Archive: November, 2017

Homework loads

posted by Jeff | Thursday, November 30, 2017, 9:36 PM | comments: 0

There has been a lot of focus lately on whether or not homework has any value in school. I remember in my experience, only paper writing outside of class really helped me. The rest was of questionable value at best.

My kid is in grade 2 now, and the common core math stuff bothers me. That's ironic, because when I was in school, I was always in trouble for not showing my work, largely because I developed the shortcuts myself (i.e., 37+29=37+30-1). The problem is, as I appreciate more than ever with a kid on the autism spectrum, different brains are wired differently, and what makes perfect sense to one person does not to work for another person. My wife can't always grok it, I can, my kid is in the middle. But to a friend's recent point, the strategies are checklist items for some test the kids eventually have to take, and that's messed up. The goal should be finding working strategies, not mastering every one of them.

While my story is only an anecdote, there's no question in my mind that more structure and more homework would have been detrimental to me. I barely had any fucks left to give in high school, ranking somewhere in the upper middle of my class, while placing in the top 2% of ACT scores nationally. Then I B-/C+'d my way through college for grades no one has ever asked for. Education was just flexible enough to accommodate my personality while moving me forward. I don't see it being that way now, and it causes me and my kid a lot of anxiety.

I bring these scenarios up because the homework doesn't really change the outcomes. I find it particularly useless at younger ages, when frankly kids are already enduring too much structure and not enough world interaction, friends, the environment or whatever they're interested in. Projects are even worse at young ages, because frankly the kids don't have the ability to follow through on that kind of work, so it rests on the parents.

I'm not suggesting that I have all of the answers. I'm also in the camp of people that hates all of the participation trophy snowflake bullshit. But the problem with education is that it's stuck in a mix of expectations set by tradition and newer efforts set by people too far removed from front-line implementation to have valid opinions. My teacher friends all seem to love their jobs but hate the requirements. That's unfortunate, because I don't think there are many professions as important as teaching, and it seems like no one is listening to them.

I hope there's some momentum in this homework reduction thing. I'm all for it.


Remote work against expensive real estate

posted by Jeff | Thursday, November 30, 2017, 5:30 PM | comments: 0

Microsoft is planning a significant renovation to, apparently, most of the campus over the next few years. In their blog post, they talk a lot about how people work best, the shift to collaborative spaces and such. I worked in Building 6, and later Building 5 (and then Building 34 after that), and it was kind of neat to be in those original buildings. In fact, legend has it that my coworkers that worked on Visual Studio Galleries at the time in 6 were using one of Bill Gates' original offices as their team room. 5 had some parts that were reconfigured for team rooms, focus, rooms, etc., but most of it was still the old school offices.

A few weeks ago I was Intuit headquarters for the small biz hackathon there, and it took place in one of their more modern buildings. We were of course surrounded by Google, and Facebook wasn't far away, with other big names like Amazon and Microsoft sprinkled about the area. You could tell even from the outside that many of these buildings were designed with the new open space concept in mind. There's a lot of debate over whether or not this evolution of office space is ideal, especially for software developers. Microsoft was famous for having individual office space, and culturally was in the midst of the shift to shared spaces when I was there. My personal opinion is that gigantic wide open rooms are not ideal. They're noisy and full of distractions, and when you look around at all of the headphones on, you can see everyone is battling that. But I do think that smaller team rooms are pretty great, and even awesome. I think it starts to fall apart when you have more than 8, maybe 10 people in the room.

But the bigger thing is that maybe we don't need offices at all. I totally get that some businesses and occupations needs butts in the seats. I'm not here to argue that. And yes, I'm a disciple of books like Rework and Remote, but does anyone ever really think about the cost of real estate? Most major cities are under $2 per square foot, but places like Seattle are over $3, San Francisco over $5 and New York City over $6! So assuming that a person can operate in 25 square feet, each employee costs you at least $600 per year, not including the common areas, and that's $1,800 in New York. Imagine you have a hundred employees... you do the math.

