Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas from all of us at the "home office" of DWG to all of our visitors.

Adrienne, Pat Sr, Maggie, Michelle, Pat Jr.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

The Pilgrims had come to America not to conquer a continent but to re-create their modest communities in Scrooby and in Leiden. ...  The Pilgrims' religious beliefs played a dominant role in the decades ahead, but it was their deepening relationship with the Indians that turned them into Americans.
By forcing the English to improvise, the Indians prevented Plymouth Colony from ossifying into a monolithic cult of religious extremism.  For their part, the Indians were profoundly influenced by the English and quickly created a new and dynamic culture full of Native and Western influences.  For a nation that has come to recognize that one of its greatest strengths is its diversity, the first fifty years of Plymouth Colony stand as a model of what America might have been from the very beginning.
By the midpoint of the seventeenth century, however, the attitudes of many of the Indians and English had begun to change.  With only a fraction of their original homeland remaining, more and more young Pokanokets claimed it was time to rid themselves of the English.  The Pilgrims' children, on the other hand, coveted what territory the Pokanokets still possessed and were already anticipating the day when the Indians had, through the continued effects of disease and poverty, ceased to exist.  Both sides had begun to envision a future that did not include the other.
In the end, both sides wanted what the Pilgrims had been looking for in 1620:  a place unfettered by obligations to others.  But from the moment Massasoit decided to become the Pilgrims' ally, New England belonged to no single group.  For peace and for survival, others must be accommodated. The moment any of them gave up on the difficult work of living with their neighbors - and all the compromise, frustration, and delay that inevitably entailed - they risked losing everything.  It was a lesson that Bradford and Massassoit had learned over the course of more than three long decades.

--Nathaniel Philbrick
Mayflower:  A Story of Courage, Community and War

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Can Dunwoody Schools Be Independent?

Just when parents think they've seen everything in DeKalb County schools, Central Office comes up with new combinations of arrogance and incompetence to appall them.

No one has any business being surprised that DeKalb cities are looking for alternatives to the county-run public schools.  Communities looking to create start-up charters now have an appeal option with the State if the county-based school board shoots it down.  Arguments for "local control" only work when you're talking about extremely rural counties - which make up the majority of Georgia.  Urban and suburban counties are not going to be served well by a county-based organization.  Every news outlet in Atlanta has proof of that in DeKalb.

So what would it be like if Dunwoody were to take advantage of the ability to create a start-up charter?  This would be more likely to happen in the foreseeable future given the long road to independent school districts, or even charter clusters.

Here's a hypothetical.

Interested Parent Group (IPG for short) wants to start a new charter elementary school because their current school is overcrowded and doesn't offer the classes the parents want their children to have. These parents want to see a foreign language requirement and guaranteed art, music, and PE.

Let's assume IPG has gone through the charter application process, got shot to hell by DeKalb, appealed to the State and were approved.  They're good to go.

IPG has three key requirements to start up:  1)  Money.  2)  A location.   3)  Faculty and staff.   Needs #2 and 3 could be resolved by fulfilling Need #1.

There are three options for raising money.  IPG could apply for grants from major foundations.  Serious paydirt if you're selected but the competition process is long and the results far from certain.  IPG could pass the hat in the Dunwoody community for startup funds.  Also not impossible but how certain are we that our most well-heeled residents would be willing and/or able to write a 7-figure check?  The final option is the most expedient, the most reliable, and was used as a foil by those opposed to the state charter amendment:  private charter school providers.  Here's an example that is active in Michigan charter schools.

Let's say that our IPG has received a grant from a private foundation for startup costs.  Let's also say that they've contracted with a company like the one linked above for management.  Let's say they even found a location:  the stars aligned and, with the startup grant, they purchased the old elementary school site on Shallowford and Chamblee Dunwoody roads and are going to level the current eyesore and construct a new building and grounds.

The story looks like it approaches a happy ending with local growth and control of Dunwoody schools within easy reach of the local community.

Ah - ah - ah!  Not so fast!

The ending can't be that happy and that simple in Dunwoody.

You see, when you contract with a private company to manage your school, then it's no longer just a neighborhood school.

It's "commercial activity in a residential neighborhood."  And we all know what kind of reaction that will get.

Even if IPG managed to get their charter school property zoned as O/I (which is the closest thing the still-in-progress zoning code has to an "educational" use) it still backs up to residential properties.  Get ready for the angry mobs and the threats of lawyers.

The in-progress zoning code does not take into account the possibility off Dunwoody-controlled schools.  Zoning designations only acknowledge PRIVATE schools with lot size requirements.  (5 acres for elementary, 12 acres for middle, 20 acres for high school)  But with no standards for public schools, the loudest mob will win the day.

Dunwoody citizens dance a gleeful jig when their hostility alone blocks a day care facility.  The reaction to a K - 5 school with twice as many students and more activity is likely to be much more severe.  A school district would multiply the conflict further - more schools, more students, more to complain about.  If the reconfiguration of an insignificant side street brings out our worst, how can we expect to accommodate start-up charters?   Or manage a school system so that it can educate all of Dunwoody's children to our very high expectations while dealing with the outcry of those who can't stand having any institution other than their own home "visible from the street"?

The question is:  Can Dunwoody schools be independent?

The answer is no.  They cannot.

That has nothing to do with Georgia's constitution, that can be (and has been) changed.  It has nothing to do with the mental midgets running the DCSS Central Office.  Cut them loose and let the legal system have at them.  That fact has everything to do with Dunwoody's own citizenry, the most difficult barrier to overcome.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

It's Always the Quiet Ones

Full Story

CBS Atlanta 46

The city of Dunwoody announced a plan to create its own school system, separate from DeKalb County.
The issue came up for discussion at Monday night's city council meeting.

"This is good for all the students of Georgia," Dunwoody council member Terry Nall said.

Nall proposed the idea because he would like to see the city of Dunwoody take back control from the county.

"I moved to add changing the state constitution that would allow municipalities to establish independent school systems. Today over 500 cities in the state of Georgia do not have that choice," Nall said.

Nall said the city council plans to ask state legislators to consider a constitutional amendment that will give cities like Dunwoody a choice when it comes to government schools.

"Yeah, I would support that," Dunwoody school parent Marty Fritts said.

Fritts is in favor of the idea, because she was appalled at the mismanagement of funds in DeKalb County.
"I would like to say we'd have more of a voice for sure and a lot of concerned parents around here are active in the schools and we help with PTA, sports, orchestra, band - we're active," Fritts said.

Fritts, like most parents, had one major concern about Dunwoody establishing its own school system.
"I know that the funding would still be a problem because I know it's a small city, Dunwoody, so we don't know where the money would come from," Fritts said.

So CBS Atlanta News questioned Nall to find out how he financially plans to make his concept a reality.
"Where do you get the funding?" CBS Atlanta reporter Adam Murphy asked.

"Well today we're paying a very healthy millage rate to DeKalb County School system. And like when we became a city, we took the millage rate we were paying to the county in municipal services and applied it and it became the millage rate for the city of Dunwoody for our services. And I would expect a very similar situation to occur if we were to go down that path," Nall said.

This proposal is far from reality. City council members have to get state lawmakers on board and then a majority of the state house and senate would have to approve it.

