One Month Perspective On Working From Home

Today marks one month of being a remote worker for my employer. I’m still learning on how to be the most effective with this new environment, but I wanted to reflect on my experiences for anyone else considering this working arrangement.

Lets get this out of the way: its not all unicorns and rainbows. I think that was the biggest surprise to me. It seems like a dream to wake up, walk into another room of your house, work a few hours, and already be at home when 5 o’clock hits. For those expecting instant happiness – you will be slightly disappointed.

The reality is that, like most things in life, working from home is a mixed bag. For those looking to make the transition, consider the following issues:

Isolation can be a big problem, depending on your personality. I think this blow was softened because I am a software developer, and I am used to working with a computer more than people already. I have already cut my teeth on reduced interaction. What I do miss is the comradery in working in a team environment. You often have lunches with your co-workers, entertaining side conversations, and a million other things that contribute to the work culture. When you are working remotely, you exclude yourself from most of that, and it can be frustrating to feel like your avenue for interaction has been reduced.

Reduced visibility in the company is another disadvantage. I feel that I need twice the participation in communications just to prove that I really do still exist. You aren’t in the chatter loop anymore, so information may come to you seemingly out of the blue. Its important to remember that the company isn’t just swinging at things to see what sticks – they are in discussions that you aren’t part of anymore. There is something to be said for that office grapevine. I also get the feeling that I am quietly passed over when it comes to opportunities. The “online” indicator in a chat room isn’t the same as being a warm body in the room when it comes to picking a person for a job.

Getting into a rut in your routine is something that you have to constantly work against. While it seems so simple to sleep in one room, and work in the next, my mind craves more experiences in a day than the walls of two rooms of my house. Like it or not that soul-sucking commute, and those bleak off-white painted walls in the office provide some stimulation. I think it is key to be mobile. Work from a coffee shop for a day, or visit a local university, or other facility welcoming of guests, and providing free wi-fi.

Take your lunches out a few times a week, just to stay connected with the outside. You will be amazed to know that the rest of the world isn’t in a stasis. Things on the outside change. New restaurants open, roads get built, technology improves, books get published. Partake in the changes by going outside your house.

Join a meetup group for fun, or for professional development. In addition to providing networking, and keeping you up on the times, it is also and excuse to go have a few drinks with some peers.

Its not all gloom and doom, as there are some really positive things about working from home. Some of these you probably already know (and maybe even dream about!):

You will have a lot more time. Simply commuting is an average of two hours a day – 10 hours a week that you instantly get back. Also, if you cook at home for lunch, often you can use the remainder of your time to complete tasks mid-day instead of waiting until the end of the day when you are tired. I often do some laundry, or vacuum, take the dogs for a walk, sit outside and read my book, etc. My wife and I have a seven month old daughter, and every minute is precious to me. Having more time to spend with her is priceless.

There are cost savings to remote work, including reduced wear and tear on your car, and fewer fill-ups at the pump. I actually got to reclassify my vehicle as as “for pleasure” on our auto insurance, since it is no longer used for commuting and falls under the cap for average miles per year. Other savings include cheaper lunches (unless you go out) since you have a full kitchen at your disposal, and a thus are able to prepare a range of foods. You may find other savings including no more mid-day dog-sitters, saving on a parking spot, or public transit (just kidding – this is Atlanta!).

You will be hyper-focused. A co-worker once told me “an office is a great place if you don’t want to get anything done”. I understand what he meant by this now. Co-workers can be lots of fun, but when you are trying to buckle down and squeeze something in on a deadline, the office is the least likely place that is going to happen. I often get “in the flow” for 3-4 hour straight in a day when working from home. Its important that you recognize the speed you are working at, relative to your output before to understand how productive you are. The first week, I felt like I was moving in slow motion trying to adjust to the new environment, only to find that I had increased my work output. I would wager I am twice as productive in a day at home relative to a day in the office.