There are people who insist that collaboration suffers with remote, distributed teams, but I can tell you, after doing it five of the last six years, it does not. That doesn't mean you can't hire people who suck at working remotely (and I wonder if they'd be any better co-located), but technology makes it pretty easy. At my previous gig, I had people spread out across Florida, one in Seattle, one in Atlanta, one in nowhere-PA... all over. They were some of the best people I've ever worked with, and we delivered awesome software. My current team is similarly spread out, and output and quality is also super high. We also have a cultural expectation of using video calls when we talk, so it's far more personal. No taped-over web cams here!

While I get the allure of a technology campus, and maybe even miss it, it does seem limiting and expensive to seek having your people all in one place. Remote work works, and has not been an impediment for me. I'd like to "get the band back together" more often, sure, but our remoteness does not cause us to be ineffective.


Review: Love Never Dies (A steaming pile of theatrical shit)

posted by Jeff | Monday, November 27, 2017, 11:39 PM | comments: 6

I'm not afraid to say that the original Phantom of The Opera is what initially got me hooked on musical theater. I know, theater hipsters don't care for it, maybe because it's too popular, or whatever, but it sucked me in during my high school years, enough that I channeled that interest into minoring in theater for a year in college.

I finally saw the Vegas version almost 20 years after the show began its run in London. For the show in the desert, in a custom-built theater at The Venetian, they ditched the intermission, moved the chandelier stunt later in the show (where it makes way more sense), and made the venue itself an integral part of the show. I saw it there three times, and hearing "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" literally brought me to tears the first time. It played so well for someone who had built literally almost two decades of expectations around it. I wouldn't see it again until the tour that opened our beloved Dr. Phillips Center here in Orlando, and the changes and tweaks to the direction, along with the reimagined set design, were pretty great.

So while I don't understand the haters toward the original, it's still a special show for me. The only thing that I could ever pick about it was the chandelier crashing at the end of the first act, because that's certainly something a venue doesn't come back from, and they start the second act like, "No big deal, let's do another show!" And hey, they fixed that in the Las Vegas run (and in the movie). The idea that someone can appear evil and yet have good intentions, the villain who seeks redemption, that's a classic story. That someone can be inspired by this paradox of a person is great stuff to explore. There's psychological weight to the whole premise, and the music and lyrics serve the story.

And frankly, they should have left it there, with Meg holding the Phantom's mask at curtain.

Love Never Dies has apparently been around for a decade now, in what could only be described as a big budget workshop. It did a West End run first back in 2010 (with Sierra Boggess as Christine, who played the Vegas gig that I saw), and the critics hated it. Then it did a run in Australia, and a few minor runs around the world, before someone decided it was a good idea to tour it this Broadway tour season... for a show that has not in fact played on Broadway.

Let me say this up front: There is a lot of creative love in the show, for sure. The sets, lighting and costumes are beautiful. It's visually a beautiful show. Remove the terrible plot, and you have a lot of energy put into making this a spectacle that would serve the story well, if the story didn't suck. As Diana put it, "Well, a lot of people do get to work professionally because of this show." I suppose that's a good thing.

But the story... it's absurd. I'm going to just load you up with spoilers, because this milk is so beyond the expiration date that it'll give you the shits if you see it. Love Never Dies takes place a decade after the original Phantom, where he had made his way to New York, where he hangs out with (or maybe finances) a vaudeville/freak show at Coney Island. Apparently, the angry mob did not catch him at the Opera Populaire in Paris. I guess US Customs weren't as thorough back then. He starts the show banging on his organ complaining that his musical mojo just isn't there, and partly because he hasn't gotten over the fact that Christine took off to, you know, not hang with a murderous asshole.

Let's be clear about something though... Christine humored him in part because she confused the Phantom for her father, a musician himself that inspired her. While she does kiss him at the end of the show, I never thought there was a sexual vibe there. In fact, he even says very clearly, "That fate which condemns me to wallow in blood, has also denied me the joys of the flesh." To me that says his wiener was also deformed or absent as his nose. Hold on to that... we unfortunately have to come back to this point. So again, whatever Christine felt for him, it was largely platonic.

Meanwhile, Meg Giry, the ballet/chorus girl and daughter of Madame Giry, who ran the ballet, are for whatever reason starring in and producing the Phantom's vaudeville show in New York. They were apparently not above fleeing from the murderous freak, and they helped him cross the ocean.

