Michael Cale

October 28, 2014

Michael Cale is not a particularly patient person. This led to a mild obsession with website page loading time, especially when Cale — who, by day, manages a team of web developers at a Fortune 100 company — is in need of quick information on his mobile device. So in July of 2014, Cale released Coding for Speed: A Hacker’s Guide to a Faster Web, a comprehensive guide for improving the speed and performance of your website. With advice ranging from Javascript troubleshooting to WordPress and PHP optimization, Coding for Speed offers advice for everyone from the website novice to the seasoned professional.

Cale, who hails from Fayetteville, Arkansas, attended Texas A&M University and served in the Air Force as an officer and bomber navigator. He has traveled faster than Mach 1 more times than he can count.

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What was your upbringing like, and how did it shape who you are today?

Growing up, I was blessed with a wonderful family. Both my parents are simply the best. They always encouraged me to do whatever I was interested in doing. It just makes it a bit easier to reach for the brass ring when you know that someone will be there if you fall. Their example has served as a model I try and live up to for my own children.

What made you decide to join the Air Force? Looking back, what was the most memorable aspect of your time in the service?

My family has a strong tradition of military service, so I always kept that option open. When I was in college, I was able to compete and secure a slot in flight training once I graduated. It was very competitive. That sealed the deal for me. I was in the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M so there a lot of people pursuing flight training in all the branches of the military. Had I not been able to go to flight training, I probably would’ve gone straight into the civilian sector.

There were so many memorable moments. On one particularly fun trip, I had volunteered to be on the spare aircraft on a deployment to Guam in the western Pacific. As the spare, our job was to be ready in case one of the primary aircraft had any kind of maintenance trouble. It was not viewed as a good deal because you had to do all the work, get packed, etc. and then turn around and come home. But I volunteered because I figured it was at least greater than a 0% chance. The co-pilot on my crew had volunteered also. He brought his golf clubs and I brought my scuba gear. We were ready to go. The other two guys on the crew were not happy about being on the spare. One of them didn’t even pack a change of clothes.

As it turns out, one of the primary aircraft developed a minor mechanical problem before aerial refueling and we got to take the trip in their place. We spent the next month flying training missions up to South Korea and back. We would normally meet up with either South Korean Air Force or U.S. Navy aircraft and go bomb a training range. The co-pilot on the crew, his grandfather had been a crew member on the Enola Gay in World War 2. That was the aircraft that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. On that mission, they took off from the island of Tinian, which is just north of Guam. So our route of flight took us right by Tinian. You can still make out the runways and taxiways of the airfield on the north end of the island although they’re overgrown a bit. It was a neat bit of history to see.

When did you first start coding, and what was it that inspired you to do so?

When I was a child, I received a Commodore 64 computer and started programming in BASIC. That was great fun and taught me the basics of programming. It just clicked with me. I continued to dabble in programming throughout school. As my career progressed, I started working with databases and got seriously into programming out of pure necessity. There always seemed to be a demand to solve a complicated problem and I tended to turn to programming for the solution.

The true inspiration for me is the ability to create a solution that stands the test of time. Often, once a solution is in place, it kind of takes on a life of it’s own. It’s the ability to solve someone’s problem into perpetuity, or at least until there are changes in their needs, or to the problem itself. It’s really satisfying to learn that something I built years ago is still in use and remains valuable. Creating content, such as books, has a similar appeal to me.

Do you recall the first program you successfully built using BASIC?

I’m not sure if it was my very first one, but I remember a few. There were several simple geometry applications, like calculating the area of triangle or the length of a missing side, or the volume of a three-dimensional object, things like that. Things that made it faster to do homework, typically.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing Coding for Speed?

Mainly just finding the time to write. I wrote the book during the evenings and weekends while working full-time. My kids are mostly on their own now and I’m fortunate that my wife is patient with my side projects. Once I made the decision to do the book, it was just a matter of dedicating the time each week to work on it. It’s not easy, but it’s really rewarding to see your work have some impact.

When it comes to website speed, what’s the most common mistake most people make when building a site?

Probably the most common thing I see is an over-reliance on Apache. For many applications, Nginx would deliver more speed, but Apache is the de-facto standard for now. Other than that, for most sites, the best bang-for-the-buck is to optimize images. There are a variety of techniques, but reducing image size should be a priority for every webmaster.

Between writing and coding, which computer programs could you not live without?

For writing, I use Mou for short projects and Scrivener for more complex topics. For coding, I couldn’t function without MAMP, Brackets, and Transmit. For general use, Evernote is simply the best.

How do you foresee Johnny Manziel’s NFL career playing out?

I’m excited to see Manziel do well in the NFL. People tend to notice the antics and overlook the fact that he is an incredible athlete. The off-field excitement should diminish over time (hopefully). I’ve always been a college football fan, but I’ve never really followed the NFL. But now I’ll be tuning in when the Browns are playing.

What’s the best BBQ you’ve ever had?

I’m really particular when it comes to BBQ. So much so, that I’ve pretty much given up on pulled pork most places and I just do it myself. But I’ve never been able to master brisket, though, so for that, Joe Allen’s in Abilene, TX is phenomenal. The Woodyard in Kansas City is my favorite as well.

Do you have your own BBQ smoker? If so, what is your setup, and what type of wood do you prefer to use when smoking pulled pork?

Yes, I have a small refrigerator-style smoker. It was my dad’s old one that he gave me when he upgraded his own. I prefer a mixture of apple wood and mesquite.

What are you working on next?

My next project will be a book about productivity techniques for creatives.


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