That being said – take frequent breaks. Your coworkers aren’t there to give your brain a break – so its up to you. I find it the most ethical to take breaks doing tasks I can relate to my work. I read HackerNews, read a technical book, or use the time to test out some new technologies. I have already been able to fold some of this exploratory knowledge back into the projects at work.

You are free to travel (and for extended periods!). Lots of people binge vacation, one or two weeks a year. When working remotely, you aren’t tied to a particular location anymore. As long as you have a laptop, access to the Internet, and power, you can be anywhere in the world. My wife and I are gearing up to spend a month in St. Augustine, Florida. I will work during the day most of the time, taking only a few PTO days. After 5pm, or when the weekend hits you are already in the middle of vacationing. The best part is that the month long vacation schedule is one you can physically sustain, with plenty of rest between the activities.

The final benefit I will mention is being able to set your own schedule. You can’t get carried away, especially if your employer enforces office hours. But if you need to take lunch earlier, or later, you can. If you need to step away from the computer for a few minutes to handle something, you can. There is trust that has to occur between employer and employee, but in my experience, your employer is most concerned with work output. It is a loaded gun to know that you are being entrusted to operate with almost total autonomy. You no longer have the eye of an overseer watching your every movement, which is a liberating feeling. Just get what you need to get done, and don’t go crazy with power!

So far, I am loving it. I have heard mixed reports of people adapting to working remotely. Some people crawl on hands and knees begging to come back to the office, and some people work remote the rest of their career. I think it comes down to your particular personality. If you are like me, you just have to try something to know if it works for you. This is one gamble I am glad that I took.

For anyone seriously considering a teleworking gig, I would highly recommend a few resources that helped me get started. First first is a short post like this one from Kyle-Kulyk. I don’t touch on it, but he makes a great observation about how working from home will affect your relationships with significant others. Benefits of, and managing your new teleworking lifestyle can be found in the 4 Hour Work Week. This book contains lots of great resources for how to negotiate a remote work arrangement, and tips for extended travel. Finally, Joel Gascoigne has some great pointers for keeping yourself mentally happy during this big transition.

Working on the Javascripts From Atlanta

Goods news – I survived the two day journey back to Atlanta! My folks offered to help us move (or maybe it was to help their granddaughter move back). We rented a truck, and got everything loaded up Wednesday. After an exhausting day of packing, and cleaning I said good-bye to my Barrington, RI residence and hit the road. After living in the smallest state, its difficult for me to drive long distances, and Atlanta was a long distance destination. The drive was easy, and at the end of the journey I had friends, family, a big house, and my best friend’s wedding reception to make it to. It was the fuel I needed to keep my sanity.

After an overnight stop in Strausburg, VA, I made the rest of the journey with time to spare for the reception. It is amazing how different Atlanta looks form an outsider’s eyes. I got used to the close together houses, and the small, but dense cities of New England. When I got off of I-85 in Braselton, GA and start making my way on backroads to my in-law’s house I started to get shaken. I couldn’t believe how country it really is in rural Georgia. Parts were charming, like the road side tables with local produce for sale, and other parts were just run down and sad. At this point I had yet to see the house that I signed a year and a half lease on in person, and this was swaying my confidence in my decision.

After John and Anna’s wedding reception I called it a night, with move in day starting bright and early the next morning. We finally got moved in thanks to friends and family into our new house. The house is beautiful, and has been truly renovated. We have lots of space to grow into, and Morrigan finally gets a toy room. We have central air again, and a wrap around deck overlooks the tree canopy in the heavily wooded back yard. We are up against a creek, and so far, it has been very peaceful, but the the neighborhood is no Barrington. I missed the cicadas and fireflies.

Over the last few weeks we have been getting to see lots of folks, and are making up for lost time. A lot has changed, but not so much that we can’t catch up. I have enjoyed talking with everyone, and I feel so happy to be back.