As for Christine, she became a big star, she married Raoul, and they had a kid named Gustave. But all is not well in the family. It turns out that Raoul is kind of a dick with a drinking and gambling problem, and this entire premise is established in two lines of a confrontation with the paparazzi as they arrive in New York so Christine can sing at some new opera house. And hey, since she's in town, the Phantom can't help but visit her (at which time she hilariously faints, and I may have LOL'd). This is where shit gets really absurd, because now she's all mushy around him and acts like she wants to hump him, which is contrary to the "friend or father" vibe of the first show. They spent most of the first act of that show establishing the allure, genius and charm of the Phantom, and now, in the course of two minutes, following a decade of marriage and child raising, suddenly she has a toner for him. And that's after he went on a killing spree, dropped a chandelier on people and threatened to kill Raoul. It's fucking stupid. But hey, since he'll offer more money, she'll go sing at his show instead, because Raoul's drinking his cash away.

Oh, but it gets worse... a few minutes later, the Phantom meets Gustave. He plays a few bars on the piano, and the Phantom is like, "Holy shit! He's a musical genius like me! Wait, are we related?" The answer is yes. The seemingly non-sexual relationship from the first show, you know, where he declares that he can't bone hot singers because of fate or whatever, apparently boned the hot singer and gave her a child.

At this point, the show has lost me. I was so pissed about the plot and its many holes that I couldn't wait to get to intermission (I also had to pee). So the Phantom declares his new purpose in life is to give this kid the chance to also be a genius. Meanwhile, the Giry's are like, "Fuck, well, I guess he doesn't need us anymore. We're screwed." Meg, the innocent child of the first show, is now a narcissistic and jealous freak, while her mother goes ape shit stage mom.

The second act is exactly what you think it is, because there's nowhere else to go: Ultimatums are made, and Christine has to choose between the murderer she's now so fond of, or the alcoholic husband, while the Giry's just want this whole clan to go away. So much so, in fact, that Meg kidnaps the kid and threatens to throw him off a pier to drown. The Phantom talks her out of it, then Meg pulls a gun to kill herself, and of course shoots Christine instead (more LOL's). Christine tells Gustave, with her last breath, "Sorry I'm dead, but the deformed dude is actually your father. Good luck with that!"

It's. Awful.

So let me at least go back and say that the stagecraft was fantastic. I pay a lot of attention to scene and lighting design, and I was immersed enough in the visuals (or maybe just distracted by the hideous plot) to the extent that I just took in the eye candy. I get why this show takes 16 trucks to haul around. It still doesn't make up for the terrible book.

This show has never been on Broadway, and it doesn't belong on a subscription series with shows that have. It's an off-Broadway tryout gone horribly wrong with a big budget. I have to force myself to believe that it never happened so as not to harm the love I have for the original. And the thing is, there are some good songs and wonderful choreography in there, but putting lipstick on a slaughtered pig is still bacon. It's not good for you.

You have to wonder how this didn't ruin Andrew Lloyd Webber, but I guess he was battling cancer late in the development, and that might be part of it. He bounced back pretty strongly with School of Rock, which seems to have generally great reviews. But then, he collaborated on that with Julian Fellowes... yeah, the Downton Abbey guy. Two Brit greats doing a musical based on an American Jack Black movie about kids in a rock band. If that's not artistic achievement, I don't know what is.

Anyway, don't see Love Never Dies. It really should just die.


I'm thankful for perspective

posted by Jeff | Saturday, November 25, 2017, 4:30 PM | comments: 0

This Thanksgiving was weird for us, because Diana worked in the evening. This wasn't one of those crappy retail job things, but rather the theater where she works had a show. It just happened to be that the sequel to Phantom of The Opera is in town this week (which is horrible, and worthy of its own blog post). We delayed the family dinner by a day.

This has been a difficult year, in a lot of ways, most of which I don't write publicly about. It's the first time in years that I've felt a "weight" on me that I couldn't entirely control, and that resulted in a certain amount of stress and bursts of discontent. Now that we're nearing the end of the year, I'm reflecting more on it, and the thing I'm most thankful for is perspective.

