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Lightsabers from Galaxy's Edge

I made some light sabers at Galaxy Edge in Disney World. Lots of fun:

I got (mis)quoted in an article about Pokemon Go

I got mis-quoted in an article about Pokemon Go.

A friend of mine forwarded me the request from a site named Help a Reporter Out. I answered a bunch of questions about my experiences playing Pokemon Go. For posterity, I thought I'd share the full response I sent to Emily, the author.

1) Do you feel safe playing Pokemon Go? Why or why not?

I feel as safe as I would if I wasn't playing Pokemon Go. I've walked all over Connecticut playing the game. I've been on local parks and trails, from Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts to Disney World in Florida, all over New York City and up to the top of the Space Needle in Seattle. If I am in a place that is well lit with lots of people there is no worry of not being safe.

You do have to be aware so you don't bump into others. A few times I've stayed out on hiking trails way past dark. I wouldn't recommend that without proper equipment, regardless of whether you're playing Pokemon Go or not.

2) What is the strangest experience you've had playing Pokemon Go?

Last year, I discovered a fox den right off a local trail in CT. I just turned and looked at the right time and there were 3-5 baby red foxes jumping around and playing. I came back to visit at a safe distance many times until the snow came.

Another time I was almost run over by some guy driving a golf cart on a local trail. I had to act quick to not get run over. I reported him to the local park service since the trails are supposed to be vehicle free.

Other players, often strangers, are willing to walk up to you to ask questions or give advice such as "There is a `Houndoom` spawning over by the bridge on the other side of the park." Pokemon Go has taken away the embarrassment of approaching strangers by providing common ground to start a conversation. It is brilliant to see.

3) Has anyone ever found your location through the app?


4) What is your favorite part about playing the game?

It is a reason to get up and exercise. I run a business out of my home, so it is really tough for me to get my "10,000 steps" without forced exercise time. This gamifies it a bit and gives me incentive to get up and go.

My impression of the article is that it has a negative connotation, trying to highlight how it can be dangerous to play Pokemon Go. I don't feel playing Pokemon Go is any more dangerous than not playing Pokemon Go.

This anecdote of mine that was quoted was embellished and I'm not a fan of that. First, they misquoted me by changing 'run over' to 'hit' when I spoke about the golf cart on the trail. The hard sound of 'hit' have a different impact than the smooth sound of 'run over'. I asked them to correct that.

They also misconstrued my statements to make it sound like the golf cart driver was playing Pokemon Go when he wasn't. They also embellished the story to have me jumping into the bushes which never happened. They aren't even any bushes on the trail I was on.

Definitely an interesting to be quoted in an article.

General Life Lessons

I've recently started to watch reddit on a regular basis. Generally the conversation and information I Get there is a lot more interesting than Facebook. In the Computer Science Career Questions subreddit. The subreddit seems to be made up of primarily students or people on their first two years of the job. Someone asked me for some valuable life lessons, and my response has been getting way more upvotes than I'm used to. I thought I'd make an interesting non-technical blog post.

Here are some of the advice I'd give to people just starting out their careers. In no particular order:

  • Don't Quit: Keep your current job until you have a new one lined up. There is some psychology involved. When people hear you are happily employed they experience the thrill of the chase. When they don't have a job they think there may be something wrong with you. Ashton Kutcher has some great words on this sentiment.
  • Know Your Priorities: I spent the past 18 years as a consultant running my own biz. Most people view me as a successful businessman, but I've had a lot of missteps. I would probably be a lot richer going the 'traditional' route and switched jobs every 3-5 years. I have always valued flexibility over money. What are your values and how does that apply to your career choices?
  • Don't be Afraid to Fail: I've been involved in ~15 different ventures of varying success over the past 30 years. Hugely satisfying even if not always profitable. Go for it!
  • Control your Spending: Research the FIRE movement. FIRE stands for Financial Independence, Retire Early. The gist is keep your expenses low, invest what is left over and soon the investment return will be more than your expenses, eliminating the need to have a job. I'm not FIRE yet, but keeping expenses low is part of what kept me in business during various failures. Corollary: Max out your tax deductible retirement contributions. Mr Money Moustache has become an unofficial spokesperson for the for the FIRE movement.
  • Learn how to Communicate: Take a writing course or public speaking course. This is probably more important to your future job prospects than anything technology related. Taking a Dale Carnegie course is recommended.
  • Keep in Touch: Reach out to friends and colleagues at least once a year to say "Howdy, let's do lunch." You never know where your next opportunity will come from, and even if nothing comes of it it's good to keep connections with people.
  • Technology works on a Cycle: Everything old becomes new again. Lotus Notes was a 'NoSQL' database in the 80s/90s that worked on similar client-server principles that the web works on today. The VAX machine my college uses had dumb terminals with a server doing the heavy work--not unlike a Chromebook using Google Services. Programming languages are similar. It is often hilarious to me see "all ya kids" trumpeting these brand new concepts from 20 or 30 years ago. Corollary: Businesses also work on a cycle and decentralize their infrastructure to increase efficiency and remove bottlenecks and centralize to increase company wide cohesiveness.
  • Be Niche: I find there are more opportunities being a specialist than a generalist. But, don't be afraid to change that specialty, though. A decade ago I was one of the most prominent Flex/Flash Developers in the world, but that technology is less important today. Two decades ago I was a ColdFusion expert, a tech that is also less relevant today. Both of these skills still get me client work, though.
  • Own You: A lot of the things you'll build for employers will be owned by them. Try to own as much as you as you can. Always be aware of the rights you're giving up. I recently turned down a book deal with a major tech publisher because they would not explicitly say that my self published writings were non-competitive.
  • Read Contracts: Read something before you sign it. Ask for a copy for your records.

Hopefully you find this interesting. I'll be back next week with something more technical. ;)

Random Thoughts on 2014

Inspired by my good friend John Wilker, I thought I'd put together some random thoughts on 2014. In no particular order, here they are:

  • Patent Pending may move into my "Favorite Band" spot. Their music is clever and fun. When performing they choose energy over technical prowess, but I really don't mind. I imagine it hard to sing well while you're jumping around like a jackrabbit on speed whose fur is on fire.
  • I took a vacation to Yellowstone park and proved I can have a good time while not working.
  • A big thanks goes out to all of DotComIt's clients who keep me busy. I currently have a few consistent clients which is great on the cash flow, but not so great on fulfilling the Entrepreneurial urges.
  • I released a training course on AngularJS early in the year; and then updated it later in the year to include an extra book on NodeJS. I still sell a few "pay what you want" copies each month, but the upper tiers have all but been forgotten since the initial launch. For whatever reason, I have failed and pushing folks through a sales funnel. I really thought the six hours of Angular screencasts would be appealing; but perhaps it is not communicated well enough.
  • I play Bloon Monkey City almost every day, because everyone needs a brainless casual game to give their mind time to work.
  • I was performing an Edwin McCain song in my office and my wife said I sounded good; which is the second nicest thing she has ever said to me music-wise. Remind me to be nicer to her.
  • I reviewed 16 games for Just Adventure. That means I reviewed one third of the games they reviewed games this year. Holy Carp! I didn't realize I was that big of a contributor. The site has changed a lot since I started writing reviews for them in 2009; and a lot of my older reviews are no longer on the site. It bums me out a bit. Check out the 2014 year in review over there. I wrote the non-game parts; and edited the game parts.
  • Since ending The Flex Show, John and I don't chat nearly as much. I miss it. I gotta figure out how to use Google Hangouts at some point. I should see all of my friends more, but life gets in the way.
  • Speaking of Entrepreneurial drive; I'm working on creating a dirty card game. I have no idea if I have a good balance of naughty and entertaining or it just vulgar and offensive. I should get my first prototype today.
  • One of my songs was put on a community coder's compilation. I chose a song from my February Album Writing Month set that I liked. Speaking of which I wrote and recorded 19 songs for February Album Writing Month. Near the end of the year I started writing songs w/ Shadow. My songwriting is all mathematical while she is very artsy. It has been an interesting experience.
  • I made it another year without updating this blog's design or my company site. I really gotta do that.
  • I supported a bunch of PledgeMusic campaigns. Some people do it better than others. I'm really excited for Ryan Hamilton's album; especially since he promised us a full set of demos for the album. I eat that stuff up. Compare that to Guster whose presale prices are higher than I would expect suggested retail price to be. It is just one more time in recent years I feel like Guster is trying to rip off their biggest fans. I seem to be the only one indifferent to People On Vacation's release. It's an album I keep listening to because I don't get it and want to hear the brilliance everyone else hears. I think some of the songs are great, but the production feels like a glorified demo and not of professional quality. Sometimes I complain too much.