Copyright 2012 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Old Arby's in Williamsburg will be replaced by....


Earlier this year, .I held an officially unofficial poll asking what the community would like to see fill the old Arby's.  After a lot of dancing around with bids submitted then withdrawn and reconsidered, and a long, awkward, silence, the majority of poll voters are getting their wish.  The temporary signs went up this week and the location is expected to start operations by the end of the year.

And there wasn't even a squabble over zoning.

On to the next question.

What would the community like to see replace the New York Butcher Shop that recently closed its Dunwoody location?  (And I am SERIOUSLY pissed about this because they had some of the best custom meat to be found in a neighborhood retail location and I'm not up for trekking all the way over to Sandy Springs for the same items, no matter how addictive their lobster salad, prime tenderloin, and lobster bisque are!)  Of course, if I happen to be in their neighborhood, I'll stop in to feed the addiction.

Comments are open.  Considerations for this location:

Forget "Williamsburg".  The structure was built by the franchisees of Java U who thumbed their noses at the architectural standard and built what they liked.  

Forget about drive-throughs.  The awkward little triangle has no room for expansion.

Great location for visibility.  Traffic - not so much.

Easily take advantage of marketing to built-in population at All Saints.  Anyone willing to adjust their hours to accommodate Sunday afternoons and evenings should do well.  The site is also poised to participate in the 4th of July parade.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

SDOC Welcomes

This one is for all of my progressive rock/classic rock fan friends out there.

Effective this morning, SDOC Publishing is providing all development and back-end maintenance services for, the official website for former Triumph frontman Rik Emmett in Toronto.

You won't notice any visible changes when you visit.  The current theme by Burning Fire Design will remain.  However I'm climbing down into the back with my digital wrench and doing some major upgrades on the e-Commerce side, with upgraded capabilities for downloadable music and other products, as well as improved functionality for the fan forum and promotional newsletters and assorted other interactive features.  Some time next year, SDOC will provide all hosting services as well.

Helluva way to hit the ground running after Briers North Halloween!  Enjoy!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

So Much For Code Enforcement


It's Halloween and we're all gearing up for a night of world-class decorations and trick-or-treating in Briers North!

You won't see anything on the news (several news agencies have been turned away already) so if you're going to visit for Halloween, here's the 411.

Some information for you if you are planning to join us:
  • Halloween is ALWAYS and ONLY celebrated on October 31st.  Rain or Shine!  For 2012, this will be on a Wednesday.
  • The passing out of candy begins at 6:00pm and stops at 9:00pm.  No one is admitted to the subdivision after 8:30pm.
  • We start closing the subdivision to automobile traffic at 5:45pm and we do not reopen until 9:30pm. There is NO parking inside Briers North subdivision. If you park outside, please do so legally. The North Peachtree Baptist Church (corner of Tilly Mill & Peeler) is accepting donations for the use of their parking lot for anyone wishing to park there (proceeds being given to the Boy Scouts).
  • Trick-or-treating in Briers North on Halloween is AT YOUR OWN RISK. This is a public event on public streets and is NOT sponsored by any association or group. Briers North assumes no liability or responsibility for visitors.
  • NO pets are allowed during this time (they get scared and some of the children get scared!)
If you enjoyed Halloween in Briers North in the past, or plan to visit this year, please consider giving a small donation.  Donations help to make this a SAFE event for everyone and are gratefully received!

There is something for everyone here.  Kids, adults, whoever.  For the local curmudgeon who isn't happy unless they are complaining about something, we have Code Violation Bingo.  Lots of unauthorized construction going on so you'll rack up your bingo in no time.  The free star in the center of the card is the outhouse on my front lawn.

But seriously folks....

My neighborhood is proud to welcome so many visitors from so many places this night.  Everyone is a knight, or a princess, or whoever they want to be regardless of their walk of life.  You learn a lot about people and more about yourself when you show hospitality to people you normally don't encounter.  I ran across this piece on Facebook recently.  Please give these words some serious thought if you are tempted to get frustrated with Halloween celebrations and encountering people you are not accustomed to.

With Halloween upon us, please keep in mind, a lot of little people will be visiting your home.
  Be accepting.  The child who is grabbing more than one piece of candy may have poor fine motor skills.   The child who takes forever to pick out one piece of candy may have motor planning issues.  The child who does not say "trick-or-treat" or "thank you" may be non-verbal.  The child who looks disappointed when they see your bowl may have an allergy.  The child who isn't wearing a costume at all might have a sensory issue (SPD) or autism.
  Be nice.   Be patient.  It's EVERYONE'S Halloween.

Friday, October 26, 2012

May I Have a Word(Press)?

Almost all web development these days is based on a content management system (CMS).  The most popular currently is WordPress.  WordPress began its life as a stand-alone blogging software package but evolved over the past several years into a full-fledged open-source CMS.  WordPress users can add pages, design elaborate themes, and add all kinds of functionality - including some surprisingly robust ecommerce capabilities.

Several of my current clients requested WordPress updates this year, including Atlanta Panhellenic, COCAP, Northside Tree, and there are more in the pipeline.   Most users find it easy to use for a layperson.  But WordPress is not the only CMS out there.  How do you know if it's right for your project?

Here's the breakdown:

Again, ease of use.  Many hosting providers, like GoDaddy or BlueHost offer "1-click" installation.  You don't have to know what you're doing, you just have to remember your username and password and the server does the rest.  Adding functionality ("Plugins") is also easy as a user can search for the right plugin through the site's administrative page and install with a couple of clicks.  You can truly get away with not knowing any code or how to interact with a server if you need to.

Flexibility.  Unlike specialized systems like Drupal or Sitefinity, WordPress will function on either Linux or Windows servers, so long as they support the PHP programming language.  99.9% of them do.

Support for non-Flash animations.  It is rare to see a WordPress site without a slideshow that is visible on tablets and smartphones.  That's because the standard WordPress installation has excellent built-in support for these functions.  Don't let slideshows fool you - they have a million moving parts and are NOT simple creatures!  WordPress has made it easy to install slideshow plugins and the plugins themselves are easy to learn.

Quality control of "plugins".   Plugins - additional functions that extend the capabilities of a basic WordPress site - are linked from a dedicated section of the main website,  However there are many duplicates and not all of them are equally useful or reliable.  Some are so generalized it is difficult to customize them to your needs and even require some coding knowledge.  That defeats the "ease of use" principle.  Others are so specialized they can't be used at all.  Further, there is no synchronization between plugin development and core evolution.  Plugins rely on community feedback to determine if they are compatible with the most recent upgrade of the standard WordPress installation, which is notoriously unreliable.  Plugins can be useful but choosing the right ones can be a crapshoot.

Little support for online communities.  Unlike WordPress' counterparts Joomla and Drupal, WordPress does not have major support for directories of users or custom profiles, or individual contact forms. Online community functions like bulletin boards are slowly emerging into sunlight.  WordPress assumes that all users with access to the admin page are there to edit content and not necessarily interact with each other.  The closest WordPress comes is a plugin called BuddyPress; however for the average user, this plugin - plus its over 300 companion plugins - is difficult to use and intended mainly for professional developers.  Most WordPress users I've encountered will use a separate bulletin board program, like phpBB as an additional installation for this purpose.

