You Goofing Off? No, I’m Compiling!

XKCD The Code is CompilingNow that I’m getting back into real coding again (not just html & CSS) I’m being reminded that a large part of coding, especially when you’re new to a language and make a lot of mistakes, is waiting for code to compile.

I’d say that I don’t mind it, but that wouldn’t be true. I’m so much busier these days than I used to be. As a result, every minute of compiling feels like a wasted opportunity. For that reason, I’m keeping a lot of smaller tasks handy so that I can be productive even when I’m waiting. Since I work from home these days, those tasks can vary from reading up on the tech news to household chores, depending on how I’m feeling and how long I think I have.

The key thing for me is that I’m not twiddling my thumbs. Lost time feels like a horrible waste these days since I have two kids and free time is a rare luxury that should not be squandered. I’m thinking I might actually fit some exercises or meditation into these forced breaks. Whatever I end up doing, it will be a heck of a lot more productive than sitting around watching my computer compiling code.

Beware of Web Services!

Cursor pointer pointing at cracksLike many people, I love trying out new services on the web. Some of them are really cool and offer simple ways to integrate them into your website. So, we plug them in and forget about them. At least we forget about them until the web service goes down or closes up shop and disappears. Then we end up with a gaping hole in functionality somewhere in our website where we once had a really cool feature that we were relying on.

I’m not a cloud naysayer, but the reality that a service going down or out of business can put something that you built around that service in jeopardy, is a reality. That’s why I prefer software that I can install on my own server (or a cloud server) and then maintain myself. Then, as long as I pay to have the software hosted on a server somewhere, I can continue to run it until it isn’t compatible with something else I’ve installed. So, that is always my preference.

If running the software on my own server isn’t an option, then I weigh the importance of the feature and my perceived reliability of the company providing it. For example, when it comes to hosting an application for my customers, I don’t want to put my website on the servers of some startup that has been around for a year. I would prefer to host my website on Amazon or Rackspace. Those are large companies with good reputations. Plus, they have a lot of money and customers, so they are unlikely to go anywhere or to have their services shut down if another company manages to acquire them.

Now, if the feature that the web service provides isn’t critical and would be easy to remove from my site if it broke, then I might well install it. At that point, I’m just experimenting and having some fun. I’m probably hoping that the service survives, but if it doesn’t, I won’t have a tremendous amount of work dealing with the ramifications if it closes down. Entrepreneurs are busy people. Who wants to waste time cleaning up a mess caused by some other company when you could be working on your own product? Minimize your exposure to those types of services and build a stable foundation for your business. Just because a service is cool, doesn’t mean you should use it.

Words Matter! Edit Your Writing!

Proofreading spelled wrong on blackboardToday’s post is a huge pet peeve of mine. It looks like people no longer care about spelling and grammar on the internet. For some people it almost seems like a point of pride that their writing looks like it was composed by a third grader. Some people even purposefully affect mistakes to look “cool.” Here’s a secret; nobody is impressed. In fact, a lot of people that matter are going to be put off if you can’t take the time to write correctly.

We live in a time where there are both spelling and grammar checkers. There is no excuse for grammar and spelling mistakes. As for typos, what those show is that your audience is so unimportant that not only could you not be bothered to reread your prose a single time, you also couldn’t be bothered to heed the squiggly lines that your writing editor is throwing up warning you about your mistakes.

Clean up your writing people. Even if you believe that some people will find your mistakes “cool,” do you really believe that those same people would write you off if you didn’t make mistakes? Of course not. The majority of people who don’t think spelling and grammar errors are “cool”, on the other hand, will write you off if you can’t be bothered to proofread and correct your writing. So, put in a little effort in your writing or people won’t believe that you put in any effort in any of the work you do.

(Can you find the mistake in the article? If you couldn’t then this article was probably edited enough. If you could, then leave the mistake in the comments below.)

For God’s Sake, Just Try It!

How many times have I thought it would be cool to do something new or make a positive change in my life? Often, and all too often that something seems too difficult to attempt or too difficult to maintain. So, I never get past the point of thinking about it. Well, in his Ted talk, “Try Something New for 30 Days,” Matt Cutts talks about how the solution to that problem is to create 30 day challenges for yourself.

By creating 30 day challenges you make whatever you are targeting seem more manageable. For example, it sounds easier to stop eating sugar for 30 days than to stop forever. While 30 days seems more manageable, he argues that it is also about the right length of time to take that very thing you are attempting in the challenge and turn it into a habit. That’s pretty powerful. He also says that doing these 30 day challenges has had another side benefit for him. It has increased his confidence because of everything he has been able to conquer.

I can see the benefit of the way Matt targets these challenges as 30 days. The key to their success though is that you need to want to accomplish your challenge. Otherwise, you will fail. Also, for some people, a bit of accountability is necessary. It’s easy to get derailed on a goal, even if it is only a 30 day goal. To test out Matt’s system, I’m going to plan a 30 day challenge for myself for May. I don’t trust myself if I don’t make myself accountable though. So, I’ll probably tell my wife about my challenge and then post it on Twitter. If I give daily updates, that should keep me on track. Hopefully, that will help me to form some new habits that can spark some changes in my life.

Check out Matt’s talk to gain a little inspiration for yourself!

Catch-Up Weekend

Many armed businessman workingIt’s time for another catch-up weekend for me. That is a weekend where I power through a bunch of tasks that I haven’t been able to accomplish over the past few weeks. You know the types of tasks I’m talking about. Those scores of quick tasks that you never get to because you’re just so busy with other more urgent tasks. The ones that nag at you whenever your mind strays from what you’re working on, making you feel guilty that you haven’t accomplished them.

