Groundhog days

white ceramic mug with coffee on top of a planner

The importance of routine

I finished reading James Clear’s Atomic Habits a couple nights ago, and I knew as soon as I read the first couple pages that it was going to have a profound effect on my family and I. Before I do a full review on it, I wanted to detail the current schedule that we’re trying to stick to around the house.

Morning

4-7AM: Wake up. I don’t use an alarm, and my body’s yet to settle into a consistent schedule. Six seems to be the sweet spot, but five would probably be ideal. I get out of bed, use the bathroom and take my pills and supplements. Currently niacin, magnesium, lysine, plus my statin and a baby asprin. I go downstairs, set two cups of water in the microwave for my tea, and do a set of squats and pushups while I wait. The tea goes in my thermal insulated mug, to cool down while I meditate for twenty minutes. Then I sit down to write.

If I’m lucky I can get a good deal of writing done before the girls wake up. They have a routine also. After waking up, they’re supposed to get dressed and brush their teeth. Breakfast, and then it’s their responsibility to empty and load the dishwasher. I do all the plates and cups that go up high, but I expect them to straighten up the breakfast dishes, and make sure their bathroom and bedrooms are tidy. I’ve been using the Rooster app to reinforce this with what I call DadPoints.

8AM: Work starts. Coffee. My wife has to sign on to her WFH at eight, and I’ve got a scrum call with the Zombie team at nine. To keep the kids out of my hair during this call I give them their first of two hours or television from eight thirty to nine thirty, when the markets open. I check my value average targets, and then (try) to keep working through till lunch. The kids have a snack at ten, then a half hour of outside play, or some sort of activity video if it’s raining. They like the GoNoodle app, and Younger likes the Cosmic Kids yoga videos. They have free time the rest of the morning.

Lunch

11AM-Noon: I intermittent fast, and usually have the same lunch every day: some sort of chicken sandwich wrap with a cup of nuts. I do a set of pushups before I eat. Usually I make lunch for the kids at the same time, PB&J or grilled cheese with ramen or whatever leftover vegetables we’ve got in the fridge. Missus take a break at noon, and I usually take some time to get away from the kids for a few minutes while she takes over for a bit. I usually try to spend twenty minutes at the piano, running through whatever piece I’m working on at the time.

1-3PM: Everyone is back to work, including the girls. School begins. Elder does her homework before her one thirty Zoom call. I run through alphabet flash cards with Younger and help her with Khans Kids before turning her loose to watch PBS Kids. I’m usually done with whatever I’ve got to do for Zombie and turn my attention to whatever tasks I’ve got for my various consults. Or I check LinkedIn for whatever jobs I can find. Sometimes I’ll watch a show with the girls if they’ve been good and I’ll reward them with some extra TV time. They get their second hour of day at three.

Dinner

4-7:30PM: I do most of the cooking, and most times dinner is from scratch. I try to have things ready by five or five thirty, then cleanup takes us to six thirty, when we give the girls their melatonin. I normally do the pots and pans and rest of the hand wash, I’ve been training the girls to clear and wipe down the table and chairs, and how to sweep the floor. Missus usually supervises their bath and getting ready for bed. We spend an hour talking or reading in the bed, snuggling the girls, and they’re usually out by seven thirty.

Night shift

8-10PM: I spend the last part of the night working on whatever else I can do on the computer, whether it’s coding, doing tasks for a consult, or writing a cover letter for a job application. I might watch Last Week Tonight or a couple episodes of Silicon Valley with Missus if she’s up, but I usually avoid spending too much time watching the boob tube unless I’m really drained.

10-11PM: Screens are off. I make an exception for reading books on the iPad, but my phone is kept downstairs, out of the bedroom. I do a set of pushups, brush my teeth, take a melatonin, and read until I start to feel tired. Right now I’ve got Elegant Python, on the iPad which I read for about 20 minutes, then put the iPad away and finish up with whatever book I’m working through. The past two weeks I’ve read Freakanomics, Siddartha, and Atomic Habits. Next on my list is Designing Your Life.

Lights are out by eleven. Rinse, repeat.


So that’s the ideal that I try to stick to these days, the general template for it, anyways. There’s a lot left out, obviously, and a lot changes based on circumstances of scheduling and whatever else needs to be done out of the ordinary, like ordering groceries or whatever. I didn’t write about the weekend, but I’ll say that one major change that I’ve made has been to keep my sleep schedule the same. No more staying up till two AM drinking and playing video games. It throws the next morning off, which eventually bleeds into Monday. It’s just better if I maintain the same wake up time. As I said, my body is still struggling to adjust to waking up at a consistent time.

I also need to figure out when to fit in proper exercise time. Since I’ve already prioritized my mornings for writing, I’ll have to figure out how to fit it in. I was doing it at four in the afternoon, but that tends to run into dinner preparation. I just need to keep getting to bed on time and figure out where I can fit it in. The sets of push ups that I scatter through the day are the least I can do, and the kids usually wind up getting my heart rate up when they want me to horseplay or have a dance party with them.

The kids are obviously the biggest challenge, since so much of the day I’ve got them doing free play. They’re pretty good most times, but when the get bored, or start fighting, I’m the one that gets pulled away from whatever I’m doing to deal with it. That aside, I think I’ve got a pretty powerful routine that allows me to accomplish a lot, even if it’s not as much as I would like to. And helping the kids establish good habits is important also, not just for their future success, but also to help take some of the load off of my wife and I. Sure, sometimes it’s just easier to do a chore for them, but when Elder starts doing the things she’s supposed to without being prompted, it’s beautiful.