Weak internationalization.    If your target audience uses more than one language, you're going to run into problems.  Most WordPress plugins rely on automated translation (remember Babelfish?) which is never recommended by serious interpreters or translators.  If you have to have your content translated into different languages (or, if you want to deliver different content based on the audience's language) my personal favorite is Joomla with the JoomFish extension.  (I used this combo on the Cap Global Language Services site.)

When you're planning a website, make sure that you have a solid list of what you want it to do, how you want it to function, and what you want your visitors to be able to do when they get there.  That will help you and your webmaster determine the right technology and the right CMS for the job.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

What fair?

It's the middle of the weekend and I just happened to see a small sign promoting this fair at lunchtime today.

Does anyone know anything or am I just the last to know?  ;-)

From the meta description:  "The Dunwoody festival & Fair is a Community Festival that celebrates the History and heritage of the City of Dunwoody."

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

City Hall is Invested in Dunwoody Businesses - This Means YOU!

From this week's Crier:

Attention all 2,400 Dunwoody businesses—-the city of Dunwoody feels you are vital to the community and wants to foster your continued growth and success.
And, to help ensure local business owners and corporate leaders understand their importance to the city, Dunwoody’s economic development office recently launched a business retention “listening tour” to, in the words of one city official, “make sure businesses that call Dunwoody home are happy.”

Entire article online here.

Who are "Dunwoody businesses"?

According to City Hall's own statistics, almost 80% of these have 10 employees or fewer.  The most current numbers available indicate almost 400 of them are home-based.  (That we are sure of - many home business owners hide.  Some are deliberately trying to skirt the law.  Others feel their enterprise is so small it's not worth the effort to do the licensing paperwork at City Hall.)  That factors out to between 15-20% of your business community;  a huge amount.

It is in City Hall's best interest to pay attention to the small, local, family-owned, and home-based operations as much as if not more than the large corporations.


Because the overwhelming majority of these small business owners are Dunwoody residents.

They are businesses that can VOTE.

It wouldn't be wise to piss them off to the point they decide to vote as a block.

Contrary to the NIMBY party line, there is almost no deliniation between a business owner and a homeowner in Dunwoody.  They are not separate feudal kingdoms, eternally at war, with an alligator-stocked moat between them.  Dunwoody business owners are not out to ravage their neighborhoods (you know - the ones they LIVE in....) and transform them into polluted wastelands.  They're your neighbors.  Like 'em or not, they are the people who walk their dogs and jog and play tennis at the local club.  They're the people you buy products from.  Or who provide services in your home.  It amazes me that the occasional NIMBY uprising at some DHA meetings is so short-sighted they would alienate people they live with just for being a business owner.

But Michael Starling's office and City Hall for that matter aren't going to get drowned out by NIMBYs.  I believe that the meetings being proposed are a safe haven for business owners to say what they think without being subjected to a "Lord of the Flies" scenario by an angry, mindless mob driven by fears whispered in their ears.

No matter how large or small your operation is...  whether you work in Dunwoody Village, Georgetown, Perimeter, or at home - the invitation is out for YOU.  Take advantage of it.  Call Starling's office, make an appointment to visit, and say what's on your mind.  This is not speaking in public, so you're not going to make yourself a target by standing up for yourself, your employees, your colleagues, and your customers.

As a business owner if you want your rights defined and defended, the welcome mat is out and the next move is yours.

Mr. Starling - please check your voicemail.  I left a message for you.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What's Cooking in the Incubator?

At the State of the City address in 2012, Mike included as part of his speech the intention to form a "business incubator".

Sounds good on the surface.  With the business community paying the majority of taxes and fees to the City, and a high number of entrepreneurs creating their own jobs, who doesn't want to develop small businesses and help them reach their potential?

I wish I could say there has been progress on this, but the fact is no one knows for sure.   All inquiries into this project - including from people who have worked in these endeavors before and have experience - have gone unanswered.

No one has defined what this "incubator" is specifically going to accomplish, what business sectors are going to be targeted, what time frames are for goals, and especially - where is the money going to come from and how much.

The following commentary regarding business incubators is from a TechCrunch blog.  It specifically discusses IT business incubators but I believe the points can be expanded to any business field.

It's important because there is a perception that money is getting thrown around like confetti on non-priorities  with no reason or end in sight.  The last thing the City needs is an ultra-high-risk project with no definitions corralling it and no information distributed.

90% Of Incubators And Accelerators Will Fail And That’s Just Fine For America And The World

Key excerpts below.  Entire article in the link above.

I would like to present the claim that 90 percent of incubators will fail. By “failing,” I mean they don’t return (or don’t exceed) the money that was put into them. On what basis do I make my claim? Well, the hundreds of incubators are really startups, and the oft-cited rule of thumb is that 9 out of 10 startups fail.\ 
Is there any reason why incubators would be different from other startup spaces? Just as we’ve seen with daily deals, mobile apps and games, it’s clear only a few (maybe four or five) will become leaders in the category. The rest will absorb more capital than they can return, shut down, or pivot into something else. 
1. Too Many Companies, Too Little Mentorship
2. No Clear Funding Path After The “Program”
3.  Lack Of Business Development Resources

So - what exactly is the status of Dunwoody's proposed "incubator"?

Sunday, October 7, 2012


January 8 story here.

UPDATE:  the break has been patched to some degree and the crew is finishing their cleanup as of now (10:15 PM)  Tilly Mill Road is back open.  There was no service  shutoff and no boil water advisory.  Dodged a big bullet there.  There's going to be some big metal plates in the road.  Heads up for those if you're passing through during tomorrow's traffic.

That growing lake at Briers North Drive is not the result of our subdivision rehearsing for Halloween.

Some time around 9 or 10-ish this morning a major water line broke under the street  just south of Briers North on Tilly Mill Road.

Tilly Mill Road is closed and Briers North Drive is closed to all non-residents.

There is no boil water advisory however if you live in the area, fill your bathtubs and stock up on drinking water.  They're expecting  repairs to be ongoing "through the night".

Just got pictures....

When we left for Mass this morning, this stream was  a small enough puddle that we thought a neighbor accidentally left their garden hose on.  Apparently not.

DeKalb County sent a crew out and they are working here to find the valve  (one of several required) to stop the water flow.  What's that in the background behind the crewman's right shoulder?

Oh, that's just the GEYSER created when the backhoe was brought in to dig into the street and find the leak.  It started as a slow-ish trickle up through a buckle somewhere down the asphalt.

Yes, this is real and when these pictures were taken was at least 20 feet high.  The water exploded through the concrete when the crew started digging for the leak.  This is at the Madisons subdivision.  Tilly Mill road is closed to all non-residents from Eidson  up to about Laurelwood.

Thank you, DeKalb on-call crew.

The scary part.  When the water burst through the paving, it literally RAINED chunks of concrete.  Right onto the crew trucks.  This windshield didn't survive.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

UPDATED How NOT to add pedestrian islands and other niceties on Dunwoody streets

"Harry Pothole" has broadcast a couple of features regarding "pedestrian improvements" on streets around Atlanta.

In the clip below, the pedestrian island made the street so narrow that it was difficult for vehicles to navigate turns.  Another similar story aired today at 5 PM but isn't available on at the moment.

Don't let this be one of the infamous "unintended consequences" of streetscaping here in Dunwoody.