Challenges aside, I had a great year of work, and while it wasn't planned, we moved into a house that better suits our needs and wants. Indeed, things could be worse. The thing that really drove this home was a chat with an electrician that visited our house. He seemed like a pretty cool guy, did good work, and we got on the topic of unexpected things happening. That's when he mentioned losing two daughters in the same year, and seeing his own health go downhill fast. That's a lot of terrible stuff for one year.

Perspective is a gift. The hard part is acknowledging it while right-sizing the reaction to the scope of your own challenges. Just because there are "children starving in Africa," as your mom used to say, doesn't invalidate the way you feel about something. Indeed, the measure of our character is in how we react adversity.


Big tech company vibes

posted by Jeff | Sunday, November 19, 2017, 8:45 PM | comments: 0

One of the things I didn't talk much about when writing about the hackathon we did last weekend was about the vibes of a big tech company. Intuit has a fairly large campus, next door to Google in Mountain View. Facebook is just down the 101 a bit. I'm no stranger to these big tech company campuses, since I worked in Redmond for two years for Microsoft. (Side note: In terms of real estate, the Seattle east side is cheap compared to Silicon Valley... the AirBnB we rented was a 2,000 sq. ft. house that sold a few years ago for nearly $1.3 million!)

There's something cool about these places, beyond the big modern buildings with their own coffee shops and open spaces. You know that there's interesting, impactful work happening at these places. You can feel it. And make whatever jokes you want about Intuit, QuickBooks and TurboTax are old brands that made the full-on flip to real SaaS products with insanely high market share. You have to respect that. They make pretty good software. They did the small biz hack in their Building 20, which has a big atrium with stadium seating, some garage doors and exposed concrete. It reminded me a lot of a combination of different buildings in Redmond.

It's important to remember my experience in Redmond, because it was a mixed bag. The MSDN/TechNet subgroup that I worked in (I'd give you the formal name if it hadn't been reorg'd a dozen times) was a fairly excellent group of people doing great work. We were made up of a bunch of small teams working on stuff that literally millions of people touched. Being a cost center, in that sense, had its advantages, because we couldn't solve our problems by throwing money at them. And to my boss' credit, we hired right.

I've told the story many times about how my second gig at the company wasn't that great (and maybe it's because money was not an issue for it). The context here is that giant tech companies are really like many small companies, and some parts are better than others. Furthermore, when you do break it down, you start to see how scope and impact really does not correlate to company size. At Microsoft, our small, constrained teams on the MSDN Forums, CodePlex (RIP) and such impacted huge numbers of people. The other group I worked in never shipped anything, even with all of the people involved.

Vibes are important for people. Now I get to guide a small engineering team, developing a product for which we don't really know where our ceiling is. Because we work so closely with our customers, we know first hand how much better we're making their working lives. That's rare for a company of any size, and we're doing it with a relatively small team spread across four states. That's a lot of good vibes. The impact we're creating is huge, even if the scope is still growing.

It's easy to be sucked into big tech company vibes, but I caution anyone who thinks that size is indicative of success or great, high impact work. And definitely run the other way if a recruiter starts talking about foosball tables.


Holiday realignment

posted by Jeff | Sunday, November 19, 2017, 6:21 PM | comments: 0

Growing up with distinct seasons and the various holidays that fall within them very much ingrains a routine on you. That was somewhat disrupted for me when we moved to the PNW, because the seasons there are less extreme. It doesn't usually get crazy hot in the summer, and you'll likely see a day or two of snow at most in the lower elevations. But then we moved to Central Florida, and you have three or four months of swamp-ass hotness and eight months of general fall-like weather. Well, fall-like if you consider highs in the upper 70's and cool nights to be fall-like. You only have to be here for a year or two before that's your normal.

But the shift is particularly interesting for us when you roll in the theme parks. Fall nights at Cedar Point, west of Cleveland, were a tradition that endured my entire adult life. Sometimes it would get down right chilly, into the 40's. So that was our Halloween season. By the time Thanksgiving rolled around, it was more of the same, and we would generally see snow by Christmas, even if it didn't last. Now, our "fall" weather comes in November, and while Thanksgiving hasn't occurred yet, the theme parks are all-in on Christmas decorations and entertainment. While you might be inclined to blame this on the sad commercialization of Christmas, I don't think that's what's going on. The issue that the theme parks have is that not everyone is going to compress their Christmas visits into the three weeks around the actual holiday. (In fact, week of, it's too crowded to even bother with the place.) So as families spread out their travel plans, some of which occur around Thanksgiving, they literally flip a switch after Halloween and get dressed up for Christmas. Magic Kingdom is notorious for doing this all in one night.