Morning in America

The White House at night, with the lights turned off.

After a dark, dark night.

I woke up this morning, following strange dreams where the roads were flooded and I wound up in some kind of speak easy. The clock said 4AM and I knew there was no point in trying to go back to sleep. I walked outside to meditate and the sky was clear, the stars bright in the sky. In the distance, I could hear someone on a crotch rocket, barreling down the avenue half a mile away. I’m slowly waking up, and the sun is starting to creep up over the treeline to the east.

The tranquility of the house seems false, like an illusion. The news and images of the outside world are two much for our brains to handle, just pixels on a screen that are screaming to be consumed, fingers always scrolling, liking, reposting. Different accounts, trying to choose which voice to use, which identity to be as I furiously post. The feeds start to blend together, encroach on each other as the unrest spreads like wildfire and consumes everything else. The chaos has subsumed everything, the brain is in distress, scrolling more, more, more: what is happening.

Missus said she did the same thing during 9/11, just watching the towers fall over and over and over. This time the images are different, protesters corralled and tear gassed, people pulled from cars, eyes lost to “nonleathal” rounds, “serve and obey” now forgotten as the country is engulfed in a police riot. There’s the posturing and strong words, there’s the green light to the militias. And then the photo op, split-screened for the world to see, Dear Leader, announcing Law and Order, walking to a church and posing with a Bible like he’s never seen a book before. And still, admirers, “a power move”, one said.

I want very hard to write about anything else right now, but how can there be anything else? Madness, madness, madness. Our President, so long enamored of dictators and strongmen the world over, has just declared martial law, war on his own citizens, and done it with a photo op that would make Kim Jong Un jealous. Declared a non-existent organization, Antifa, as a terrorist organization, as an excuse to crack down on political opponents. Sitting Congressmen, calling “no quarter” for those who take to the streets. It is all happening so fast, but so slowly.

The condemnation was swift. The outrage, immediate. Nearly as soon as he was done talking, the price of bitcoin shot up some seven percent, a vote to defund the State, as one put it. Pols and pundits expressing disbelief, shock and amazement. No, that’s not fair, many people expected this, knew this would happen the night he won. Still, “this is not the America we have known, this is something dangerous.” The President is mad.

The seven percent spike occurred right after the President stopped talking.

I have told my friends I see no way out of this. There are no leaders able to contain this fire. We are headed to civil war, revolution, or dictatorship. The Reichstag is burning. The Left will be blamed, even as police and alt-right provocateurs are exposed time and time again. We cannot escape this. There is too much technical debt in the system, a reboot in necessary.

I managed to put the phone down at the prescribed hour and made my way to bed, one habit still more powerful than the need to scroll, scroll, scroll. Missus stayed down another half hour while I read, then came back up to tell me that the world was turning their backs on us, pulling out of the G7. Good, or not? We talked about getting passports renewed, and some for the girls. Something on our to-do list for weeks now, but that seems more urgent now. The girls are too young to understand what’s going on, to know what we’re losing. We’ve been careful to keep our phones out of their view when we’re looking at what’s going on, leave the room to listen to anything. There’s no way to explain this to them.

Life goes on, for now. We stick to our routines. Make plans. Enjoy the silence and the stillness of the morning, like nothing has changed. Just the long, slow emergency that is America, burning like the sun that is now rising up over the horizon.

Building, day by day

toddler's playing building block toys

Yesterday was quite a day. I started the day by seasoning my new outdoor griddle that I got for my birthday, and then Missus and I had with mimosas for breakfast. We wound up tying one on later in the day. I still managed to weed eat the yard, and made several runs to the hardware store for mulch and some other projects around the house. So we were mostly productive before we started pigging out and watching TV. We watched Spirited Away with the kids. I wound up letting Elder stay up after Missus and Younger went to bed — for which I am paying for currently. And I managed to trip while walking up the stairs, hyper-extending my big toe and separating the nail from the bed.

So yes, it was a good day. So good, in fact, that Missus and I are both tempted to take a sick day from work. It’s not practical, though. I’ve already got client meetings scheduled and have a lot that I want to get done today. I’m running a bit late, so today’s post will have to be a short one. It’s important to keep up the habit.

I try not to look at analytics before I start a post, it’s a distraction that I can usually avoid. Today I was curious though, or maybe I should say pleased that traffic has slowly been ramping up. I’m hoping the trend continues. I’ve actually had not one, but two comments posted in as many days. It’s the post about the Moban WordPress hack, one of my most popular.

Most mornings, like today, I don’t know what I’m going to write when I sit down at my writing spot to begin. Sometimes I might have a flash of insight during meditation of something that I want to write about. I hardly ever plan things out in a concrete way. Most of the time when I do that I write under my real name. The Business as Operating Systems post was an anomaly in that regard, in that I knew I was writing something that I was going to post elsewhere, and I had a specific audience in mind when I wrote it. Most of the time, I’m just writing for myself.