Another big change for us has been my adoption of a teleworking arrangement. I am home during the day, working out of my office. It has been great not having a commute, and getting to maximize my time with Morrigan and Kristin. When I would go into work, I would spend most of the day waiting to get back home. Now I have both things, together. Before you cut me down with your death ray stare, it isn’t all perfect. I miss my coworkers, and the opportunity it provided me to get out and break from the routine. I will give a telecommute update in a few months once I find a good rhythm.

In programming news, I have become intrigued with Node.js and developing in Javascript. A client project at work turned me onto it, but the timing was terrible since I was a new, first time dad. I had to let that project go, but a recent Hack Day at MojoTech gave me time to focus my energy on Backbone. I have been slowly building a card game in the browser using Node.js + Backbone + Mongoose. The project is one of love, as I used to play this card game a lot in Middle School, but now it is a dead franchise. More updates on Javascript, and my side project in the days to come.

Self Realizations – Part I

During World War II, when you needed to get communications between two points, you often had to run a telegraph wire through enemy territory. I’m picturing the scene from Enemy at the Gates – where a soldier puts on a helmet, gets a spool of wire, and crawls on his belly through the mud, dodging enemy fire, and landmines. The goal is to not get picked off before your reach your destination because everyone is counting on you to make the connection.

Lately I have been engrossed in a side project that has given me an opportunity to work with the Android SDK. I have been so tickled at figuring out everything for the first time. Though I am moving at a snail’s pace, and it can be painful to have to constantly reference the documentation, StackOverflow, and Google at large, it has been a fun experience. Small things like talking to a database, or rotating a bitmap feel like big achievements, and make the struggling worth it. Seeing the Java side of the world puts some things about Ruby into perspective too. I know I am better having tinkered with it, and I had fun while doing it.

I have come to realize that its why I love programming. I love running that first line across unknown territory. It is proof that I can accomplish what I set out to do even with almost no prior knowledge about an environment. It is the same rush I get when tinkering with my car, or building computers, installing a ceiling fan, compiling a kernel, or raising a kid. It is about creating something to solve a problem using common tools and applying knowledge to make something awesome of it all. If I didn’t program, I’m not sure what other career I would have that would give me this same chance to tinker with new stuff.

As part of this self realization, I have discovered by my child-like excitement in my accomplishments, how much I miss this in my current work capacity. I’m not building new things anymore. I’m just polishing the same things, and the details don’t really excite me like the prototypes do. I like “broad strokes”. We need people that do the detail work too, but its decidedly not for me.

So find out what it is that you love, and make it happen. Your job and your passion aren’t always in phase, but don’t let let your passion die out just because you are getting paid to do something else.

The Great ICS Upgrade Scandle: Everyone Just Calm Down

I have been hearing an increasing amount of chatter lately about the infamous Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) delays for Android. I want to discuss the actual impact, and propose some resolutions to this problem.

The article that inspired me to write this is Jason Perlow’s post “I’m sick to death of Android“. Hopefully that title is a hyperbole, but it does address the primary issue that I have with people complaining about ICS delays – I don’t see it as show stopping. Name me the new features that are in ICS? How is this OS upgrade going to change your day-to-day phone experience? Sure it would be nice, and there are probably plenty of small touches, but this isn’t revolutionary.

Jason is the (proud?) owner of a Motorola Xoom tablet, and the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. The former was recently acquired by Google, and the latter of which is a Google Experience handset, meant to be a developer reference device. He argues that not receiving timely updates has caused him to “throw in the towel”.

I can sympathize with him about not getting updates on his Galaxy Nexus device, as its primary marketing angle appears to be “first” when it comes to updates. If I had dropped the money on that phone, I would be upset if major updates weren’t being released. However, Galaxy Nexus already has ICS, and he is addressing other updates from “bugfix iterations”. Not too exciting. I feel less bad for him about his Motorola tablet. Unless Jason is clairvoyant, he didn’t buy the Motorola tablet because of its strong candidacy for timely updates from Google after they acquired Motorola.