We have fallen into a similar pattern. We're not decorating on November 1, but especially this year, with the move, there's little point in putting the stuff away when it doesn't even have a designated home yet. Diana started ramping up almost a week before Thanksgiving this time, and I'm pretty excited about it. We don't have a single photo hanging on the wall, but the garland lights are wrapped around the railings and the stockings are hung. We've got red and green lights on the front of the house. After years of artificial second-hand trees have started to show their age (and miles... about 6,000 of them), we splurged on a new one. There's nothing wrong with six or seven weeks of Christmas celebration.

I'm not alone. As I write this from the patio, I can see icicle lights two houses down behind us (the most hilarious kind of decoration in Florida), and around the corner they're putting up a giant inflatable Santa Mickey and Vegas-style chaser lights across the front of their house. We're still four days from Thanksgiving.

It really is the most wonderful time of year, even when you're not freezing your tits off in three feet of snow. I don't care what religion you choose to believe, because the joy around the birth of Christ is bigger than that. For a month or so, we can do our best to stop being assholes to each other, help others out, demand peace and hope for a better future. We can bust out the stack of movies we watch every year. We can make turkey. And if you live here, we can go to the beach. I like this version of Christmas.


On home automation and energy efficiency

posted by Jeff | Saturday, November 18, 2017, 9:14 PM | comments: 0

"Alexa, turn on Christmas."

It was about a year ago that I bought an Amazon Echo Dot, and promptly bought four more (well, actually I bought a six-pack, but sold two). About the same time I bought a Philips Hue starter pack, with a bridge and three color bulbs, plus a light strip, and that's where the fun began. I also bought a TP-LINK WiFi plug to turn the Christmas tree on and off remotely. The home automation bug hit me pretty hard.

A lot of the cooler stuff you can do requires hard-wiring stuff, so I never went too far in the last house. Also, as much as I wanted a Nest thermostat, the original version was too expensive. Once we moved, there were some great opportunities, with the Nest E's introduction (and the fact we have a two-zone HVAC house now), it seemed like a good idea to get those. We also did a WiFi switch to handle the bedroom lights, so we can turn them on and off by shouting into the air or using a phone app. (Seriously, I've only had one house where there was a switch next to the bed.) I installed a Ring doorbell at an insanely discounted sale price mostly because I wanted to see the way things are delivered, but also because my office is no longer near the front door, and it's convenient for a video screen to pop up on my computer when someone shows up without going to the door. I had a bunch of WiFi plugs previously, and these are what we use to plug in the Christmas tree and other lights.

None of this stuff is necessary, to be sure, but it sure is convenient. There's also a fantastic energy efficiency story, because you can set all of these lights to timers. Also, the Hue lights are all LED lamps, so what used to be 60w is now 9w. We can set our exterior lights to come on and turn off at the appropriate time. The Nest thermostats can react when we're home, though honestly, we always are because I work from home, but we can set the temperatures from anywhere and it logs the time the system is running, so we can see how often it's on (unsurprisingly, the downstairs runs more than upstairs).

There's also a staggering difference in general energy consumption, because the builder used LED bulbs in everything. This is a huge change. Our previous house, finished in 2014, was finished with CFL's in most cases, which used about 15w, while the recessed cans all had full on 60w incandescent bulbs. This time, just three and a half years later, the conventional bulbs are all 9w, the recessed can flood lights are all 9.5w. That's about a 35% reduction in just a few years between CFL's and LED's, and 85% reduction from incandescent to LED. Having a separate HVAC system for upstairs and downstairs, while more expensive up front, clearly makes a huge difference in efficiency. Mind you, it's fall, but so far our daily electricity consumption matches our previous house, even though this one is 55% larger.

I'm all in on energy efficiency. We've spent half as much on moving our cars around in the last two years, because they're electric, and now it's time to do the same for the house. As long as our previous house sells for what we're hoping, we'll roll some of that equity into doing solar. If I can reduce the electric bill by even 80%, that makes a massive difference in our carbon footprint. The economy of scale won't improve without early adopters, and I'm happy to be a part of that crowd.