It’s been a little over a year since I started writing regularly. I didn’t really make it a habit until July of last year, and fell off a bit in the winter. Now, it’s the first thing I do every morning after I meditate, and before I do anything else. Posts like these serve as my morning pages in a way. On the one hand, I hope to be able to look back in a year and be reminded of who I was and what my life was like. Hopefully I’ll be able to look back on these in ten or twenty years and see how far I’ve come. In a way, I suppose my main audience is my future self. In some way, I hope I’m writing for my daughters, and that when I’m gone they’ll be able to go back and read what was going through my mind as I was raising them. Perhaps having paper journals would be better for that, though.

I read somewhere recently from another author that the audience that they have in mind when they write is a younger version of themselves. They’re focused on helping people who are six months or maybe five years away from where he is now. It’s an admirable aim, and one that I hope to model. For now, I’ll keep writing, and keep building, word by word and brick by brick. Metaphorically, of course, since the things I’m building are web pages and software systems. I’m building a life also of course.

And that is the most important design project of all.

America is on Fire

Justice for George Floyd is Justice for America

It’s been a long time since I’ve gotten political on here, but after last night, watching cities across America descend into chaos, I feel I have to say something. There’s so much pain being felt in this country by the African American community, so much despair among those who have lost their jobs in the past few month, and so much anger, that it’s hard to see how we come out of this intact.

Missus and I stayed up late last night, scrolling through our phones, watching cops and protesters confront each other. There was a man who got beat up by a crowd of people and had his car overturned and torched after he shot an arrow into a crowd of people. He lived. There was a shopkeeper who got kicked unconscious by a mob after trying to defend his shop with a sword. I don’t think he lived. NYPD using their vehicles to ram people blocking the streets. Police stations going up in flames across the country. People I know getting tear gassed and pepper sprayed by riot police. And you have a literal dumpster fire burning outside the white house.

It seems a lifetime ago that I was watching protesters in Hong Kong scuffle with police and wondering what it was going to take to get Americans out. Well, now we have our answer. One more black man, murdered by indifferent police officers, and captured on camera. This, on top of weeks of coronavirus lockdown, millions of jobs lost, and decades of lost opportunity, a generation without a purpose. And on top of all this, the President, fanning the flames on Twitter, speaking the language of white supremacy.

At this point I fear that we are headed to either full revolution, or dictatorship. Either would mean civil war, and I don’t see how we escape from that in the next five months before the election. I don’t think Trump wants us to escape from that. This administration has thrived on chaos from day one, and it’s the only way that he maintains his hold on power. He’s been telegraphing support for white nationalists with his words, and demonstrating with his actions that there will be no consequences for military and police who execute it.

Of course the riots and other violent protests have brought out the usual tropes about black people burning down their own neighborhood, and the response of riots being the language of the oppressed and unheard. The one that’s been on my mind lately has been the one from Kennedy: “Those who make peaceful change impossible make violent revolution inevitable.” The thing that bothers me the most in these times is that it is so easy for a right-wing instigator to don a black mask and attack someone so that it gets blamed on Antifa or the protesters. I’m hearing chatter about this now, about far-right ‘Boogaboos’, who want to goad America into a race war. Well, mission accomplished. I just wonder what difference it’s going to make to the average citizen.

And making everything even more bizarre is success of Space X’s first manned launch into orbit. It’s the first time since the space shuttle program ended that a manned launch has taken off from American soil. A running joke that I saw on Twitter in various forms was congratulating the astronauts for deciding to leave Earth on this particular day.

I’m a bit numb to all of it right now, this morning. I haven’t looked at my phone since I woke up, and I’m not sure I can go on there right now without getting lost. I’m waiting for a leader that can bring America together, but I don’t think there is one. Trump is only speaking to one segment of the population, his base. And no one really wants to hear anything Joe Biden has to say. Part of me keeps thinking about Bernie, whether we’d be here if he was president or even the nominee right now. It’s useless imagining. And there’s nothing for me to do about it.

I’d managed to stay detached from what’s been going on. I still haven’t watched the video of George Floyd calling for his momma while four cops pin him to the ground, and I don’t think I ever will. But last night, I sat and watched this video of Killer Mike speaking at a news conference in Atlanta, and it brought home how real things are getting out there. I’m hoping that someone like Reverend Barber can help pull us together, cause it definitely isn’t coming from the White House, and I doubt it’s going to come from the Democratic establishment. For now, there’s nothing for my wife and I to do but to stay home and take care of our family and act like nothing outside our door has changed.

Elder has caught me scrolling on my phone the past few days and has caught a glimpse of the images of unrest. I turned off my phone after she an image of George Floyd with a knee on his neck, and she asked me what was going on. “The police murdered a man because he is black,” I told her straight up. I’d decided some time ago not to lie or try to sugar coat things. If I want to raise an adult I’d better start treating her like one.

“They can’t do that,” she said, getting ready to repeat back something she learned in one of her history or civil rights-themed children’s’ books, “black people are equal under the law.”

Bless that kid, I thought. “Yes they are honey, and that’s why people are so mad.”

Losing The Cornerstone: 60 Days to 6 Figures, Day 22

blue Work Harder neon signage

Yesterday was very productive. I wrote almost two thousand words yesterday, double what I consider a good writing session. It took most all of the morning, since I had to take several breaks, both to take care of the kids and have my regular Zombie. LLC, scrum call. After I published here, I went and created a Substack and reposted there. I also published it as a LinkedIn article and shared with one of my groups there. I think I’m done with long-form on Medium, although I’m not sure.