The Problem

ICS was released by Google in October 2011, which has been six months ago, but still accounts for only 1.6% of distribution of Android versions. I can’t defend that. It is a red flag for major distribution problems. Apple’s iOS adoption rate reached 61% in only 15 days and people are tempted to draw a comparison. Google’s Android, and Apple’s iOS are both mobile phone platforms, however they are operating on completely different distribution models. Android was never meant to be a closed ecosystem like iOS. You can’t install iOS on non-Apple hardware. You can with Android.

I think a more apt comparison is between Google and Microsoft’s distribution models. Microsoft makes the Windows operating system, and hardware manufacturers install it on their devices. Its not exactly the same since Microsoft charges for upgrades, and you bypass the hardware vendor to install the upgrade on your device. The mobile carrier middle-man is also non-existent in the Microsoft model.

When Google releases an Android OS upgrade, and handset manufacturers push it to their own devices when they are ready. Further, the mobile carrier may withhold a device OTA update until it deems it is ready (or even necessary). Handset manufactures have clearly prioritized selling new devices over supporting current devices. I’m sure they have ran the numbers, and have made this decision because it yields the most profit. They are a business after all. Apple pushes these updates because they get a cut of every App Store sale, and a failure to upgrade a device is a potential loss of revenue.

Why would a mobile carrier dedicate resources into deploying an OTA update for devices that are “working just fine?”. It comes down to money again, and their decision is clear. Apple probably provides monetary, or exclusivity incentives to the mobile carrier to push their updates. There are many Android phones, but only one iPhone, so carriers probably acquiesce to Apple’s demands.

Solutions

So how can we make this work, without abandoning the entire Android concept over just this one issue?

Incentivise upgrades for carriers/handset vendors. What if OS updates were not free, like in the Microsoft model? A nominal free for upgrading may offset the costs of handset manufacturer, and carrier costs for supporting such an upgrade. Businesses like money, and Ice Cream Sandwich is worth something to me, especially given that most of us are locked into a two year contract anyway. I would rather put some money towards an upgrade now, then wait until my contract runs out to upgrade to a device that has the update.

Educate ourselves. There is no correlation between handset manufacturer’s sales and past performance on OS upgrades. This doesn’t seem to be an issue with the majority of consumers with Android devices. Without it affecting sales, there is little reason to divert resources into maintaining already sold devices.

Open the device boot-loaders. Maybe OS upgrades aren’t the responsibility of handset manufactures or mobile carriers at all, like in the Microsoft model. If people who wanted the OS upgrade had a way to load the update themselves, then this would act as a pressure release value for the current scenario. The idea of a locked boot-loader seems to be archaic anyways, and is rooted in fear. Let the consumer own their own device and do with it as they please.

Make a kickass OS upgrade, and drive consumer demand. Ice Cream Sandwich just seems so lackluster to me. (Maybe I stopped believing it was so cool to keep from going crazy). Short of a few new features, there isn’t anything game changing about this release. Android has plenty of problems that are within the realm of the OS to address. Give me greatly improved battery life, blazing fast performance, zero boot time, fantastic reception, FM radio, overclocking abilities; something – anything to get me excited about an upgrade. I don’t see ICS as changing the day-to-day use of my phone in any meaningful way, and thus I’m not rallying hard for it on my device. I can’t imagine I am alone in patiently waiting for this meek update.

Forget UI customizations; the differentiator should be upgrade latency. People have prophesied about the race-to-the-bottom happening for Android devices the same way it did for PCs. Manufacturers are differentiating themselves in meaningless ways, such as skinning the stock Android UI, or building useless shit that consumers don’t care about. These customizations prolong upgrade turnaround times, when in fact manufacturers should be doing the opposite. As OSNews.com’s Thom Holwerda states: ” they’re wasting considerable resources on useless and ugly crap that does nothing to benefit consumers. Android may have needed customisation a number of versions ago – but not today. ICS is ready as-is. TouchWiz and Samsung’s other customisations add nothing.”. Instead of scaping the bottom of the bucket for ideas on how to differentiate, lets have one manufacturer try this. Hopefully stronger sales would substantiate the idea that consumers care about OS upgrades.