CBS Atlanta 46

UPDATE:  Found it!  CBS Atlanta just posted the video from the other day.  The construction project in Midtown is *intended* to create a happy "pedestrian-friendly" streetscape.  But the construction has removed turning lanes and made the street so narrow that it is difficult to navigate.

Don't let this happen in Dunwoody.

(Here's the link in case the video doesn't appear below.)

CBS Atlanta 46

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Random Samples in the Dunwoody Area

Chamblee's Own Georgetown?

Chamblee Plaza to Get Facelift

After years of decline, another major shopping center is staged for a revival.  A new owner (Trinity) has taken over Chamblee Plaza and is planning its resurrection.  A food truck rally is scheduled to become a regular event to renew interest.

Can Chamblee Plaza repeat the success of Georgetown?
It wasn't long ago that  Georgetown Shopping Center was "that other part of Dunwoody" that was just oh-so-undesirable for the "right" Dunwoodians.  With an upscale contemporary makeover of the facades, a new monument-style sign at the main entrance, a renovation of the Kroger supermarket and some new hip, trendy merchants in the storefronts, it is becoming the new must-shop part of town with a feel comparable to any of the "desirable" neighborhood shopping nodes.   There's no reason why Chamblee Plaza cannot enjoy the same success.

Jet Pizza Opening in Orchard Park (old Oscar's)

It looks like that space vacated by Oscar's Villa Capri is not going to be vacant for long.  Jet Pizza is loading in and the welcome mat is out for job applicants.  If anyone has heard of this outfit, the comments are open.

Dunwoody Nature Center Seeks Corporate Sponsors

Dunwoody Nature Center has become the extended back yard for lots of Dunwoody and regional families.  My family are members here and it isn't summer without daycamp for the kids.  If your company, however large or small, is looking for an opportunity to support a Dunwoody institution, this is your chance.  Sponsorships are affordable for any enterprise from international corporations down to local home-based operations.

Visit the Sponsorship Page for the possibilities.

Neighbors When You Need Them - Dunwoody Door Lift

I had an "oh, crap" moment the other day when my garage door opener failed.  While getting two toddlers to preschool.  And I'm late for a meeting.  And my hands are full of sh....  stuff.

When the day started to calm down I did a search for "dunwoody garage door" and found Dunwoody Door Lift, the only garage door installation and repair service in town.  With one call they had a technician out to my house the very next day and the problem was repaired within an hour.

Garage door repair isn't something you think about until you need it.  So it's easy to forget that Dunwoody Door Lift has been established in Dunwoody for almost 40 years.  It is also a  long-time home-based business that is a shining example of how home-based businesses can operate  peacefully within a neighborhood.

When it's time to repair or install a garage door or opener, please consider Dunwoody Door Lift and give them a call at 770-393-1652.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Dunwoody's Scarlet Letter

The Life Center Ministries variance request with the local opposition and request for lawyer money was a key agenda item at the last DHA meeting.

The variance request was coming from a church in Sandy Springs but because of its proximity to the Dunwoody city line, neighborhoods inside of our city were riled up too.  The reason I looked forward to this discussion was because I wanted to see how different Life Center's plan was from all of the churches/synagogues in Dunwoody who also provide preschool and daycare.  Along Mt. Vernon alone you have Dunwoody Baptist, All Saints, and Dunwoody United Methodist. Not far away are the JCC, Kingswood UMC and North Peachtree Baptist.  All of these faith-based communities provide preschool and/or daycare with several elements in common:

  • While there may be a preference for children whose parents are members, all programs are open to the public.
  • Children enrolled in these programs may reside outside of Dunwoody, and even outside of DeKalb county.
  • Some parents of enrolled children choose these programs because of proximity to their work, rather than their home.
  • The programs are not free of charge - each requires tuition.  Some find it very expensive.
  • Most, if not all, subcontract some part of their program to an outside vendor.
  • All of these programs have  200 children registered, or more, per year.  

Fortunately for the Dunwoody area, the parent of a preschool child has a variety of equally outstanding options, those above, and the non-sectarian private options throughout town.  The saying goes that a parent could choose a preschool blindfolded, pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey style, and always select an excellent program their child will benefit from.

When I walked into the DHA meeting, I was anticipating a comprehensive discussion of pros and cons from all sides in the debate to fully understand the source of the conflict.

But that's not what happened.

First, the pastor of Life Center Ministries cancelled his appointment to appear, and did not send a representative at all.  There was no getting the story from the horse's mouth.

Second, there was very little analysis of the variance request itself.  All that anyone said was that they were going to build buildings, that Life Center was using Discovery Point as a vendor, and that it was "COMMERCIAL".

The word "commercial" was used no less than two-dozen times in a 15 minute discussion.  (That was where I stopped counting.)  It was COMMERCIAL that parents would pay tuition to drop off children there.  It was COMMERCIAL that they were outsourcing management to Discovery Point.  When other words failed, someone just repeated COMMERCIAL, COMMERCIAL COMMERCIAL.  As if that single word was enough to conclude the case.

When the subject of tuition came up, I mentioned to the lady sitting behind me, "What do you mean, all of the church daycares in town charge tuition."  Her response was an aghast look and an urgent whisper, "But, but....  it's COMMERCIAL!"

Someone else described what other Discovery Point centers look like and claimed that this would be the appearance at Life Center.  Was it true?  No one knows.  No one brought any proof one way or another.  But it doesn't matter, because that same person repeated the magic word:  COMMERCIAL!

Fran Millar added to the performance.  When the discussion turned to the type of church Life Center Ministries is, Fran chimed in with his own indictment:  "Remember, he is a BUSINESSMAN!"  I have to hand it to Fran:  in spite of his own business dealings and support from the business community, he can read an audience and play to it like he's headlining Caesar's Palace.

Dunwoody (and as it would seem from this scenario, Sandy Springs) are inherently hostile to anything described as "COMMERCIAL".  No matter what it is, no matter how large or small, no matter who is involved, "COMMERCIAL" is evil and "C" is the new Scarlet Letter, like Hester Prynne's embroidered "A" in Hawthorne's novel.  What exactly is this commerce everyone is so afraid of?  The definitions below come from the dictionary at

com·mer·cial   [kuh-mur-shuhl]
adjective1. of, pertaining to, or characteristic of commerce.
2. engaged in commerce.
3.  prepared, done, or acting with sole or chief emphasis on salability, profit, or success
4.  able to yield or make a profit:
5.  suitable or fit for a wide, popular market: 

com·merce   [kom-ers]
noun1.  an interchange of goods or commodities, especially on a large scale between different countries (foreign commerce)  or between different parts of the same country (domestic commerce);  trade; business.
2.  social relations, especially the exchange of views, attitudes, etc.
3.  sexual intercourse. (????  -DWG)4.  intellectual or spiritual interchange; communion.
5.  ( initial capital letter ) Also called Commerce Department. Informal . the Department of Commerce.

When you pay someone to cut your lawn or prune your bushes, that is commercial activity.  When you pay a babysitter while you go out for the night, that is commercial activity.  When a church or synagogue pays their light bill or has a contractor resurface a parking lot, that is commercial activity.  When you take your children to preschool at All Saints or Dunwoody UMC and pay their tuition, that is commercial activity.  When Kingswood UMC or Winters Chapel UMC have their consignment sale, that is commercial activity.