I think the Substack could prove most interesting. I’ve got a considerable mailing list through my political campaigns and crypto blog that I ran, probably close to seventeen hundred addresses, not to mention the piles of business cards that have been sitting in my organizer for the past year. I think I’ll wait a week to decided, and come up with another article before I do anything. Hopefully I can “build my tribe” as the saying goes, and maybe even earn some subscriptions out of it.

Zombie lost another client yesterday. Our cornerstone client, one of our first. Boss said our runway was very short. I had to press him on how short several times before he wagered a guess. I figured two weeks, he said another month. It’s very unlikely that we’ll be picking up enough new business to make up for what we’ve lost in the last six months. The writing is on the wall. I can’t imagine what’s going through Boss’s head right now.

Losing the cornerstone, beyond the ramifications for Zombie, have affected my plans for picking up the pieces. I was hoping to take the cornerstone and another with me if/when Zombie folds, but the client was basically lost to another firm without even a “chance to compete”. We’ve known there was a change in ownership among the partners at the firm, but it looks like we failed to foster the relationship with the new primary, and they have apparently been talking to this new firm for at least several weeks. Neither Boss nor I know the details yet, hopefully I can find out when I talk to my contact over there on Monday.

I had a call with the CEO of the new firm yesterday. I stalked him on LinkedIn and sent a connect request, which he accepted. Boss had deridingly referred to them as “fly by night” when he broke the news to me in the morning, but their website wasn’t that bad. Looks like a husband and wife team, with two engineers. The CEO even publishes some long-form content to their blog, which I thought was nice. The call was professional, even though we were blindsided.

I’ve got my first call lined up next week. It’s not a formal interview, but the position is very lucrative. I’m not so much interested in the position as I am in getting to know the CEO and figuring out what the company is like to work for. I don’t want to jump at the first thing that comes up, but I’ll consider any offer with a salary over $100,000 to be a successful conclusion to this goal.

I’ve also been sending out my resume, yesterday I managed to send a finely crafted email out to a staffing agency about a six month contract position. I’m not sure it’s going to fit my requirements, but I think it matches what I’m doing now, and I may need something to fall back on. That’s one line that I’m trying to tread, between jobs that I’m qualified for and those with the skills I want to learn. I’m passing on a lot of positions right now because they have high experience requirements on certain software development skills, but I’m pretty much saving everything else for targeting.

Right now most of my targeting has been through LinkedIn jobs, and I’m also going through my wish list of other big tech firms, ones like Gitlab, Square, Stripe, and Coinbase, for example. So far, I’ve been struggling to find positions that fit, since most of the software development or engineering jobs that are available don’t fit my experience. I’ll keep slogging though.

Each day is just another day to keep plodding forward, taking a step here and there to keep moving forward in the direction that I want. Keep building my network, keep working on my projects and making them better, bit by bit, and building the habits that will bring me success. That’s all that I have control over, and I know that success will follow.

Businesses as operating systems

worm's eye-view photography of ceiling

How to automate, and eliminate, bottlenecks in your business operations

I’ve noticed a trend in tech lately, as more startups and firms begin adopting software development methodologies toward operations. It’s a useful paradigm, and one that I’m trying to implement personally and professionally in both my firm’s operations as well as those of our clients. There are some businesses that are more suited for this than others. Obviously software firms and startups trying to find traction are more likely to fit into this kind of approach, but traditional service and brick and mortar stores can see benefits from them as well, especially from a change management perspective.

Every business is a software business.

Watt’s S. Humphrey

If you haven’t realized it yet, all businesses are now software businesses. And if you haven’t, I guarantee one of your competitors has and is figuring out a way to do it. Customer’s want options, and if you’re not providing them with ways to reduce friction in their operations, then someone else is going to.

Make a decision once

In Principles, Ray Dalio writes about businesses as systems, and the importance of offloading the decision making process out of one’s heads, to series of standard operating algorithms that can be written down as a series of principles. These guides serve as a reference for future decisions, not just by yourself, but by the rest of your team, and can be invaluable for new hires. Of course this information can eventually be turned to an algorithm, and used to automate the decision-making process.

The challenge of course, is figuring out where to capture this information. If you’re not doing it personally, I recommend starting with pen and paper. Teams can use email, electronic documents, or whatever your current messaging platform, e.g. Teams, Slack, or even Discord. The important habit here is to make the decision criteria concrete, and to continually revisit these principles the next time a similar decision needs to be made. You may not be able to automate every decision in this way, but the process can serve as a filter for a majority of the decisions that come your way.

Writing down the decision making process also has another key benefit: defining your values and helping you focus on your market.

Agile Workflow

If your business is struggling to find it’s footing, either as a new venture or as a established firm that is dealing with a rapidly changing market, then you need to build, iterate, and refine, quickly. Whether that means refining your operations, or pivoting the product or service you deliver, you’ll need agility to survive.

Agile is the name given to a software management process first defined two decades ago. It uses the concepts of short sprints, usually a two to six week period, where a team focuses on delivering a particular feature, or refinement to an existing process. Agile is a contrast to the previous, waterfall style development process, which had long development times. By the time a usable prototype was delivered, the requirements might have changed considerably. Focusing on smaller chunks of time ensures that effort is not wasted on delivering services that don’t align with business objectives, and allows development teams to make sure their deliverables are in line with customer or internal requirements.