Acknowledge that the lifespan of a phone is only two years. The predominate cell phone sale model in the US is one of subsidized hardware. You pay inflated monthly prices to offset the cost of a low up front purchase cost on your device. Most people upgrade devices at the end of their contract period, since the inflated subsidized price never drops anyway. It is in your best interest to have the latest and greatest because the current model is so abusive to consumers. This being said, the average lifespan of a phone is around two years. How many major OS releases will occur in that timespan? Probably just one. Maybe this short lifespan doesn’t justify the need to have these devices be upgraded at all. Remember that computer you may have bought because it had extra slots to upgrade the memory? Did you actually fill those slots, or just buy a newer faster computer a few years later instead?

Final Thought

So Jason, enjoy your 2.3 experience, because it is probably near identical to the 4.0 experience you are dying to get. I wouldn’t throw in the towel yet on Android because ICS is taking a while to come out. It will get here, and as soon as Google is hurt by lack of adoption they will take action. I hope that my solutions provide some food for thought on how to fix the current problem. Instead of compulsively pressing the “Software Update” option, I’m going to enjoy my experience, and stop letting the media dictate how I should feel. Though “fragmented” we Android users may be, an app targeting the 2.1 platform can be run on 97% of the current devices. That is what developers will be targeting, and I’m sure I’m not missing much from the other 3% of apps that I can’t run before I receive my update.

The State of the Patent System

Next, by Michael Crichton carries a profound message about the state of the patent system. The end of the book offers an “Author’s Note” that outlines what Dr. Crichton proposed to mitigate the issues he outlines in his novel. Namely, he argues to stop patenting genes:

“Genes are facts of nature. Like gravity, sunlight, and leaves on trees, genes exist in the natural world. Facts of nature can’t be owned. You can own a test for a gene, or a drug that affects a gene, but not the gene itself. You can own a treatment for a disease, but not the disease itself. Gene patents break that fundamental rule.”

We could argue that genes are a fundamental element to life. It is the most basic information structure that instructs cells how to replicate. Without genes, no higher organization of cellular activity can exist because the “blueprints” are missing. I find this to have parallels with patents being held on basic computing operations. If we view the gene as a lower level mechanism that is used in the higher operations of a cell’s reproduction, then it is similar to basic lower level hardware and software operations that are used in a higher level computing devices.

Take for example patent #5,455,599: Object-Oriented Graphic System. Apple was issued this patent in 1995 and is very technical to the point that Engadget doesn’t even feel comfortable explaining it, but it covers a graphical system that is manipulated in an object oriented fashion. This is a basic mechanism of graphical interfaces. Patents #5,519,867 and #6,275,983: Object Oriented Multitasking System and Object-Oriented Operating System cover accessing OS services in a multi-threaded way. Basically, these patents would be impossible not to infringe on if you are building a computer today. These patents were issued to Apple, and were used in court against HTC for patent infringement on the Android OS. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Apple is not alone in using heavy handed litigation involving unavoidable actions in computing that are patented. Microsoft recently struck a deal with phone maker LG to pay royalties on the Android platform because of patents Microsoft claims they have against Google. Its simply “protection money”, and a way to abuse the legal system to slow down competition. Microsoft is now making royalties from 70% of Android devices being sold in the US. What if the patent on using a mouse to interface with a computer was still being used? What about displaying text on a screen for the user to read?