Life is commercial!!!

I think what causes residents of a certain age to become fearful is not necessarily the fact of commercial activity, but the perception of the scale and the inherent belief of change.  Fear is a powerful motivator.  Perhaps that's why there was so little factual discussion and no documentable evidence of the alleged concerns one way or another.

I was able to glean two items out of the discussion that could impact the variance decision.  First are the operating hours.  A local resident claimed that the operating hours would be from 6 AM to 6 PM, corresponding to peak traffic times along Mt. Vernon.  I have no idea whether or not this is true.  It may very well be.  Or, it may be an assumption on the part of someone who researched Discovery Point and merely concluded that these hours would be applied.   The second was reported by Sam and Molly Portis who were also sitting behind me at the meeting.  They claim there is a house on the property with significant cultural and historic value that would be destroyed if the church's plan were approved.  That could be very important but alas, the documentation was not presented at the meeting itself.

I have no idea which side in this dispute is in the right.  There was no evidence presented.  There was talk and the word "COMMERCIAL" was thrown out like candy at the 4th of July parade.  But no documentation, photos, diagrams, business plans, ANYTHING that could back up what anyone was saying.

But no one needed to bring proof.

Because in Dunwoody, if anyone has a complaint about anyone else, for any reason, all you have to do is claim they are engaged in COMMERCIAL activity.  It doesn't even have to be true!  A complaint could be based on a personality conflict or other neighbor feud.  It doesn't matter.  Just make sure to repeat the word "COMMERCIAL" when you complain about someone and an army will materialize to subdue whomever you dislike and gain whatever solution you want.

Per this week's Crier, Life Center Ministries has withdrawn the application for the day care center and required variances.

See, it works!  Just yell the word COMMERCIAL COMMERCIAL COMMERCIAL as frequently as you can and you don't have to trouble yourself with standards of proof or evidence.  Your word is law when you brand your sworn enemy with the Scarlet C.

Friday, September 21, 2012

INTRODUCING: Wine Xplorer!

Last night I launched one of my big summer projects!!

The front door of Wine Xplorer's venue
in  Dunwoody Plaza
WineXplorer is a cozy wine tasting club in the Dunwoody Plaza shopping center on Dunwoody Village Drive.  (The same center that houses the 1420 Room, Dunwoody Pediatrics, etc.)  This location serves as the new physical headquarters of the Atlanta Wine Meetup.  The club has over 3,000 members and now has a venue for comfortable, casual, neighborhood-scale wine tastings and related special events.

I met the owner/coordinator Katt Martin through the Chamber of Commerce.  She had commissioned a combination online community/e-commerce website based on Drupal, the same CMS that the Dunwoody Chamber website is built in.  However, she was becoming unhappy with the results and wanted a new developer to take over the project.  That's where I came in.

First step was to go through the database and additional functions that were built already, find the bugs, then find what had not been included or done incorrectly.  There were a couple of standard Drupal "modules" (plug-in additional functions) that had been customized by the previous company - but there was no documentation included.  Oh joy.  The project started by reading lots of code line by line.

Next issue on the table was the appearance.  The version I received was not even close to what Katt wanted to represent her club.  Katt wanted a unique combination:  the sleek, glossy, uncluttered structure of now-standard "Web 2.0" technology, but instead of the cool greys and blues that are typical of that design, she wanted a color palette of earth tones to exude a sense of warmth and comfort and closeness.  That's not a combo you see very often.  The result is what you see in the image above.  In honor of the Wine Xplorer club, I call this theme "Cabernet & Chocolates."

There are numerous features in this site, some included with the initial launch, others planned to debut in a scheduled sequence.  First and foremost is membership.  Members can join the club free of charge and engage in the online community as well as participate in events.  Next - the calendar of events.  The site owner and her staff schedule club events for the venue and display them in a calendar form.  From there, a visitor can browse the upcoming events, and purchase tickets securely right where they're sitting.  Tickets for multiple events can be purchased in one secure transaction.

Bring your camera when you attend an event.   Registered members are welcome to upload their photos to the gallery and share their experience and POV.

Finally, membership has its benefits.  The first benefit that rolled out with the site launch are Xplorer Points.  Members earn "points" by participating in events and interacting with the online extension of the Wine Xplorer community.  The points can be used to get discounts on future purchases.  Katt has more surprises in store.  I'll let her brag on them when she wants me to pull the trigger.

Looking for more than just membership?  The Wine Xplorer community welcomes wine bloggers, wine experts, and other who would like to add their expertise to the website, to organizing events, and growing the club.  Opportunities are on the site as well.

Your Host, Katt Martin!
Best of all, Wine Xplorer is a community in real life as well as online.  When I first visited to go over programming mid way through the project.  I was determined to keep my mouth shut so I wouldn't embarrass myself with my lack of knowledge about wine, even though I have a firm grasp on what I like.  I need not have been concerned.  Wine Xplorer is not only not expensive or difficult, it is also not overbearing, or intimidating, or pretentious.  Anyone who enjoys wine and is interested in learning or experimenting is welcome, from any walk of life.  The venue at Dunwoody Plaza has a comfortable homey atmosphere.  It's impossible NOT to make yourself at home.  There's even an adjoining "wine cave"-type room if you'd like a more formal tasting experience.

We've met the goal of a completely seamless online community that includes calendars, online ticketing, e-commerce and various forms of member interaction including photo sharing and blogging - with more to come.  In addition, this online community blends seamlessly with real life interactions and an easy-to-use administration interface where various members have different abilities to manage different elements of the site.  This is the ideal spectrum that an interactive website is supposed to accomplish.

Next event is a Wine Social tonight at 7:30 which I'm going to try to attend if I can get the kiddos squared away early enough.  Tickets are still available at the site.  Keep your eyes peeled for more local wine events from Wine Xplorer.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Who is the Face of Dunwoody?

Most Facebook comments from city hall aren't too exciting.

This one should be interesting!  Are you the face of Dunwoody?  Your spouse?  Your neighbor?  Or kids?  Here's a chance to find out.  Comments are open if you go to the event and would like to report back.

We will be out at Brook Run Park this Saturday 9/22 taking pictures from 4pm-7pm. We are looking for men, women, families, kids, and pets who would like to be models for our Dunwoody photography. No experience necessary, just have fun! Please contact Molly 404 949-3776 for more information.

A Greenway By Any Other Name

The latest hot topic in Dunwoody development is the resurgence of "multi-use trails".

This topic nearly came to a riot before the last election when the first "greenway" plan was presented.  The original version involved confiscating easements (private residential property that utilities pay to use for their equipment) and paving them over for general public use.  While some were willing to donate their property to this purpose, others, notably those who would stand to lose 1/3 or more of their lot and have the greenway uncomfortably close to their homes, objected.  Loudly.  The "greenways" were removed from the parks plan.

Now in 2012 the subject is "multi use trails".  Same concept, same purpose, different name, slightly different approach.

These trails run around Brook Run Park in this overlay drawing, except at the northwest end of the park where the trail diverts south so as to avoid private property that is surrounded by the park.  The rest of the trails (in red) run directly on the perimeter for the most part.
The sales pitch images are oddly familiar:

The text in the  links and warmfuzzyfeelgood pitch images are exactly the same as the original Greenway presentation.  The only difference is that "Greenway" has been substituted with "multi use trail".

