An Interview With SeyDoggy's Adam Merrifield

“Your mission” the General said, “is to proceed up the Sno3 river, pick up Merrifield’s path and follow it. Learn what you can along the way and when you find him—”

“Terminate his command?” I said eagerly. “With extreme prejudice?”

“No,” the General replied. “Find out how he makes his themes.”

I took the mission anyway — what else was I going to do?

As dawn broke the Air Cavalry inserted us at the mouth of the Sno3 river and we began our clandestine journey upstream. The jungle closed around us like a shroud and seyDoggy’s presence was as tangible as the mist rising off the river. He was out there, I could sense it, close, never far away.

“Follow the themes,” the General had said, “they’re circuit cables plugged straight into Merrifield’s heart. You only have to look at their names. Gid3ous. Kleer. Gotem. Sleeker. BadNas. The man is very obviously insane.”

At first I thought they’d handed me the wrong dossier. But the more I read and the more I tried to understand him, the more I admired him. How does a kid become a geek? They asked him that when he applied for Special Forces Theme Squad and he told them he was always a geek at heart, coding in Basic since Grade 4, taking computer science classes in high-school.

“I wasn't your classic geek until much later in life. I wasn't really on the web for any great length of time before 2000. I blame my fall into geekdom on E-Bay.”

By then Adam Merrifield was already a father at 22, still in college, a family man before he’d even begun thinking about a career.

“I think that really makes a difference in your work-family balance early on. You look at starting a career from the point of view of "how will this help my family" and "how will this get in the way of my family" instead of the other way around. Decisions like that helped determine the blessed position I'm in right now, free to work around my family’s schedule and never have to worry about the two getting in each others way. I get to play the part of a stay-at-home dad and bring home a good paycheck too.”

When they asked him how he reconciled being a dedicated family man and working from home, he told them, “A lock on my office door and a well-stocked liquor cabinet.”

Later that day we passed a downed Huey, KIAs hanging in the trees, sampans ferrying rice and God knows what else downriver. Why seyDoggy? I wondered. There had to be a clue somewhere in the dossier. I found it buried in the transcript of a debriefing whose source remained classified.

AM: “Off the tongue of my then 18 month old daughter:"It's a (sey) doggy!" And since everything in my life revolves around my children I couldn't imagine a better way to honor them than by including them in my work. A lot of my theme names are inspired by things my kids have said over the years.”

Q: “I don’t get it. Ten years in the automotive trade and the next thing you know you’re developing RapidWeaver themes. How did that happen?”

AM: “Timing. A decade in and I saw the writing on the wall. Took a leap of faith into RapidWeaver development before my livelihood went the way of the dodo.”

Q: “But why RapidWeaver theme design?”

AM: “I was also a freelance photographer and to get my name out there I taught himself to code my own website. Tired of making my own buttons for the site I looked around for an app and came across Button Builder, a former Realmac Software creation. Which led me to RapidWeaver.”

The Art of Dogness

03

Never get off the boat. Absolutely goddamn right. Unless you’re going all the way. Merrifield got off the boat and never looked back.

“Themes were in short supply so I started building my own. My first attempts were hacked MultiThemes offerings but before long I was making my own from scratch. Then people started asking me to make custom themes for them and within 6 months I had my own store.”

Q: “What skills do you believe are most important in developing a RapidWeaver theme?

AM: “Patience. Theme development has changed so much from when I started. It used to be a handful of files and images and the greatest challenge was getting your static HTML to look cool with CSS. Now themes include extensive xml with thousands of lines of code, hundreds of css files and countless JavaScript function.”

Q: “Tell me about your design process...”

AM: “A lot of the work comes before I even write one line of code. I generally spend a few days mentally mapping out how one of Chris' designs will work in the real world. Once I think I have most of the bits worked out I'll then get to work putting the framework together, reusing as much code from previous themes as possible. Then I'll start to style it section by section from the top down. Once the styling is done I'll break it out into options and then color styles. By this point it's likely ready for beta testing and finishing touches and cleanup.”

Q: “How long does a theme take you to build and publish?”

AM: “From start to finish it can take anywhere from 3 to 8 weeks. It really depends on what the theme includes and whether I'm trying to build in a new function or feature. It also depends a lot on the level of participation from beta testers. Some groups are quite active and have me churning out bug fixes by the hour. Others are quiet and it can take a few weeks just to iron out the most basic bug.”

We were deep in Themebodia now, about 75 klicks above Havnit Bridge, a snail crawling along the edge of a straight razor. I could tell we were close, the banks of the river were littered with the remains of theme developers who’d never made it.

Q: “You have any advice for wannabe theme developers?”

AM: “A successful RapidWeaver theme business is built on great support. If you can't be the utmost authority on every aspect of the products you create then you’re going to drown in a sea of support. I've seen it happen time and again over the last 5 years. If you don't understand the technology you’re putting in your themes then don't put it in until you do. My advice to wannabe theme developers? Start out simple, get the basics down pat and then build out from there.”

I came ashore in a thunderstorm, was dragged through the mud and up the temple steps to be caged like a beast. He came to me that night, a ghostly apparition diffused by the shimmering rain.

“Did they tell you why they want to terminate my themes?”

“They said you’d gone totally insane.”

“Because I write poetry? Because I love Emily Dickinson?”

I said nothing.

“Because I miss the good ol' days of FPS campaigns like Medal of Honor and Halo?”

This was the end of the river alright. And I was the errand boy, sent by grocery clerks, to collect the bill. They released me from my bamboo cage, led me deep into the temple to feed me water and bathe my wounds. His voice followed me like an echo tumbling down an endless grotto.

“They call me revolutionary, yet I never set my sights on being revolutionary, I’m more a hacker at heart. My ideological leanings on some topics have certainly helped promote change in our industry over the years I've been involved. I think we've all helped shape this community in our own way.”

“Is this the way the world ends?” I asked him.

“Not with a bang but a whimper?” He shook his head. “RapidWeaver’s become a big ship with a lot of designers and developers relying on APIs and SDKs to keep working. But big ships are slow to turn and my hope for RapidWeaver is for it to become leaner and meaner, to focus on a solid framework that allows users to attach their resources and content, while letting third-party developers build the rest of its kick-ass functionality. RapidWeaver sets itself apart from other similar apps by being so brilliantly extensible. I think the platform could take that even farther with newer, better API's and some seriously amped-up documentation.”

I could hear water dripping, each drop an echo rippling across the temple walls, punctuating the silences he used to pace the tenor of his thoughts.

“It’s impossible for mere words to describe what is necessary,” he intoned, “to those who do not know the true meaning of absolute horror.”

“You’re talking about Internet Explorer?”

“I wept, I cried, I wanted to tear my teeth out,” Merrifield said.

“Don’t we all...”

He was waiting for me to take the pain away. But I had a boat to catch. As we turned downstream and gunned the turbos, his tortured cries clung to me like tendrils of doom through the lowering mist, haunting me long into the night.

"The horror... the horror..."

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