User stories

There’s another key component from Agile methodology that is extremely helpful for designing business processes and services: the user story.

One mistake often found in business is the solution in search of a problem. Tech people, myself included, have often seen a new product or tool and start trying to sell the product or process to internal or external client without having a clear idea off the use case around it. I have been particularly egregious about this in the past. During my conversations with clients, I find that while they may have a clear picture off the service that they would like or are trying to provide, they may have trouble providing a clear picture of what success looks like. They might know that they need new network infrastructure, or a web site, but their idea of what that means from a capabilities standpoint might be very different from the perspective of the team implementing it. This inevitably leads to friction, whether as scope creep, or service interruptions which impact the client.

The Agile approach to this, which I’ve begun implementing to business systems, is to focus on the user stories, and make sure that there is a clear sync between the business unit’s expectations and those of the technical team. In the case of a new project, this usually requires brainstorming to specifically flesh out the myriad ways that a deliverable will be used. For existing businesses, this may be as simple as shadowing workers to enumerate a list of their various activities through out the day. When I’m working with a client focusing on an external application, I usually ask them to start by describe the customer journey in as much detail as possible. This epic is then broken down into concrete, actionable user stories.

There are several criteria for a well-defined user story. It must focus on a specific type of user role, it must be discrete, and it must be testable. This last component is the most critical from a technical perspective. A lot of time, business goals might be defined in broad or vague language which lacks specific requirements for success. By writing your system goals down as individual, testable units, you define a way to test for success, while also providing your team with a target that can be accomplished within a short sprint time frame.

Give up the paper

Over the years, I’ve walked into too many businesses and looked with dismay on large stack of paper, whether they are service work orders, purchasing or other tracking materials. While there may be certain governmental regulatory environments that still require paper, for most commercial and consumer-based businesses, this is a sign of stagnation. It could be death knell. It’s 2020, and there is hardly a justifiable excuse for a business to generate huge volumes of paper documents as part of day to day operations. There are literally hundreds of app or software as a service (SAAS) vendors targeting most established business sectors.

The most common excuse that I hear as to why a firm hasn’t migrated their service operations or other processes to an electronic system is that it “doesn’t meet all of our needs”. This is usually used as justification to do nothing, continuing with labor-wasting inefficient duplication of work. Paper forms are scanned, copied and entered into another spreadsheet or accounting system, as employees keep up with the inefficient system. Instead of choosing a vendor that can meet a majority of their needs, they let one or two small use cases stop progress in its tracks.

Even if a business can’t find the perfect vendor or SAAS product to meet their needs, there’s no reason one can’t find ways to make smaller improvements. I find that most businesses aren’t even taking advantage of the software and vendors that they’re already using. One of the most common examples I find are Office365 Premium users who are just using it for desktop apps and email, and don’t even realize the services that they’re getting for free, like Teams, SharePoint, Planner. One of the things I’ve been focusing with my existing O365 clients is showing them how all these tools work together, and figuring out how to use Teams, Flow and PowerApps to eliminate phone and email traffic. Tools like Airtable are also fantastic, and I’m hoping to be able to build more services using the various text and voice tools available from Twilio.

Connect your services: APIs, APIs, APIs

If I had to guess, I’d say most firms currently have around a dozen different apps, vendors and services that they use on a regular basis, platforms for work and time tracking, accounting, inventory, communications, and so on. Ask yourself, how does data flow through these different systems? How is it generated? As with paper records, manual data entry from one system to another is usually cumbersome, inefficient, and most important of all, unnecessary. It can also lead to error.

selective focus photography of computer code monitor display

Enterprise firms have long relied on electronic data interchanges (EDI) to transfer structured data between partners. These days, most applications allow some soft of import/export functionality via CSV files, but a more modern approach to this is via an application programming interface, or API. The most common API protocol is called REST, and it allows you to perform create, read, update, and delete (CRUD) operations on your data. Having a full REST API available to your all of your various services not only allows them to talk to each other, but also allows you to automate the various processes that you might perform via an application’s web or graphical interface. This is one of the most powerful tools that an organization can deploy. I’ve personally been building Python modules to pull data from our various management systems, allowing me to perform status checks on systems that would otherwise require me to login to a web portal and sign in via two-factor authentication. I’ve also built a number of scripts that I use as templates for various tasks, that I do on a regular basis.

Having an API is so important these days, that it’s one of the first things that I look for when evaluating a new vendor or app for myself or a client. These days, it’s unacceptable for a vendor to lock customer data behind a walled garden, but this is still a problem with a lot of legacy applications, which may not allow the ability to perform CRUD operations on internal data.

One more thing that is worth noting is the concept of a webhook, which is the ability to send or receive a message from one system to another based on a trigger. They’re not as dynamic as REST interfaces, but they do allow a system to send a one-way message to another. A simple example of this is the ability of a shipping vendor to send a notification to a client’s chat messaging system when a delivery status has been updated.

Corporation as Artificial Intelligence

One might think of the corporation, or even small businesses, as a prototypical artificial intelligence. They both have inputs and outputs, and along the way decisions and processes are made which transform the former into the latter. The main difference between the two might be the speed and the way in which those transformations occur. The question that business leaders need to ask themselves is how that transformation is happening within their own organization. If your organization has bottlenecks due to the decision making process or manual data entry requirements, then you should start implementing some of the tactics we describe in order to automate and eliminate these barriers to growth.