There are my random thoughts. Happy 2015 Everyone!

7 Random Facts About Me

This showed up on Facebook and I thought I'd make it into a blog post for no particular reason.

OK, I'm doing the random fact game. Here are 7 random facts about me you might not know.

  1. Early names suggestions for my last 'major' band, Far Cry Fly, were Ampersand, Kermit's Children, and Fozzie's Malaise.
  2. I have taken saxophone lessons, piano lessons, and voice lessons. I have taught myself guitar, bass, and drums. Other musicians say I have a great sense of timing and I accredit that to Steve Chetcuti, my saxophone teacher.
  3. My house is full of Cabbage Patch Kids, Webkins, and other random stuffed animals. We call them our "Imaginary perfect children." Someday I want to write a book about them and it will be a "Rugrats meet Winnie the Pooh" sort of thing.
  4. I have written 3 books that were published by Osborne McGrawhill. I am currently working on the fourth. These are technical books.
  5. I have participated in February Album Writing Month for four years straight; writing and recording 14 songs during the month of February. If you Google my name, some may come up on the Internet. But I'm not sure. I posted some songs on some music sites; but I forget the names.
  6. I make my own Dairy Free ice cream. Since it is Dairy Free perhaps it shouldn't be called ice cream? But, it is the same concept made with an ice cream maker.
  7. My band, Far Cry Fly, once got kicked off stage a few songs into our set. The owner walked up and said "play one more song and get off." because people were not dancing to us.

Seven Things Meme

I saw this on a friend's Live Journal and thought it was interesting enough to partake myself:

A. List seven habits/quirks/facts about yourself. B. Tag seven people to do the same. C. Do not tag the person who tagged you or say that you tag "whoever wants to do it."

  • There are about a dozen cabbage patch kids, 50 webkins, and hundreds of other assorted animals throughout my house. I don't have kids.
  • I can solve the Rubik's Cube, most of the time in under five minutes.
  • I spent >$200 for this ergonomically correct keyboard drawer, and >$600 for this ergonomically correct chair, but still have a crappy desk which I believe prevents me from working in an ergonomically correct way. I blame the constant dull ache on the right side of my jaw to ergonomic issues.
  • I have been Pepsi / cola free since the Sunday after last Thanksgiving. It has affected my ability to work in an extremely positive way; instead of putting in 4-6 hour days I can put in 10-12 hour days. I'm more aware and more efficient and I can get things done. I did go out to Wendy's with the wife and have a Frosty Float w/ Root Beer a few days ago. Most of the time I drink water and various juices. I want to start juicing my own fruits and vegetables.
  • The first loaf of bread I ever made came out very salty, I think I mistook teaspoons and tablespoons in the measurements. I would be less liable to do that if there was a consistent abbreviation for them. I think I'm learning that 'b' means tablespoons and no 'b' means teaspoons.
  • I did not pick up the phone call two--now three--times this morning. I woke up late and am still shaking the dust off.
  • Coming up with seven items was harder than I thought, but I'm not going to tag anyone.

2009 Holiday Letter Plus a Look Forward

This is a slightly modified version of the Holiday letter that T and I sent out. If you didn't get one, but thought you should have, let me know. T wrote most of this because I Was too lazy.

The year has, indeed, been busy. Most of the year was consumed with wedding stuff. In fact, if you look closely, you'll still find things that need to be put away; the twinkle lights from our wedding reception are doubling up as winter decorations.

2008 concluded with a trip to PA to meet some Houser relatives that T had never met and Jeffry still can't remember the names of. The rest of our winter was low key, with some local hiking and short trips to the Poconos and Boston.

Summer eventually came, which gave T more time to prepare for the wedding. We spent thousands of dollars at Home Depot to make our house presentable. The monotony of house projects was broken up by some short trips to VA and Vermont.