Well, I’ve decided to dedicate one weekend a month to tackling as many of those as possible. The benefits of this are twofold. First, I get a lot of tasks checked off my list, reducing my guilt.  Second, I get the satisfaction of accomplishing a lot, energizing me for the rest of the month. I’ve tried catch-up weekends in the past and they have always worked for me, but I have never made them a monthly habit. Well, this month will be the first. I’ve added Catch-Up Weekend to my calendar and put it on a monthly repeat. I’ll get an alert the week before, in case I need to shift it a week due to some commitment, but I’ll do it every month.

The plan for these weekends is to look at my to do list and grab the items that have bothered me the most over the past month and plow through them one after another. If I come across something that is new to my list, but has the potential to fall into the same category next month, I’ll knock those off too, if time permits. This month it looks like I have some email correspondence, some website cleanup, two articles I promised to edit for two different people, themes I need to choose and install for two websites and some server work I need to do for the non profit whose Board of Directors, I’m on. I’ll be busy this weekend, but I’ll feel better for getting some of those tasks off my mind. I’m actually looking forward to getting to it tomorrow!

Failure Is Always An Option

Road Sign Failure or SuccessDon’t believe those people that say that failure is not an option for an entrepreneur. You know those people that say that you have to fight for what you believe in until you succeed. They’re wrong. Failure is an option. It’s a nasty distasteful option and a last resort, but it is an option. Especially, if you persevere with an idea with no market or route to profitability. People love the story of the entrepreneur that had the crazy idea and persevered, never taking no for an answer until they succeeded. Here’s the dirty little secret. It’s because their idea was good enough. That and that stories of people overcoming adversity are much more memorable than those of businesses that fade away into failure and so they are told more often.

Perseverance is a great thing, but if you have a new pet grooming service that is all natural using fair trade monkeys rescued from people who smuggled them into the country, you’r not going to succeed. It doesn’t matter how hard you push. Who would want to pay you $100 to have a monkey groom their pet? Ok, maybe some people in Hollywood, but I question whether or not you can convince enough people to even cover the cost to house your monkeys.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating quitting. I’m discouraging the dogged pursuit of an idea that is destined for failure. If the business idea isn’t working, do some more market research. Is the market too small? Talk to your potential customers. Why are they or aren’t they using your product? Look at your competitors. What are they doing that makes them more successful than you? Take all that information and see if you can turn the business around. If so, go for it. (more…)

Too Busy? Automate More!

Woman busy on two phonesEvery day is packed with activities. Work to do, appointments to get to, events to attend, chores to get done and there never seems to be any free time. Our lives are too busy and all the technology we surround ourselves doesn’t seem to make it better. In a world with computers, dishwashers, washing machines and microwaves, how are we busier than our grandparents were?

The reality seems to be that nature abhors a vacuum. So, when we get more free time, we fill it up. Once the housework that was done by housewives was simplified by modern appliances and we started having less kids to take care of, families seemed to default to two incomes. After that, our reduced chores had to be crammed around two busy work schedules, thereby eating up our gains and then some.

Unfortunately, while we were filling up all our free time, we seem to have swung too far in the opposite direction. We get more done than ever before and make more money than we had, but we have less time. How can we fix that? We either need to do less or automate more. Doing less isn’t an option for me so, wherever I can, I try to automate. Here are a few places I do that: (more…)

Thoughts on App Stats & User Perception

iPhone Stats PageThe average amount of apps that an iOS user has downloaded for their phone has been reported to be anywhere from 40 -100. As you can see from the image on this post, I have 395 applications installed. Even allowing for preinstalled apps, if they are counted in that number, I am well above average. I was pondering that discrepancy between myself and the average iOS user and thinking about whether or not my number was better for developers or not.

On reflection, I concluded that neither number is a complete picture. If the average user is anything like me, they have many more apps that they downloaded, didn’t like, and then deleted. Maybe I’m just a hoarder and delete a smaller percentage of my downloaded apps. Does that potentially large percentage of deleted apps matter? This led me to question what percentage of app downloads are paid vs. free. I know that I have purchased quite a few apps, but the majority I downloaded were free. Some were free on a temporary deal, while others were always free.
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What Motivates Us?

Businesses seem to operate as if money is what most motivates their employees. Well, that isn’t really the case. The meaning of the work is more important to employees. It makes them happier, more productive and willing to work more. If the work isn’t perceived as meaningful, people will often choose to do something different.

I have experienced this first hand. I worked for a large financial client in New York once that had a large project that was important for their sales team. The final version of the software that they wanted installed and configured wasn’t finished yet. While they waited for that, they decided that they wanted to take the weekly builds of the software and build out what they could. Every week, they deleted the development repository, installed the new version and rebuilt everything again. It was much like Sisyphus pushing the rock up the hill. This went on for a couple months. Then they wanted everyone to work weekends, so that we could get a little farther every week. Can you guess where this was going? Three quarters of our team quit the company, including one Indian developer on an H-1B Visa who had to return home. It wasn’t worth it for even him to stay in that position.

This demonstrates how important it is for a job to have meaning. That doesn’t mean that that every job has to change the world, but it has to have some meaning to someone, somewhere. Otherwise, it saps the motivation from people. For a good talk on this phenomena, check out this TEDx talk by Dan Ariely. I originally found out about it over on Lifehacker.

A Little Design Inspiration

Niice.com LogoWe’ve all had that time where we need to work up a design and we just aren’t getting inspired. So, we search around to see what others have done in the hopes that it will get us thinking of a look and feel that will work for us. If you want a place that scours BehanceDribbbleDesignspirationFubiz & Minimalissimo, then look no further than Niice.com.

The service seems to be a little buggy at times, especially when you’re doing multiple word queries. It’s worth a look though since, when it works, it is quick and easy to find some design inspiration. So, check it out. I’m sure it will only get better with time.