If you’re not taking these steps today, then you will find your business falling further behind organizations that are. Soon, you’ll be losing your clients to them. Beyond just the internal benefits, you’ll find that your customers also want the option on how they communicate and interact with you. And if they don’t have the freedom to chose, if your business isn’t flexible enough to provide that freedom, then they’ll eventually move where they have it.


My focus as a technologist is to assess current trends in business and technology, and extrapolate out where things are headed in the next five to ten years. My goal as your outside technology officer is to make sure that you not only have the tools to succeed today, but help provide the long term vision to get to where you need to be tomorrow. If you’d like help assessing your current operations or would like to discuss things further, please drop me a line.

Sixty Days to Six Figures: Day 20

The Hype Cycle

Plowing Through the Trough of Disillusionment

So we’re one-third of the way through our goal. I haven’t been filling out as many job applications that I should have, and my efforts to increase my consultancy are proving more challenging than I anticipated. I am, however, determined to keep increasing my output and leveraging what I can to keep moving forward and making small improvements.

LinkedIn and the Job Search

I still haven’t figured out what to do with LinkedIn. The job search is good enough, and the skill insights which rank me among the other applications is useful, I think. It’s helping me target a bit better, and figure out which skills I’ll need to focus on in the future. There’s still a incongruity between what’s on my profile, and the kind of jobs I’m looking for. I guess that reflects a similar disconnect between what I want and what I need.

My hope was to find just one good job a day, write a quick cover letter during the application process and wait for callbacks. To this point I’ve applied to about six, and nothing back yet. Obviously, this is going to be harder than simply attaching a bachelors’ degree to my name. One thing that was a bit of a surprise to me is that LI’s Fast Apply feature doesn’t allow you to do anything other than attach a resume, which is not ideal from an application standpoint. So it looks like I’ll have to go through the additional step of creating a new PDF for each application. Ideally, I’d be updating my resume for each type of job that I want anyways, one for CTO/management jobs, one for programming and development, and another for data scientist jobs. It seems overwhelming, but all I have to do is take baby steps. One percent in the right direction each day.

What I have not figured out yet, though, is how to use my wall to engage people. I still haven’t posted anything since my graduation announcement, as I’m not sure what direction to take. Choice paralysis, perhaps? I think I’m being overly cautious and worried about Boss taking some action, but that paranoia perhaps. I could share linkbait, posts from others, or I could try my hand at writing long-form content weekly. We shall see.

Day job: Zombie, LLC

Boss sent me a message yesterday. “I’ve got bad news, call me.” He didn’t pick up. I got another message about increasing our seats under management by x. I had some urgent help tickets to deal with, so I didn’t try calling or messaging him back, and he didn’t even try to respond back to me. I can’t wait for this morning’s lead off meeting.

I really should be frank with Boss, but I’m not sure what I should expect out of it. The company is too small for him to furlough anyone on the team, he’d be dead in the water. Our clients are dropping like flies, leads are sparse and competition in the area is dense. I’ve tried to start focusing on business process automation, but my ideas haven’t been received well.

I don’t even know if being able to continue my employment should be perceived as a good thing or a bad one. Obviously getting a salary for the amount of work that I actually do is great, but part of me thinks that having it is a crutch and is holding me back. Boss has told me that we’re in no danger of going under, but there’s an upside if we do: unemployment, for one, plus the possibility of going independent with our larger clients. There’s a lot to unpack for the latter case there and I’ll save that for when the time comes.

Consultancy

A call with a third customer didn’t go quite the way I had hoped. No commitment. They can’t pay me until they can scale, and they can’t scale until they have some improved automation. Instead of developing a Django app, it looks like we’ll be rolling out a hundred dollar WordPress plugin. Que sera.

I told another client about the old saying usually seen in mechanic’s garages: “you can have it done fast, cheap, or good. Pick two.” I told them that we are moving in the cheap and good area right now, and that if they wanted to move faster we’d have to bring in some help. It looks like we may be moving in that direction with one of our projects. I’ve got enough experience to manage several WordPress sites and help with some configuration stuff, but I don’t know anywhere near enough about SEO and theming a site that they’re going to need to move quickly. So I recommended that we engage a marketing firm to help with strategic vision and a laundry list of related to-do items that they came up with. I’m actually looking forward to it, since it will benefit the client and if the vendor is good we may be able to establish a good relationship moving forward.


So we’re one third of the way there, and it seems like no result yet. That’s fine, as I know that it may be a while before we see results. I’m still reading Atomic Habits, and I know that these steps I’m taking will be come habits, and the results will compound. Right now I’m focused on refining my environment to make success inevitable. The results will come.

Experiments with voice first

3rd gen. black Amazon echo dot speaker

Getting used to talking to computers, one word at a time

I’ve been following Brian Roemmele on Twitter and LinkedIn recently, he’s got one of the most interesting feeds I’ve seen, and has access to a lot of archive material, old videos from the early days of tech, and it’s really a delight. He’s really forward thinking, a futurist type, concerned with the evolution of the human mind as it relates to technology. He’s also a big proponent of voice as the primary method of interacting with machines, what he calls voice first. His theory is that voice is the most direct channel to one’s thoughts, more so than writing or typing. It’s an idea that’s been sticking in my head lately.