Our wedding weekend was not traditional. We started the weekend with several competitive games of laser tag and some yummy pizza. We did the deed before a beautiful cascading waterfall in the middle of the woods. Back at the house, we enjoyed an all day delicious barbeque styled open house reception. The next day, we headed to a local amusement park for some enjoyment. Jeffry's car was broken into the next day; but we still closed the weekend with a trip to the Yedinak Farm in Moscow, PA. We took a tractor ride, hung out by the pond, and picked backyard blueberries.

T's long-time friend, Irina, came in for the wedding from Moscow, Russia, with her daughter, Juli. They spent 2 weeks visiting Mystic, Boston, and many other local affairs. It had been 15 years since they'd seen each other!

The summer ended quickly when it was time for T to go back to the classroom, teaching eager young minds in the 4th and 5th grade. September and October were relaxed, but November had Jeffry bouncing all over the Northeast promoting Flextras, his set of UI Components for Flex Developers.

In November, T and Jeffry traveled to Newport, RI, meeting up with the Houser clan for a Cliff Walk and a trip to the Coggeshall Farm Museum. Next, they headed up to Vermont for a Guster concert. Then we had a rural Pennsylvania Thanksgiving meal at Jeff's brother's place in State College, PA. And finally, T got to be a tour guide when another friend from Russia, visited CT!

Our first Christmas together was spent, ironically, apart, a mutual decision to satisfy Jeffry the Homebody and T the Traveler. T went to Williamsburg, VA with her friend Rachel and enjoyed 3 days of sightseeing which included a side trip to Jamestown.

So, that was our Holiday letter; which got snail mailed out last week sometime. I'm not sure what the next year holds for us, but here are some things I expect to do in no particular order:

  • I expect to do more home cooking and add more fruit and vegetables to my diet.
  • There is a chance I'll buy a juicer, funds permitting. The thought of juicing your own veggies holds a strange appeal for me.
  • I did not buy replacement pages for my day timer, instead moving to Google Calendar synced with my iPod touch. So far so good.
  • I expect to have no more conversations about when the decade really starts, or ends.
  • There is a slight chance I'll switch from Blockbuster On-line to Netflix, part due to the streaming service, part due to the fact that if I build an app against the Netflix API I can expense the account
  • I will find a good, simple, bread recipe and finally use our baking stone and peel. I also plan to finally make some Pizza [from scratch] for T. I used to do it all the time with moderate success, but not in ages.
  • I'm going to try to participate in February's National Album Writing Month. Want to write a song or two with me? Are you in the area?
  • I will be a success!

Wedding Party Post Mortem - All the Nitpicky Stuff

My big wedding reception is over, and I'm wearing a silver-esque titanium band on one of the fingers of my left hand. We hiked out to a waterfall for our wedding ceremony in the middle of the woods with around 30 friends and relatives. Then we took a lot of photos, with and without various folks and hiked back to the parking lot, then onward to the reception which had a much larger guest list.

I love lists, so here is my list of various random thoughts about my wedding and reception.