Making the house a home

posted by Jeff | Thursday, November 16, 2017, 10:54 PM | comments: 0

The move is very nearly two weeks behind us, and while time flies, it doesn't feel like we've been here that long. Part of it is that the old house isn't totally empty (or sold), and then I was in California last Friday to Monday. The biggest thing though is that a new house tends to need a lot of extra stuff. After you drain your savings to close, then you're spending more money on all of the things that make it more personal. Honestly, this is largely a money saving strategy. The builder will put more stuff in, but their options are limited and the pricing is insane. For example, the kitchen pendant lights we just ordered were $80 for three of them. The builder wanted hundreds for something not as cool.

We've got a bunch of light fixtures and ceiling fans coming to start. In addition to the kitchen pendants, we need a kitchen table light, something for the dining room and ceiling fans/lights for Simon and our bedroom. That's just for starters though, because some of the other rooms probably need something eventually. In order of importance, there's Diana's sewing studio, my office, the playroom and the guest room. Her room in particular is on the south side of the house, where we don't yet have a neighbor, so it's bound to get warm.

The kitchen is a priority, too. The flooring, counters, cabinets and backsplash are easiest to handle with the builder, but their options and cost for hardware is too high. Ditto for the faucet over the main sink, for which they install a cheap, plastic chrome thing. Counting the pretentious butler pantry, there are a total of 32 doors and 19 drawers, which is a whole lot of drilling. We have no idea what we're gonna put there, but I don't feel like two-hole handles are necessary for the cabinets this time (unless they are).

I've done some handy stuff already. My first priority was to get the Ring doorbell installed, which as it turns out is super helpful because my office went from next to the door to as far away as possible. I also put Nest E thermostats in, not so much for the learning they can do (we're always home), but for the remote capability and operating history in light of our desire to be energy efficient. I put Hue lights in a few places for ambiance and festivity, and have some wifi connected light switches to install so we can automate. The house was wired for in-wall/ceiling speakers, but that was it. I had to cut some holes in the ceiling for surround speakers, and then wire a bunch of connectors at the wall. Then there's all of the drilling for curtains, and so far I've only done it for two windows.

We immediately ripped the door off of our laundry room, because it opens inward and blocks the washer, which is stupid. This is going to be my first from scratch handy project, as I'm going to attempt to build a barn door and then hang it. I figure that's a pretty low complexity thing to do, and it'll get me comfortable cutting wood for the first time in 20 years.

The single biggest project on our radar is installing a solar plant on the roof, but we need a few months of electrical usage before we know what we need. We also need to sell the other house, which is where the money for that currently is. Regardless, I've got a Tesla Powerwall going in for free as part of the project, earned from car sales referrals.

Things are coming along, slowly, and I often need to remind myself that it's not a race. Baby steps, like getting a rug to tie the room together, are what we need to do. It'll also help once we've got some pictures on the wall and such.


My team did a hackathon, and we won stuff

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, November 15, 2017, 10:15 PM | comments: 0

My team from novi AMS went to the Intuit campus in Mountain View last weekend to do a #SmallBizHack hackathon. Honestly, I've never been a fan of these kinds of events, because building anything on a deadline is exactly the kind of thing we avoid by adopting agile processes. But the company had been there the previous two years, and it's also a remarkable opportunity to network with the people who build the product we integrate most closely with (QuickBooks Online), and I'm definitely game for that.

It was me, our founder, and the two developers I hired earlier in this year (my third, a front-end dev/designer just started last week, so this would've been a bit much on top of onboarding). We arrived with an idea that Intuit's developer evangelist felt was already done by recent additions to their app store, so we had to make a game day call on something else. Here's the problem with hackathon ideas: It's never super clear what kind of thing will be loved by the judges. What's worse is that you never quite know if they expect to see a working product, or something that amounts to a business plan. For those of us who want to build something that mostly works by the deadline, that's frustrating. My crew cares about craftsmanship and building working stuff, which is why I love working with them. Since the sponsors included Google (specifically Google Assistant) and a telephony company called Nexmo, everyone was thinking about ways to talk to your phone and send text messages and such. I thought it would be fun to "gamify" sales, sending text alerts when new invoices hit QBO. Our founder had a better idea though, a voice app that would let you know, based on your location and overdue invoices, where you could physically go to collect from your customers. That's a high tech solution to a low tech problem, but we were all onboard with it. Initially we thought of this strictly as something with a web UI, and kind of late in the game pivoted to add the voice stuff.