Not only is this new proposal flat-out laziness, it assumes that no one will notice or call out city staff for it.

The best thing I can say about the Brook Run greenway is that it employs municipal land, rather than privately owned residential land.  The city can make whatever plans they want without intruding directly on anyone's castle.  The similar trails in Georgetown are being planned in with the rest of the development from scratch.  Again, nothing to tear down.  

(Note:  words are great, pictures supporting them would be better.)

There are still drawbacks.  First, the amount of construction involved.  Brook Run had a small network of forest-like trails to stroll or hike along.  We're talking nature trails, not paved highways.  Then that evolved into "paved walkways".  Now we're back to the original 12-foot-wide greenway.  Development projects in Dunwoody have a tendency to expand during discussion, along with their budgets (cf, Dunwoody Village Parkway).  I'd still like to know why this is the usual trend.

Second:  when the playground and skate park were built, homeowners on the opposite side of Peeler Road went completely ape at the number of trees being cut down and the lack of screening between their homes and the active parts of the park.  Does anyone think the reaction will be different this time?  The trees are not going to obediently uproot themselves and replant elsewhere.  The screening that immediate neighbors say they want is going to be completely demolished.  The Q&A claims that only a "minimum" of trees are going to be removed but doesn't clarify a number and there are no artist renderings or even sketches superimposed over photographs to demonstrate this.  Only the same greenway sales photos from the original presentation.  

Speaking of trees, how is this plan getting reconciled with the efforts of the Sustainability Commission who claim to want to preserve tree canopy in Dunwoody?  You can either develop land for greenways by cutting down trees or you can preserve trees via force of law.  You can't do both.  I don't find the Q&A credible when it implies that few trees are going to be disturbed.  There's 12 feet of pavement plus a buffer zone on either side, especially during construction.  Again, there are no photos of the area to be built itself to confirm anything in the City's documents.  

Next is the question of materials.  Sustainability Commission and related "green" advocates have been touting  "green" building and "green" materials to the sky since the city was founded.  Now they have a chance to put that rhetoric into action by using the much celebrated "pervious paving".  But wait, there's a snag.  It turns out that "pervious paving" materials are only functional if nothing "green" falls on them.  Like leaves, dirt, or pine straw.  So we're now back to concrete, the less expensive of the standard paving alternatives.  The "green" advocates have not been forthcoming about the disadvantages of "green" materials - we have to find them out the hard way when it's time to consider their use.  

These questions of mine are just for the Brook Run section of the greenway plan.  They don't apply to the Georgetown development because the land was already cleared for development.

Before I can decide what side of this plan I stand on, I'd like to see more than an aerial photograph of the entire park.  I would like to see on-location photos of the areas being developed with similar markups clarifying what is going to be disturbed and what isn't.  I'd like to see the engineers' reports that confirm that water runoff will not affect the properties on the opposite side of the street from the greenway where it runs along the edge.  (Especially along Peeler Road where the curbs are crumbling and water is a major issue during storms.)

I want to believe that what is being presented is the best option.  But no one at the city is showing it in any tangible way.  Recycled sales photos from the old greenway project and memos on city stationery don't cut it.

Monday, September 17, 2012

INTRODUCING: Northside Tree Professionals

I'm pleased to announce the launch of a new site for Northside Tree Professionals.

Northside Tree is a Dunwoody-licensed company that has become a trusted institution over the 40-plus years of its existence.

Northside had invested in a new brand identity that is evident in all of their printed materials from their paper stationery, to the employee uniforms (both labor and management) and all of their vehicles.  You've probably seen their bright red trucks and equipment tooling around town.  The only thing remaining was their website:  it looked absolutely nothing like their new brand image.

Well, now it does!  This site is based on the WordPress content management system (CMS) and was designed to coordinate with the rest of their marketing outreach.  There is a new interactive quote request form and structured, easy-to-find content.  Even with all of these upgrades, it is still a work in progress.  The guys have been collecting images and video as well as case histories to present throughout the summer season.  We're going to sort it, compile it, and incorporate it into the new site this fall.

There's even a matching mobile version for your smartphone.  You can switch between them through the link at the bottom of each page.

Check out Northside Tree on your computer, tablet, or phone and stay tuned for more treats in the next month or two.

Friday, September 14, 2012

There but for the grace of God goes any of us

"20/20" is airing an episode tonight on ABC regarding extreme neighbor conflicts.
The episode is featured tonight on their website.

Video and interviews show surreal behaviour by neighbors rubbing each other the wrong way.  If these extremes can happen in these idyllic neighborhoods, they can happen anywhere.

What is to prevent these types of extremes from occurring here in Dunwoody?  Comments are wide open.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Federal Law Enforcement or Big Brother via Internet? You make the call.

From Yahoo News /Digital Trends earlier this year:

US gov't claims right to seize any .com domain

If your domain ends in .com, the United States government says it has the right to seize it from your control, reports Wired. The same goes for any URL that ends in .net, .cc, .tv, .name, and .org.
This troubling declaration of power comes after US authorities shutdown the online sports gambling site last week — even though the website was owned by a Canadian company, which many assumed put it outside of US jurisdiction. Not so, apparently. That’s because the only company allowed to issue new .com domains is VeriSign, which is based — you guessed it — in the US.
According to a spokesperson for the department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), anytime the US government wants to take down a .com, .net, .tv, or .name domain, all it has to do is issue a court order to VeriSign, which quickly complies. The same process applies to the Public Interest Registry, which controls the .org top-level domain.

In principle, if you're obeying the law, not using your .com (or dot-whatever) domain to violate US Federal law like online gambling, selling counterfeit or pirated merchandise, you won't have any trouble.  In short, the article clarifies that since the US invented the internet, the US makes the rules.  .com may be used worldwide but it is, at its core, an American domain issue and VeriSign is going to obey every last order to keep its federal contract to issue .com and .net domains.

If you're going to engage in activity that violates US federal law, you probably want to pick a different nation's domain.  I'm not recommending that, nor am I saying that's 100% protection either.

So how close are we to the line between "freedom of information" and prevention of abuse that harms law-abiding citizens?  Comments are wide open.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Welcome, Dunwoody Reporter readers. :-)

I noticed some new "faces" visiting the DWG after Melissa's article went up.  Welcome, thanks for visiting and I hope you find something interesting.

Bloggers stir things up, get people talking

In our conversation I learned from Melissa that Dunwoody is unique in the number of bloggers based inside city limits?  Who knew?  I never thought anything of it but I agree w/ Bob L that it's a good sign of civic involvement.

As I've said before, not everyone likes to post as publicly as this - that's OK.   There are other ways to state your opinions and suggestions on whatever the issue du jour is.  Email, phone, chatting over a beer next to the pool or the tennis court.  Make your own contribution to Dunwoody in your own way.

For example...  in current events....

Discussion over the "Village Master Plan" and Dunwoody Village Parkway is going to come to a head tonight at City Hall.  Bike lanes, sidewalks, trees, how many lanes, median, no median, and probably more issues will be aired tonight.  I have too many questions about this plan (or plans) to have an opinion yet.