  • Guest Count: Life is about the lessons you learn. And this time I learned a lesson that I should have already learned from my friends, the conference organizers. You will get some no-show guests. And you will have extra food! Our original invite list was 128 people, give or take. We told the caterer to expect 100 people, at the time expecting 96 people. That was mistake number one.
    We wanted to be clear in case the four "unknowns" made an appearance. That was foolish on our part. The final number of attendees was 93. We paid for seven extra meals, threw out a lot of food, and are still eating leftovers. We could have paid for 85 meals and have had plenty.
  • The Pre-Event Consultation: Our photographer gave us a free event consultation. It was just a PDF form that we filled out and e-mailed back to her. It was basically, a refresher course on the information we had already discussed. That was an absolutely brilliant idea.
    I wish we had done that with the caterer, and the friend who was going to let in the caterer. I have a lot of nitpicky complaints about the day. For example, we could have countered the "you didn't get enough water" with "there are 7 unopened cases in the basement." Someone, unknowingly, went out to buy more water [and cups]. We didn't find out until much later.
  • The people you expect to be there for you won't always be the ones who actually help out: Some folks certainly went above and beyond their call of duty. One of T's sister's best friends orchestrated our "great house de-cluttering" and watched the house to let in the caterer while we were off "doing stuff". One of my brother's friends let us borrow his big camping coolers, and he wasn't even a wedding guest. At last minute, I had my friend Tim drive me to the ceremony. And he ended up acting limo driver for T and I on the way home.
    On the other hand, we had to field a lot of complaints about hiking to a waterfall in the middle of the woods for a ceremony. God forbid we ask an American to walk somewhere. The amount of times people told us "You can't do that" during the planning process was just insane. We can, and we did!
  • Get it in writing: You'd think that me, of all people, would have known this. Our caterer painted a fantastic picture of how the event could work within the constraints of our property. After all is said and done that is probably why she got the job. Unfortunately, a lot of things we talked about were not explicitly stated in the final contract; and therefore never occurred. A few things that were explicitly stated in the contract got ignored. My family strongly suggested I write a letter to the caterer before blogging it, but things are so nitpicky I decided against it. Here are a few examples or my complaints:
    • Extras: We bought lemons, lime, lemonade, and iced tea based on her suggestion that we create a drink station so people can grab stuff "on their own." She was going to bring water pictures and make it all look pretty. The drinks were to balance out the bar which would have water and soda delivered by a bartender. It was not explicitly stated in the contract and I didn't ask because there was no cost associated with it. All this extra drink went untouched.
    • Casual Dress: The caterer has a bunch of different outfits that they wear for different events. For our casual outdoor August event, they were supposed to be in Hawaiian shirts and shorts. Yet, when we showed up they were all formal in black and white. I hate formal. I feel bad for the employees who were not in their more comfortable / appropriate clothes. Who would have thought that I'd have to enforce a dress code in a contract? I guess next time I know.
    • Tables: The caterer was contractually supposed to provide banquet tables for the bar and buffet. But, instead they used some of ours, which were earmarked for other purposes. Since our tables were not long enough, they brought the antique card table I inherited from my grandmother to extend the buffet. I didn't realize that until much later. The table has slight sentimental value and I do not bring it outside.
    • Schedule: We were having a big open house for seven hours and wanted food service for most of that time. I had proposed a six hour schedule, which the caterer pushed back to five hours. However, we were not on the same page here. I wanted five hours of food service. She wanted five hours on-site, which means about two hours of food service.
      Due to the open house nature of the event, there was supposed to be carry over between food and desert. I was fine if people who showed up six hours into the event didn't have hot food served to them. But folks who showed up two hours in should have been. No, the food service stopped after about an hour. Desert was only a half hour after that. I estimate that 10% of our guests showed up after food service stopped. I'm embarrassed by the quality of service I offered to my guests. It bugs me.
  • Where is my Stuff?: While I am quite happy with all the assistance we got cleaning up our house, I think a few people took it too far. We are still finding stuff to be missing or put in the wrong shelves. The one major missing pieces is the cookbooks that were kept on the kitchen nook shelf. Where did they end up to?

I could go on and on about nitpicky things. But, overall I think everyone has a list of nitpicky things to say about their wedding party, right? That is the thing that stories are made of.

The fact is, I got to spend some quality time with ninety three close friends and family. And it was not a two hour whirlwind that most couples are forced through.

I plan to do another post on the business of weddings that takes a clear look at the financial numbers, along with some theorizing on the whole "gift grab" nature of weddings.

We'll probably try another big party again for our 10th anniversary. When that comes around, remind to to find and read this post. I'm sure I'll have forgotten all the mistakes we made this time. And at that point, we'll be independently wealthy with our own island and the guest list will be 1,000 people, amplifying our mistakes tenfold.

Until then!

Wedding Photographer Woes

So, I'm getting hitched, yada yada yada. There has been a huge photographer drama. my good friend let me rattle on about this for a bit. I think our conversation sums up my thoughts on the situation rather nicely. Here are some, excerpts. I expanded where I thought appropriate:

D: you are being educated about wedding photographers right now though
D: Did you find someone?
Me: : laughs:
D: I take that as a no, you can't agree on terms?
Me: Formally no. It's a very long story.
Me: The Photographer in question is one of T's grammar school friends. I think they reconnected on facebook about a year or so ago.
D: Ah
D: I've done my share of weddings myself
D: it's stressful
Me: So, they worked out a price--which is relatively cost effective--and I said send a contract, which they did. Apparently both T and the Photographer friend got seriously upset as I suggested alternate contract terms.