I would hate to think that my medical research is being inhibited in the same manner as the technology industry. Consider Crichton’s observation on the progress of the SARS vaccine:

“In its heyday, research on SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) was inhibited because scientists were unsure who owned the genome – three simultaneous patent claims had been filed. As a result, research on SARS wasn’t as vigorous as it might have been. That should scare every sensible person. Here was a contagious disease with a 10 percent death rate that had spread to two dozen countries around the world. Yet scientific research to combat the disease was inhibited-because of patent fears.”

Imagine if cures for cancer, or the common cold were being held up in the same such legal nonsense. I think the absurdity of patenting genes is best illustrated by Crichton in the following scenario:

“The patent consists of pure information already existing in nature. Because there has been no invention, no one can innovate any other use of the patent without violating the patent itself, so further innovation is closed. Its like allowing someone to patent noses. You couldn’t make Kleenex, nasal sprays, masks, makeup or perfume because they all rely on some aspect of noses. You could put suntan on your body, but not on your nose, because any modification of your nose would violate the patent on noses. Chefs could be sued for making fragrant dishes unless they paid the nose royalty. And so on…It takes little imagination to see the monopolistic patenting inhibits creation and productivity.”

This novel was revealing in its description of the same broken patent system in medicine that is facing the technology sector. Crichton aimed to illustrate the need for reform in this system, and I think he accomplished that mission by starting a dialog. What are your thoughts on patenting software and hardware operations? How far should these patents extend? How common an operation can be patent-able?

Another Helping of Abstraction, Please

Rails 3.1 is soon to be released, and with it comes two new abstraction libraries – CoffeeScript, and S(ass)CSS. These libraries are used to generate Javascript code, and CSS definitions respectively. While abstraction libraries are nothing new to Rails, the inclusion of two more got me thinking about the direction that Rails stack is heading.

CoffeeScript’s syntax seems to be to make Javascript as Ruby-ish as possible. It describes Javascript’s curly braces and semicolons as embarrassing.

SCSS aims to address some of the repetitive elements of CSS through the use of variables, nesting, and mixins. This feels more acceptable to me than CoffeeScript, but my first encounter left me burned.

A few other abstraction libraries of relevance: Haml aims to generate HTML without the use of HTML tags. Additionally, Squeel‘s (MetaWhere 2.0) aim is to remove all SQL from your projects.

So what am I bitching about? Abstraction is a good thing right? I see two categories of abstraction. The first being the “good” kind, that allow you to be completely ignorant of the underpinnings. For example, Ruby converting down into machine code.

The “bad” kind of abstraction are the substitution of a language with a DSL. This creates a lot of issues starting with development and debugging. In the case of CoffeeScript and SASS, you have to compile the DSL files into Javascript, and CSS files. I feel like this compile step is a step back from what we gain working with dynamic languages like Ruby, and Javascript to begin with.

Development in these libraries also requires that you understand both the DSL of the library, as well as being familiar with the language of the generated code. This additional skill requirement adds time to a project, and raises the entry bar for new developers. Its difficult to be proficient at a language, and a DSL that generates that language at the same time. A Ruby developer told me yesterday that he was surprised at how rusty his knowledge of SQL had gotten. Its shocking to me that a web developer would struggle with SQL, but I think its an accurate sentiment on which many Rails developers would agree.

Another casualty of abstraction is performance. Not only is the generated code sub-optimized relative to coding it by hand, it is also being run through through more system calls to get there. You can either compile up front (CoffeeScript, SASS), or you can incur this penalty on-the-fly (Haml, Squeel).

While none of the libraries are a requirement of web development, when working on a team that uses these technologies you are expected to produce consistent code. Even though these libraries let you execute “native” code, doing so is discouraged because of the availability of the DSL. The syntax for embedding native code (if its even allowed) is often cumbersome, and loses editor functionality such as syntax highlighting and parsing.

Since when did Ruby on Rails web developers stop working with SQL, CSS, HTML, and Javascript? I am beginning to feel like the Ruby camp is becoming the far left extremists of the web development world. The web is built on these core technologies, and the benefits of abstracting them doesn’t seem to outweigh the costs.