Has anyone heard any official comment from Regency, the company that owns Dunwoody Village?  How about the Simpson Organization, that owns Dunwoody Plaza?  (Plaza = that shopping center across from "the Village" that is home to the 1420 Room, Dunwoody Pediatrics, and others.)  The only comment I heard in passing was that Regency barely stopped short of telling Dunwoody to take their Master Plan and shove it.  Like it or not, corporations are legally allowed to own and control their properties.  Unless we woke up in communist China this morning, they have rights too.  I would love to hear from one of their representatives at the meeting tonight during public comment, or otherwise see their POV represented in the discussion.

How about the tenants?  Ditto the questions above.  I've heard claims that part of the DVP redesign is to stimulate business.  Do the business owners with rent invested agree?  Are the opinions consistent between the branches of national chains vs. large local enterprises vs mom-and-pop outfits?  I'd like to hear those voices represented tonight too.

On a related tangent, the plans for area redevelopment (as well as the zoning code rewrite) make reference to "shared parking" and "right-sized" parking areas.  Meaning that someone, somewhere thinks there's "too many parking spaces" and all of the tenants should "share" them.  That isn't going to happen in Dunwoody Plaza.  Each entity (especially El Azteca, Enterprise, 1420 Room, and Dunwoody Pediatrics) has their own customer parking spaces marked with a sign or paint on the blacktop.  Some of them have a tow company on speed dial for violators.  I don't see "shared parking" happening in this sector any time soon.  Expect some resistance to that concept.  Plus, negotiations on purchasing land for a right-of-way will be tense.  

The original cost floated around for a DVP redesign was $500,000.  Now that number is 5 times that at $2.5 million.  Why?  If there's a good reason for the larger number somebody, please, say what it is.  (By "good reason" I do NOT mean "Well, the feds are offering a grant.")  Watching a cost inflate that much is enough to make any citizen worried no matter how good the intentions are or how brilliant the idea.

How much time will the redevelopment take?  It doesn't just matter for drivers, it's critical for the business owners.  All around Atlanta when there have been major street repairs, realignments, or construction, the local small businesses watched their customer base shrink to near-zero because of the inconvenience.  It's worse with weather delays or other extensions.  Some family-owned and other small businesses had to close altogether. You don't stimulate business in an area by making it impossible to function for an undefined period of time.   How will the businesses along DVP be protected during a project that will certainly affect their bottom lines?  

I'll have a better idea of what to think about this project when the above questions get answered.

In the mean time, here are a few other opinions.

Bicycle Lanes in Dunwoody (trust me, it's related)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

See, Click, Fix... Enforce?

One of the first interactive communications that Dunwoody City Hall launched after incorporation was See, Click, Fix, an online application for reporting non-emergency problems to City Hall.  This service has been featured on Channel 46's "Harry Pothole" segments since then.

The premise is easy:  you go to the website on your computer (or via the corresponding smartphone app) and report an issue that you see.  City Hall acknowledges each report as it comes in and assigns it to the right department for resolution.   You can see on a map where other problems have been pointed out,  post comments, get others to comment and receive updates from City Hall.

Most complaints get shunted into two departments:  Public Works or Code Enforcement.  If it's an honest-to-God emergency, don't bother with the app, call 911.

When you're reporting an issue, especially if it goes to Code Enforcement, you, the citizen have some due diligence and some responsibility in order to make your strongest possible case.

1)  TALK to the owner first.  Whether it's a business or a residence, be a human and let the person in charge have a chance to be human right back.  Maybe something is going on you don't know about and the situation is temporary.  If the person is NOT human (read:  rude, dismissive, etc) then step right up to Code Enforcement.

2)  DOCUMENT everything.  If a conversation doesn't lead to a conclusion and it looks like this is going to drag out, start keeping track of conversations and complaints filed.  That can help you if you want to emphasize that a situation has been going on for a long time.  If there's no documentation, and you claim a situation has existed for weeks or months, then it's your word against theirs.

3)  PICTURES are worth a thousand words, literally.   No one else can see that camera in your head, so use the one on your phone.  A single picture of an unacceptable circumstance can sometimes make the difference  between a personality conflict and proof of wrongdoing.  Look at the dots in the above widget - some of those complaints are just a few words, with NO pictures at all to flesh it out.  The posts that do have attached images make a very clear, indisputable case for their position.  If you happen on a problem and want to report it, whip out the camera and take a picture!  Or a video, something visual.

A word about proofs:  when you want to file a complaint about something or someone, the proof is your job.  In our society the burden of proof in any legal proceeding is always on the complainant.  That may be troublesome but worth the effort to get your problem resolved.  You can also get neighbors or other witnesses to contribute their POVs as well.

So, you've decided to go to Code Enforcement.  What makes for a persuasive complaint?

1)  The Facts, All the Facts, Nothing But the Facts.  This is where the documentation comes in.  What exactly is the property owner in question doing wrong?  Spell it out.  Bullet points are helpful.  Include your photos.  Reference the municipal code.  Above all, do NOT "embellish" or exaggerate your claims.  It does nothing for your case but dent your credibility.

2)  Check Your Emotions At the Door.  A formal complaint is not the time for hyperbole, unrelated arguments added as red herrings, fabrications based on personal assumptions, derogatory comments about people themselves, or quasi-philosophical rantings.  These actions do not make your case, they break it.  If your facts are in order, you can be upset and still be in control of yourself.  Your worst-case-scenario is that you get branded as that nutter who can't get his story straight and the authorities make a mental note to ignore you.  Stay calm and keep it about the facts.

3)  Can I Get a Witness?  If other people see the problem you see, get them to add their voices to your concern.  Not everyone wants their name on the internet and that's understandable.  On SCF, votes to emphasize a case or complaints themselves can be made anonymously.  Be aware that all information collected by Code Enforcement or Public Works is public record and may be collected with an Open Records request.

4)  Follow Up Regularly.  If you read through the comments and notes on some of the cases documented in the widget, you'll see the last followup is often months old. Are they resolved?  In progress?  Any changes?  Who knows?   There may be a legal snag on the City's side.  The entity you're complaining about may have a legal case of their own.   Maybe your interpretation of the law is faulty.  Maybe resolution requires resources that the City has to wait for.   You won't know if you let it slide so set a reminder on your calendar to peek in via web or phone on a regular basis.

This is all the reasonable due diligence a citizen needs to make a case.  But it's only one side.  The other side of this equation resides at City Hall.  The appointed or hired officials have their own diligence to perform.  Here's the rub:  does City Hall always see these issues through?  Look at the map widget - there are a lot of "Open" posts that have not been acknowledged and "Acknowledged" posts that have gone unanswered, some for months.  Are the questions not resolved?  Or did someone get tied up and forget to close them?

With a daytime population of 150K, there are going to be conflicts that cannot resolve themselves and need to be assisted by City Hall.  Are they all getting addressed? According to the See Click Fix page for Dunwoody in the past 30 days, 11 new cases were opened, 12 were acknowledged, but only 1 has been closed.  And that's just online using the app, it doesn't count what's filed in person or on the phone.   Stay tuned, there's more....

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

HGTV's "Elbow Room" is casting in Atlanta

I received this announcement via email from Johlt Productions.