By 10pm on the first night, we had a lot of the individual parts working, but not composed to a working solution. I spent a ton of time working on the authorization story to connect our app to QBO, and it took entirely too long. In the end, it was mostly because of poor documentation with the SDK, not the underlying API itself. I also handled some of the web UI hookups, which we didn't use in our demo, but needed as a backup and to validate the data. I ended up using Vue.js, a framework I've never used before. In fact, by the time we were done, we ended up using a ton of technologies that were new to us, which was fairly high risk given our desire to actually win something among the 30 teams.

We pitched 24th, and our three minutes were tight because of Google misinterpreting what we were saying. The workflow went like this:

  • Ask Google, "Who owes us money?"
  • It prompted to ask you if it was OK to use your location.
  • You said yes, and it gave you a list of overdue customers with amounts and distances in miles. (For laughs, we had Sun Microsystems as the biggest delinquent customer. Nerds will get it.)
  • If you said the customer or touched it, you got a map and navigation to get there. (Also funny, because Facebook HQ occupies the former Sun campus.)

As it turns out, we were not the only ones trying to solve cash flow problems, and the judges didn't seem very impressed that the extent of our solution was enabling humans to efficiently knock on doors to collect. I've been suggesting that we go back next year, and in v2, dispatch ninjas to collect the overdue money. Everyone else was using text messages and calls and notifications. The judges didn't poke any holes in what we did, but they didn't seem enthusiastic, either.

The sponsors made their selections for favorites first, and wouldn't you know it, the Google guy loved what we did. I was shocked. We each won a Google Home speaker, which should be fun to play with even though we're largely an Alexa home. We didn't win any of the formal top 3 spots, but I'll take it. The first place team had an interesting idea about how small businesses could share inventory, which was kind of neat, but they didn't really have a particularly functional product, which kind of bothered me. Again, you never know what to expect.

Regardless, I'm proud of my team. We put together something pretty cool using a bunch of tech that was out of our comfort zone, and we won something for it. We did the networking, too, which one of my guys will continue doing this week at their conference. We didn't pull some all-nighter either, thankfully, because I know I sure can't operate when I'm tired. Being physically on Eastern time, we were up by 5 a.m. anyway! If we do it again next year, I know a bit more about what to expect.


Moving upheaval

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, November 7, 2017, 11:10 PM | comments: 0

I was pretty much done with moving by the end of the day, even though we're not done with moving. We're most of the way there, but we still need to get miscellaneous stuff over, take stuff off of the walls and clean up at the "old" place. Yesterday I got the garage, office and loft empty, and today Diana went further with bedrooms. Her long arm quilting machine is still there because it has a quilt on it. But we're getting there.

It's been hard to enjoy the new place because it's in a state of chaos still. Not having Internet access for four days was a point of stress, in part because I've been Amazoning the crap out of immediate needs, and frankly we'd like to take a nice break to shop for light fixtures (we need many). I spent most of today in a combination of the old neighborhood club house and a Pei Wei because it took Spectrum a total of 6 phone calls talking to 12 people and four different techs on site to get me online. Because I underestimated the power of a modern electric stove, and because I couldn't find a spatula, I thoroughly burned a quesadilla. Simon's need to have my attention buried my guilt meter tonight, and I spent time building Lego with him and watching a little bit of a movie, but I was still short with him over silly things.

But there were some small victories. I got our Ring doorbell up and running, which is important because my office is quite literally about 100 feet from the front door. The remaining towel racks arrived today, even if I didn't have time to install them. I got the thermostats on a schedule. Yesterday I sold the screen doors we didn't need.

I'm really looking forward to nesting and enjoying the new place, but the chaos really got to me today. I forgot how nutty things can be, after a record 3.5 years without moving. Glad it wasn't very far this time.