The Biggest Little State in the Union

After weeks of unpacking, building out shelves, replacing lighting fixtures, unpacking some more, organizing, selling our possessions, getting creative with storing what possessions we didn’t sell, and living off restaurant food, life is finally getting back to normal for me, the wife, and all the critters. Moving day came and went as smoothly as I could hope. Thanks to the blunder of the Warren property, we were overly prepared and living out of boxes for a week prior to the move. In eight hours time we went from being citizens of Braintree, Massachusetts to Barrington, Rhode Island. I was just getting the hang of spelling ‘Massachusetts’ too.

The new property is close to the bay, in a scenic suburb with lots of folks walking, biking, and taking the dogs out. While our street ends at the water’s edge, we did sacrifice quite a bit of space in the move. We have been power sellers on Craigslist, getting some liquidity for things we didn’t have room for in the new place.

Also on Craigslist, I picked up a 2008 Lemond Reno in gently used condition for a great bargin at $225. With a quick tune up, and a bike helmet I decided to bike into work on Friday. I haven’t been on a bike probably since I was in middle school sporting the Huffy around the cul-de-sac. I couldn’t believe how much fun it was to ride! I always found it obnoxious when bike people would talk bikes, but its different once the bike bug hits. All I have wanted to do since Friday is have my body heal enough so I can get back on the bike and ride into work again. We strategically picked this location because of its proximity to the bike path, and this will become my commute to work, as well as a fantastic workout. Its quite a scenic view on my way in, as the bike path follows the bay through Barrington, and down into Warren. Perhaps I can convince the wife to pick up a bike herself and we can venture down to Newport once we get conditioned.

The new job is going very well. I read some materials on Job Characteristic Modeling, and I felt it did a great job at explaining why comparable work at my new employer has been drastically different for me than previous work. I struggled with task variety, identity, significance, and autonomy, which was a recipe for unsatisfaction. Government contracts are hard, and I have a new respect for the people that can do it. Mojo Tech is reminiscent of my time at Clayton State where I was given large problems to work through (some running for weeks at a time) and a full spectrum of disciplines needed to solve them. I guess the moral of the story is experiment with different company styles until you find one that pairs well with the way you work.

In other exciting news, I will be doing a presentation on the Rubymine IDE this Wednesday at the Rhode Island Ruby Users Group. Look forward to meeting the other Ruby developers here in the state of Rhode Island.

Pictures of the house are coming soon, as we prepare the last of the decorations. We are having a house party this Saturday, and any co-workers, past and present are invited. Come meet, mingle, and check out our new pad!

My House By the Sea

Last week I received an email from a recruiter looking to staff a Ruby on Rails development shop in Warren, RI. The job is 20 minutes away from Roger Williams Zoo (my wife’s future employer), and was in a quite, cheaper suburb right in the Bristol bay areas. The first house my wife showed me we mapped out directions for on Google, and the commute time was 25 seconds! This is a smaller salary, but I was weighing the trade-offs of salary, with quality of life. I would drastically reduce my commute, get to take my dogs into work, and work on projects that I feel I would be a better match for. For every reason to go, I could find an equally compelling reason not to go. I went in for an interview, and got a job offer. Inside of a week, I talked to my wife, my best friend, my parents, and myself. I wore myself down with little sleep. What I did get was restless, and the thought of switching consumed my every waking thought. Some folks at work lived in the area where this new employer was, and over the course of a few meals, I learned enough past experiences from them that I become convinced that this was where I wanted to be. I took confidence in someone from work who I consider very wise, and he took humor in the fact that this was such a struggle for me. I simply couldn’t see the forest through the trees. After assuring me that I would indeed take the job, and that I would love it, I went home that night on the train. From the time I got on the train, until the Taxi ride to my front door step, I noticed that my health had taken a turn for the worst. I had a heavy cough, I was sore, and I was freezing cold. After an unsatisfying dinner, I went into a sick, restless sleep. In the dreams I had (no doubt fueled by various crossings of medications) I saw my life staying at my current job, and my life at my new employer. I slept for what felt like days. When I woke up, backed with confidence by my wife and my co-worker confidant, I knew what the right decision was. I had just experienced a spiritual journey!

