So much that I watched it 4 times before returning the disc. Then I bought it.

While the theme might be “racing,” that really isn’t what this film is about — at all. Speed Racer is about family, passion, hard work, small business versus corporate greed, not selling your soul to the devil, fighting the system and making a difference. There’s a lot of good themes here, and racing simply ties them all together. It might be cheesy, flashy and even epileptic at times, but there’s more depth to this film than I expected. Honestly, I tear up at a few scenes. This movie is full of heart.

As an older brother, small business owner, animation major, graphic designer, kid that dreamed of being a race car driver, and a dude that spent most his college education playing Mario Kart on Game Cube with his roommates; Speed Racer might as well have been made for me! It’s like watching a roided up game of Mario Kart with soul — only much better than that sounds!

While it’s far from perfect, if you can overlook the blemishes and blinding effects, there’s a lot more to this movie than meets the eye. Go watch Speed Racer. Go!