T is being wish-washy about the whole thing. She just wants two things. Her friend to come to the wedding and have fun and take pictures and give us the pictures. I'm fine with that. And she wants a professional photographer to create picture perfect pictures. I'm fine with that too.

Unfortunately, I don't believe that it can't be both ways.

If we want to invite her friend to the wedding and tell her to take pictures, awesome great. We'll tell everyone to bring cameras and pay no one for the privilege. Most of the guests will probably be taking pictures or video anyway.

But, if we want to hire a professional photographer, that's fine and dandy too. But, once money is changing hands, *I* need to treat it like a professional relationship; not as a "handshake deal" with a friend. By professional relationship, I mean getting a contract, defining roles of each party, defining the deliverable. I do this type of stuff every day. DotComIt has some serious troubles in our early years by not having a comprehensive contract.

The Photographer sent over a contract based on discussions with T and her had. I read through the contract and had one major sticking point. Payment was due in full a week before the ceremony. That means we'd be shelling all this cash before they do any work. As a business owner myself, I have serious issues with that, and had no problems saying it.

I know the photographers puts in time and I have no problems putting down a deposit. There is also a deliverable in the contract: Digital Copies of all the pictures they took on a CD [or DVD, I forget which]. That comes 4 weeks after the wedding. Why should we pay in full 5 weeks before the deliverable, and one week before they do any work at all?

If we pay in full a week before the wedding; what is their incentive to even show up?

I offered options, one of which was a 3 tiered payment plan (30/30/30) or even (50/30/20).

This conversation apparently upset both T and the photographer friend.

After much discussion, the photographer friend left 3 options on the table:

  • Do it there way
  • Pay "full price" (92% more), and get my preferred contract terms
  • they don't come and it destroys the friendship forever

Quite frankly, anyone who puts number 3 on the table is not someone I want to do business with and is not someone I want at my wedding. What type of friend would say that to another?

I may have made things worse--as I sometimes inadvertently do. At some point early in the negotiation--before the poop was flying--T said to me "We may lose our photographer" and I said "Well, then we lose our photographer!" From my perspective, it is a business relationship and nothing I was asking for was unusual.

T is now worried that no matter what happens, that if this photographer is there, I'll be ornery in all the pictures; thereby ruining them all. I never thought of myself as one to hold a grudge until then. It sounds exactly like something I'd do. I wouldn't intentionally ruin pictures, but I'm just incapable of hiding my mood / feeling. Shame on the photographer who can't capture that on film. I believe I may be permanently tainted against that photographer.

I get the impression that the photographer's husband is giving her flack about the low cost she promised to do the photos for. And my requests just added stress to the process--although I don't understand why. Wouldn't a professional photographer deal with these types of negotiation all the time?

I was presented with various arguments that were completely unrelated to the root of my problem. Here are some of them and why I don't care:

  • They'll have to pay for gas: I'll admit it's going to be a trip down from Boston area. But, transportation costs are just part of doing business. They'd have to pay for gas regardless of how much we are paying them.
  • They'll have to take time of work: What work? I thought we were hiring professional photographers to come to photograph our wedding. They will be working our 'wedding' not the wedding of someone else. This is work!
  • They have to rent a camera and other equipment: A photographer doesn't have a camera? Oh, I understand it is a special camera just for this event. But, even so that is the expense of the person I'm hiring and should not be used as an excuse to charge me more.
  • They Deserve More Money: I'm not sure how to quantify this issue. The amount being paid out has come up multiple times in conversations w/ T. But, I don't understand why. It is not something I ever once tried to negotiate, or even complained about. The original number was also proposed by the photographer, not by us. I do have cash flow considerations as I'm trying to start a new business selling ya'll Flex Components, So, yes money outflow is a consideration. But, I never once tried to negotiate the cost. That was never a sticking point with me.

I have spoken to some people who hire photographers for their time; and any prints / pictures they want to buy are covered at a later date. In that case, I can rationalize paying in full on the day or week of the wedding. We have that type of arrangement with the caterer. But, that is not the case with the photographer agreement, which has a clearly defined deliverable 4 weeks after the ceremony.

Here is the finish up of my conversation w/ Dee:

Me: This has been a bone of contention for the past few days. :-) Did my words get heated when it came up?
D: HA, yes very much on fire

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