For those of you that are my current co-workers, I will genuinely miss you. It has been a hell of a good time at Beacon, and I feel lucky to have worked with such a great team. I hope that I got to share some of my Southernisms in your lives, as much as you have given me a perspective on the customs of New England. I will remember the lunches that I stuffed myself over, the great Android/iPhone debates, the pool games that I miserably lost, the new terms like ‘Ghabo‘ that are drilled into my vocabulary, new nautical terms learned navigating the Charles River, and tossing around the old pig skin. In the end, the commute, and the type of work was just too much for me to bare. I made it almost a full year, but it is time for me to move on and find my personal happiness. You are all invited down to the new house (wherever it may be). I know Kyle and Louis are in since its their old stomping ground. Fisher, and Josh are always up for a good time. Hoydis loves sailing, which Newport has plenty of. And lo and behold, an On The Border exists in Warwick, so I know Jeremy, the wife and kids are in. I wish I had more resolve to stay, but I know when its time to fold and go get my house by the sea.

Until we meet again!

You Found Me!

Sorry for any confusion to the few who read my slice of the web. My old DNS name, simpson.mine.nu provided to me through dyndns.org expired leaving me stranded. Looking back through my emails it seems that I had 5 days to reply to continue my account and I failed to do so. Instead of just being a simple fix of creating a new account, they have moved my domain name to a premium service. Instead of forking over my cash, I have decided to stop being lazy and buy a real domain name. So for all who have made it this far, welcome to my new home. The bathrooms are two doors down on the right.

Year of the eBook Readers

No doubt that like me, many of you are getting or giving an eBook reader of some kind for this holiday season. It seems to be a perfect convergence of technology, price point, services and availability, and consumer demand. Initially I was not very interested in eBook readers because I saw them less about the experience, and more about creating a platform for companies to sell content through (a la iTunes). Coming from that perspective, I was impressed to discover the analog conventions present in the digital framework of eBooks. In particular, the Barnes and Noble Nook (in particular) allows me to do three things that surprised me:

  1. Lending program: I can take materials that I have on my device and lend them to my friends. This is setup to mimic lending an actual resource, although with a few more restrictions (14 day limit, one time, etc). During this time, I am not allowed to read the material on my device (policy over technology). It would be great to see this feature become cross-compatible with other platforms. The Nook app is free on most mobile devices, so sharing should be straight forward.
  2. Integration with public library systems: A big reason I resisted an eReader is that I don’t often purchase my books. I am an active patron at the library (why not? – I pay taxes for something!). This was an analog system that allowed me access to resources free of charge. It turns out that the Old Colony Library Network of Massachusetts allows you to checking out a wide range of materials in digital formats. What is even better is I can do this online!  There is a slight complexity with integrating with Adobe’s DRM solution for providing this functionality, but its mostly transparent to me.
  3. Previewing books at the Barnes and Noble: Another analog system is that I could go into a bookstore, and sit down and read a few chapters of the book to see if I liked it before I bought it. The eReaders allows this as well. I can go to any Barnes and Noble, connect to their wi-fi and browse for up to an hour a day for free. My eReader even gives me cafe coupons for food and drinks while I browse!

These digital solutions are meant to mirror our existing analog system. This is a smart move by the people driving the policies of these devices because its addressing the limitations people see with digital formats. These solutions aren’t perfect, but they are a breath of fresh air in the typical DRM rhetoric. What are your experiences with reading in a digital format? Has anyone coupled their device with desktop syncing software such as Calibre?