I grew up on Star Trek, so the idea of speaking commands to a computer has always been attractive, but implementations of it have been lacking. My experiences with Dragon Typing some ten-odd years ago were cumbersome, voice training and high error rates seemed inefficient. I’ve always been a fast typist and preferred to just bang out the words instead. Thinking back, it was usually the lawyers and doctors that preferred the app. I just assumed that it was because they were too “busy” to be bothered with typing things up, and preferred to dictate to their paralegals instead.

Of course when Siri hit the iPhone I played around with it. The occasional voice command was nice for sending brief text messages and such, but I tended to fall back to banging thoughts out with my twin thumbs on the keypad. Lately though, I’ve started relying on it more, mostly to avoid physically picking up my phone and looking at it. Asking it for the weather, or even the price of bitcoin in the morning helps me keep to my habits. The longer I can go without unlocking it, the better.

Watching the kids interact with voice first has been interesting to watch unfold. Younger, who still has a toddler’s lisp, can’t type of course, so watching her talk to Siri to pull things up is usually amusing. It’s also about the only way that she can interact with the FireTV as well, since she hasn’t quite figured out the remote other than to pause and unpause a show. And I’ve been driving Elder to pick up typing via Typing.com, but I’ve been starting to wonder how much she’ll actually need it.

I’ve been watching the advent of smart speakers like the Amazon Echo and Google Home with some trepidation. It’s bad enough that I’ve got a personal tracking device in my pocket most of the time, the privacy ramifications of a smart speaker was always too much for me. I also would get a kick walking into someone’s house and ordering fifty-five gallons lube via their smart speaker, a la XKCD.

Perhaps it was warming to the ability to summon Siri without picking up my phone, or maybe it’s watching the kids rely on it, but we finally picked up an unused Echo Dot from family over the weekend and set it up on a shelf between the kitchen and living room. I’m sure the primary reason was that we’ve all been enjoying Amazon Music way lately, and I wanted a way to play it without having the TV on all the time. And if it keeps the girls off their screens, I’m fine with it.

I still haven’t reconciled the privacy implication for it. Knowing that Amazon workers might be listening to our recordings is lessened by the fact that this device is in our common room. There’s no way I would put one of these things in my bedroom, I don’t even keep my phone in the bedroom. (I’ll admit I keep the iPad next to the bed, for reading nonfiction.) There’s also the ethical quandary about Amazon’s business and labor practices, but it’s hard to avoid that; the best we can do is acknowledge it and keep it in mind when we spend our money there.

Roemmel claims to have used voice first for everything from writing to coding, but I just can’t quite see myself going voice first myself. My mouth seems to travel faster than my brain most of the time. I’m not sure whether you would call this a habit as much as a trait, but I prefer to write since it slows me down a bit and forces me to think things out a bit more. I’ve heard Neil Gaiman say similar things about writing with a quill pen.

I imagine that voice first is much better for entering a flow state. One of the tenants I try to adhere to when writing is to write fast, bad, and wrong, and fix the mistakes after the draft is finished. In practice though, I tend to stare at the words on the screen as they come up, and wind up correcting those red, squiggly underlines as they pop up. Experimenting with not looking at the screen when typing might help. So maybe if I could dictate without worrying whether the dictation is right might be a better way to do work.

I’ve been a musician for twenty five years, and sometimes while messing around with a new song that I’m wrritng, I’ll just start making up lyrics as aI go along. It’s like a rock-freestyle, if you will. I’ve written complete verses off the cuff this way, only to realize at the end of it that I had no recollection of what it is that I just said. This is more about my failure to keep a recording running when I’m playing, but it is an example of one time I’m sure that voice first is a bettter workflow for me.

Of course, if voice first is the most effective path to getting thoughts down, why stop there? One of my high school English teachers told me an old saw, that “good writing is pure thought put to page”. So how long before we can read the thoughts directly off the mind? I know some of the finest minds in science are working on it. Whether externally via an EEG, or via direct brain-computer interface, I’m sure the next decade or two will bring about more advances in sharing our thoughts with others.

I still like writing on a page, though.

Memorial Day Weekend: COVID Day 71

So many people are acting like this is over. It ain’t over.

Memorial Day is over and now it’s back to our regular lives, so to speak. We went out of town Saturday to my father in law’s, who has a home at a ski resort three hours away. The girls were well behaved; we managed to avoid any meltdowns. We ate like pigs, consuming a large prime rib over the course of two days, and eating lots of sugary garbage while we were there. I managed to meditate Monday morning, but didn’t even try to write. Next time I go on a trip I’ll need to schedule out some posts so I don’t break my streak.

Missus’s dad was really glad to see us, we all enjoyed it as well. This was our first trip out with the kids during COVID, and, while I think we were safe and took precautions, we’ll have to wait a couple of weeks before we find out.

We had a full tank of gas, so we managed to get all the way to the base of the mountain without stopping. There’s a convenience store right at the bottom, so I gassed up and went inside for beer. I wore a mask, and noticed no one in the parking lot was. I got inside and neither was the three employees behind the counter. There were Plexiglas shields at the counter, and social distance markers on the floor, but only one other person in the place was wearing a mask.