Hi there,

HGTV's Elbow Room is casting in Atlanta!

Does your family sing karaoke? Do you play guitar? Have you always wanted a music room in your house?

Do you work from home? Could you use a home office?

Are you into woodworking? Would you like a home workshop?

Could you use a fitness room in your home?

If so, please fill out these questions and email them to:

1. We love pictures! Please make sure to send us pictures of: YOU and YOUR FAMILY, EXTERIOR OF HOME (front and back), and NUMEROUS PHOTOS OF THE PROBLEM AREA/ROOMS. **Please just attach the pictures, do not create a collage or presentation**
2. Name, phone numbers and occupations of home owners
3. Name/ages of all children
4. Address of property
5. Year house was built
6. How long have you lived there?
7. How have you outgrown your home? Please tell us in detail, tell us stories, give examples.
8. What do you love about your neighborhood?
9. What is your ideal renovation?
10. Do you have an area to expand in to? Or would this be an addition?
11. Why do you need our help?
12. How is your life hindered without this renovation?
13. How do you want the space to look/feel after the makeover?

Thank you for taking the time to fully explain your situation. We're excited to learn all that we can!

Elbow Room Casting
JOHLT Productions

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

INTRODUCING: Lady Jane Custom Footwear, LLC

Today I am thrilled to announce the launch of an e-commerce site for Lady Jane Custom Footwear, LLC.  Lady Jane is a Dunwoody home-based business founded by Mary Jane Caldwell.  Mary Jane got sick of having to torture her feet to wear beautiful high heels.  So she started designing her own.

Lady Jane shoes are custom-made, one pair at a time at a facility in Austin, TX.  They are more comfortable and healthier for your feet than even the most celebrated luxury brands.  Mary Jane's shoes can be manufactured in a wide variety of fabrics and leathers, heel styles, and accessories.  This site is a comprehensive upgrade from her previous one.   You just select your size, material, width, and style and they are custom made for you.  Mary Jane and her staff manage the store from an administrative interface.  Select styles are available online and even more styles and options can be purchased through a private consultation, trunk show, or at Primera Podiatry.  Special requests can be handled via phone and/or direct consultation.

Lady Jane Custom Footwear is one of the latest in a growing number of brands that are born and bred in Dunwoody and market toward an upscale audience.  With the features, creativity, and competitive cost Lady Jane has all the potential in the world to be a distinct Dunwoody luxury brand promoted to the entire USA.

This project was very detail-oriented and a lot of work because of the e-commerce aspect but it's not often you can consult with your client about her website and try on dozens of shoes at the same time!  In fact when we were getting the project started and the paperwork signed, Mary Jane set me up with these little numbers in time for Taste of Dunwoody 2012.  I didn't have to sit down all night (until the alcohol went to my head.)

If you're keeping track, this model is a closed-toe variation of "Jacqueline" and the nubbly inset is a stretch leather that was available some years ago.  They are truly one of a kind and plenty comfy.

This site was customized using a content management system called ZenCart that was created specifically for e-commerce solutions.

A few words about e-commerce websites:

E-commerce (and in a similar matter, e-learning) are some of the most complex websites that an average small business can use.  To make the most of it, a business owner has to have a firm grip on their product, their sales approach, their customer base (current and projected) and how they intend to incorporate online selling into their overall business model and day-today operations.  Most business owners I know get intense "sticker shock" when they see the cost of an e-commerce solution.  However the price tag indicates the higher-than-average amount of work involved.  Any company that tries to sell you on the idea that you can throw together a unique, scalable storefront "in just a few clicks" is either lying through their teeth or delusional.

If you are planning to sell online, plan on discussing these questions with your web developer:

  • What do you sell?  To whom?  Do you have an established customer base?  Have you surveyed any of them to determine what your customers are looking for in an online experience?  Or even if they want one?  Or are you expanding your outreach to a new audience that is looking for online purchasing?
  • Which of your products are going to be sold online?  All of your inventory?  Just a selection?  Are your products priced by features?  Do your products have a variety of features that your customers choose from?
  • Do you already have a website host or do you need both a host and shopping cart?  (Some companies are selling e-commerce "software as a service" where you can buy your services all in one.  Magento, 3dCart and Intuit website are examples with different pros and cons to each.)
  • How will your customers pay online?  Do you need a 3rd-party payment provider (like PayPal, WorldPay, etc)?  Do you plan to process credit cards or similar payments through your website using your bank's service?  Have you compared the costs of each option?
  • If you are processing your own credit cards (and not using a service akin to PayPal) have you budgeted for SSL encryption?  SSL is the encryption standard that secures sensitive customer data against unauthorized access.  A green bar and padlock in the URL box of your browser indicates your site is secured for e-commerce.  These certificates can run anywhere from $80-ish (from GoDaddy) to the hundreds or thousands from VeriSign.
  • Does your shopping cart have to integrate with your business and financial management software?  For example, if you are using QuickBooks, your choice of shopping cart software and providers is going to be limited.  Those providers that do integrate with QuickBooks usually charge more for this feature.
  • Where do you ship your products to?  Contiguous 48 states?  All USA and territories?  Worldwide?  Do you know the tax rates that are applicable for each area of the country/world you are selling to?
  • What shipping service do you intend to use?  UPS, the US Postal Service and FedEx have the most popular software integration for shopping carts.
  • Does your online shopping cart need additional web pages for general information, or will it stand on its own?  
  • How are you managing your inventory?  Do you need to integrate online sales with in-person sales at a storefront?  Do your inperson sales take you to other locations like festivals?
  • Have you considered mobile/smartphone capabilities for both your customers as well as your store managment?
  • How do you see your business and sales growing in the next 5 years?  10?  Do you plan to add more products or varieties of current products?  More physical locations?  Employees?  Will your online store management require employee training?  Your developer has to find a solution that can be scaled to match your business growth and allows for ease of use by employees - or owners!
  • Who is going to manage the online store?  Fulfill the orders?  Have you budgeted for a contracted developer to manage the content and inventory system?  Do you already know how or can you learn the software involved?  Do your employees need to be trained?
There's more, but that will just get you started.  See what I mean about details and work involved?

Finally, I touched on this topic in the above bullet points but there is a wide variety of payment systems out there.  PayPal is the most popular in many ways because of its ease of use for even an individual and it's all-in-one standard pricing and security.  On the other side, banks that provide merchant accounts often sell a service called that links your (SSL-secured) store to your bank processing directly.  Depending upon your sales figures this can represent a major cost savings.

Whatever you decide for online payment processing, the one and only payment system I NEVER recommend is Google Checkout.  In terms of pricing, ease-of-use and software integration, Google is virtually identical to PayPal.  The major difference is your customer MUST have a Google account to check out of your store!  I don't know too many people that want to create a Google account to shop.  Google announced recently that they streamlined their data cross-referencing between Checkout, YouTube, Gmail, and search engine services.  For me (and for many customers) that's just a little too Big-Brother-ish.  If you need a simple out-of-the box payment solution, use PayPal for the same price and allow your customers to just buy-and-go.

Big powerful tools can provide big sales and big profits.  But they only work well if you put equally big business and logistics planning behind them.

Keep an eye on Lady Jane.  With her online store she's taking her merchandise nationwide and will be another luxury company putting Dunwoody, GA on the map.