Online Entrepreneur, WordPress Developer, Logo Designer, Surfer Dude

Goodbye Old Friend

I met Taj at a Petland in Orlando, Florida. It was 15-years-ago. Not long after graduating from college, and shortly after marrying my ex-wife. It feels like a lifetime ago. He was a Shetland Sheepdog — like Lassie. But he had a blue merle coat that had not filled in yet.

Taj was already 6-months-old when we met. Sadly, he spent those months confined to a small cage within the plaza pet store. After playing with him for a few minutes, I knew he was mine. I named him after my favorite surfer of the time, Taj Burrow, and he came home with us.

We lived in a small apartment. When I took out the trash, I would let Taj tow me to the dumpster on my skateboard. I thought it was fun, and good exercise for him. Little did I know, he must have thought I was chasing him with the skateboard. As a result, he developed a lifelong hatred for skateboards. It wasn’t the only thing Taj hated. He also hated lawn mowers, golf carts, delivery trucks, and vacuum cleaners. But nothing living. Taj loved every person, dog, and creature he ever met. There wasn’t an aggressive bone in his body. Once, I watched a butterfly land on the end of his long snout. He just stood still, and just watched the butterfly in appreciation.

Above all else, Taj loved food. I’ve never met a more food motivated dog. He ate loves of bread, plastic bag and all. He ate entire pies wrapped in tinfoil. If you turned away from your plate for a moment, he would snatch your entire meal away faster than you could blink. Of course, he got disciplined for this behavior, but the reward always outweighed the punishment.

In his early days, Taj spent a lot of time at the Lake Baldwin Dog Park in Winter Park. The moment he was unleashed, he would run like a bat out of hell across the 20+ acres of land, herding groups of dogs like they were cattle. Then, he would cool himself off at the edge of the lake with his buddies. It was his favorite place in Orlando.

I Quit Social Media — Kinda

In reality, I disabled all social media notifications on my phone. Along with marrying my wife and having a child, this is one of the best decisions I’ve made in recent history.

I just went to Settings > Notifications on my phone, and turned off the notifications for all social media apps. It was that simple. Then, social media faded away. And the craziness of the world faded with it. Social media no longer has any power over me, and my life is so much better without it.

Most my several hundred “friends” on social media are acquaintances. While I appreciate all the people I’ve met, I don’t want to share the intimate details of my life with all of them. And generally, I don’t want to hear their opinions, even if they’re the same as mine.

Social media is a relatively new experiment unleashed upon humanity. In the same way that COVID-19 is a new virus, we don’t know the long term effects social media will have on society. Sure, there are a few positive aspects. In the same way COVID-19 inspired me to exercise more and eat a little healthier, social media helps me stay in touch with long-distance friends. However, in the grand scheme of social media, like COVID-19, I’ve seen it do much more harm than good.

Social media went so wrong, in so many ways, it’s difficult to summarize. Maybe it started with the monetization of the platforms. Or the introduction of like buttons. Or the legions of bots and fake accounts. But for me, the final straw was the introduction of machine learning algorithms that use your own psychology against you.

As the owner of a software company, and a designer and developer, I’m not entirely ignorant of the technology and design techniques employed by social media companies to keep their users engaged.

I began noticing the negative effects social media was having on my mental health years ago. While I was never addicted, even a casual involvement was taking a toll. So, I started scaling back. After disabling all notifications, I felt so much better. Then, I began contemplating how social media went so wrong.

Now, I’ll take you on that journey.

Wyatt’s Birth Story – From The Perspective Of A New Father

My wife was scheduled for induction at 5 a.m. on July 15th, 2020. On the night of the 14th, we set our alarms for 4:15 a.m. We each went to bed around 9 p.m. that night, hoping to get a full night of sleep. That didn’t happen. We each laid awake all night, our minds racing with possibilities, fear, and excitement. It felt like Christmas Eve when I was 10-years-old, times a thousand.

4:15 a.m. came early. We had breakfast, made coffee, and packed our bags in the car. Fortunately, we live walking distance from Sarasota Memorial Hospital. So, the drive took all of 2 minutes. We dropped off the car with the valet, and stepped through the emergency room doors. The COVID-19 pandemic is still raging, and Florida is currently the epicenter. As a result, we were immediately greeted by security, and our temperatures were taken before entering the hospital. We passed the temperature test, and proceeded to the OB emergency room.

I stayed in the waiting room, while Emily was brought in and questioned separately. This theme persisted. It’s all about Momma on her big day. If you’re a Dad-to-be, be prepared to take a back seat. You’re not going to be answering many questions or signing many papers. Mostly, you’ll be ignored by staff. Sometimes, simply referred to as the sperm donor.

10 Years Ago I Founded A Tech Startup in Hawaii – This Is Our Story

Organic Themes is a software company. More specifically, we provide themes and plugins for WordPress websites. The business was founded by myself, David Morgan, and my friend, Jeff Milone. In early 2010, we launched our website in Lahaina, on the Hawaiian island of Maui.

Until recently, Jeff and I lived in the Hawaiian Islands. Maui is an incredible place to live. It’s truly paradise. However, it’s a difficult location to start and grow a software company.

In this article, I’ll share the unique story of what brought us to Maui. The personal and professional challenges we faced, and ultimately what led us away from the islands.

My Experience With Vestibular Neuritis

In November of 2019 I was suddenly stricken with Vestibular Neuritis, a rare condition in which the vestibular nerve within the inner ear becomes inflamed. Although it sounds innocent enough, it will turn your world upside down — literally.

I’m not a doctor, just an unlucky dude that contracted Vestibular Neuritis. I’m an active adult male in my late 30’s. This is an account of my experience in hopes that it will help others diagnose themselves, and know they’re not alone.

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.

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!