The following day we took the entire clan to a drive through zoo. We had to stop by a WalMart for food and drinks. I was much happier with the precautions being taken there. Employees at the entrance had masks, carts were getting sprayed down, and most of the customers were wearing masks.

The zoo was a bit of a mixed bag. Employees at the entrance were wearing masks and gloves, and they were enforcing caps in the gift shop (which we did not go in), and had brought in some fancy bathroom trailers, but a lot of families were just standing in line without masks or any regard for distancing.

We got home without too much trouble. The kids went out to play with their quarantine friends, but we had to split them up. Not only did we have all of the potential exposure that we did, but our friends went to church on Sunday and so we probably just need to chill for a week, maybe two. I’ve yet to see my dad since this started and he’s got comorbidity factors.

And of course there’s was this video going round of the Lake of the Ozarks.

We’ll see how the fallout goes in the next two weeks. Lots of restrictions have lifted, and things are trying to return back to normal, but I still can’t help thinking that we’re just over the first hump.

Image

The fact that the incubation period for this virus is two weeks is a major challenge. If someone around us does get sick, it’s going to be difficult to pinpoint exactly when it happened. I know I’m going to be watching the kids like a hawk for any cough, fever or wheezing for the next few days. We’ve been very lucky so far; no one that we know has been affected by the virus, health-wise. I’m sure it will happen at some point, it just depends on whether our family can stay safe until a vaccine can be deployed. If one can be deployed at all.

Freakanomics and Atomic Habits

Mini-reviews of two good books

Yesterday was rough. I must have taken three naps throughout the day, the execution of which was confounded by the tea, coffee, and energy drink I consumed throughout. The last one was late in the day, I took a melatonin at ten and tried to sleep at eleven, but wound up getting up to read at midnight and again at one-thirty before finally going to sleep. I woke just after seven, in the midst of a vivid dream, and feel back to my normal, ready to conquer the day.

I finished reading Freakanomics. It’s a very interesting book, and deals with race in a very frank way. The last few chapters are about the role of parenting and schools in a person’s success in life. One of the main findings is that who you are as a parent matters more than what you do. It gave me pause for a moment, to reconsider how far I’m pushing the kids. They’ll be all right.

There’s a fascinating chapter about a particular crack gangs in Chicago and their leader, who I believe may have served as the inspiration for Stringer Bell in The Wire. We went to business school and ran it like a corporation. One of the lieutenants kept detailed notes on their day to day finances, and the story of how it got into the hands of an economist is fascinating backstory.

The book is from 2006, and while I have some concerns about it might be received today because of it’s racial themes, I still recommend it. It’s not very long, and written in an engaging style that made it a quick read.

After I finished Freakanomics, I picked up Atomic Habits, by James Clear, which the missus gave me as an early Fathers’ Day gift. I didn’t want to put it down. Clear opens with a story about how he had to recover from a life-threatening childhood injury, learning to walk again, up to how he reclaimed his identity as a baseball player and started writing a successful blog and now, a book. I’m only a couple chapters in, but I really like it. It begins with an insight about outside in versus inside out change.

Most people, myself included, focus on setting goals as a path to change. The goal drives the person’s actions, and then, hopefully, this causes a change in identity. There’s several problems with this. One is that actions that are incongruent with identity are eventually dropped. The other is that if the goal is the only thing driving the behaviors, then the new behaviors may revert once the goal is achieved. An example about a smoker stood out to me: if a smoker declines a cigarette, saying “I’m trying to quit,” then they’re focused on the goal, their identity hasn’t changed. If they say “no thanks, I don’t smoke”, they are much more likely to succeed at the goal, because their identity has already changed, to that of a former smoker.

This may sound hokey to some, but it’s congruent with my own experience quitting, and is core of some of the concepts I learned during through neurolinguistic programming. The goal here, ultimatley, is change from the inside-out, to figure out what type of person you want to be, first, and then the behaviors and goals will take care of themselves.

My approach to success has usually been goal driven. When I worked telemarketing sales some twenty years ago, my manager drilled into my head to set our goals higher than what we ultimately wanted to achieve. If we wanted to hit a 150% quota, for example, we would set a goal at 200%. This would set the pace for the sales period, and if we only hit 175% during the term, well we were probably better off than if we had just aimed for the 150% to begin with.

This type of aim for the clouds thinking has served me well the last two decades, but it usually gets a scoff from my wife when I speak them out loud. And I’ll admit, was firmly in mind when I set the Sixty Days to Six Figures and FIRE by 2024 goals. It may also seem like we’re veering into The Secret, or magic thinking, prosperity gospel. (Even now, I have an internal Ekart Tolle reading along as I type this. )

Clear recommends working backward from your goals, to reverse engineer the type of identity that would manifest those goals. As I said, I’m only a couple chapters in, but it’s already got my head spinning, and reexamining how I’m going to approach dealing with the kids. I may even have Elder read the intro out loud to me, to see if I can get her interested this.

Atomic Habits has already given me a strategy in framing our family identity. Our family is organized so we keep our house clean and free of clutter; we’re academics so we study hard and love learning; we’re athletic so we like physical activity; we’re entrepreneurs and leaders so we have strong work ethic and treat everyone with respect. I’m only a couple pages in and I think it’s going to be one of my favorites already, right up there with Dalio’s Principles.