Buenos Aires Recap, First 24 Hours in Santiago

So far first 24 hours have been way smoother than when in Buenos Aires. I didn't lose any credit cards, climbed up to Castillo Hidalgo which had an amazing view, and I found a great restaurant for dinner. I also think it went smoother because instead of going from for the most part only ever in the US to a country and city that was basically the complete opposite. I had to get used to the culture, money, language, etc. Now I have a month’s experience and it’s much smoother. 

I spent much of my nights and weekends in Buenos Aires hanging out with someone from Spain, Alberto. Aside, I referred to him as “The Spaniard” when talking about him with friends and coworkers :DD. I assumed that just because he spoke the language he knew everything but he didn’t. Yes, he spoke Spanish, but the Spanish in South America is way different and he had a hard time understanding them. Also, he went through the same cultural differences I did. So I assumed he’d have a 100% leg up on me but he only had a 20%. 

I like Santiago, the neighborhood and the Airbnb is nice, but I get the impression the neighborhood is very different than the rest of Santiago. I almost wish I was in a more "authentic" neighborhood instead of this very rich one. I like the neighborhood in that it feels very similar to "home" but I kind of like being out of my comfort zone to learn and grow and I'm not in this neighborhood. It’s nice knowing what to do when going to a bar which was kind of confusing in Buenos Aires. 

In Buenos Aires it seemed like the people were pretty mixed ethnically so I didn’t stick out but in Santiago I stand out like a sore thumb. Maybe because Buenos Aires is on the east coast facing towards Europe and Santiago is on the other side of the Andes and was kind of isolated? 

Let's talk about the Airbnb. It's very nice and the hosts are friendly, but I think I hate it. The hosts are an older couple that only work 1-2 days a week and I think they are lonely so they talk way too much. I can't enter or leave the house without a 15 minute monologue about 20 different countries and how well they speak English. Every time I've asked a question I've regretted it. This is only the first 24 hours and I'm here for 28 days. I'm not looking forward to sitting in the house working for eight hours a day with them wandering around bored. To be honest, I went from my favorite Airbnb to what I think is going to be my worst Airbnb ever. 

Choosing how long to stay in an Airbnb is going to be tough. I really wish I wasn't in this one for 28 days so maybe two weeks in each is good. However I didn't really warm up to people in Buenos Aires for two weeks and then I loved the Airbnb and wanted to stay longer. If I had only stayed there two weeks I would have never had as much fun as I did. I had so much fun I thought about staying a few more weeks but decided in the end that paying for two Airbnbs in two different countries at the same time wasn’t practical. It wouldn’t have been a hardship so maybe I should have. 

The people I met in Buenos Aires made me really want to learn Spanish so I’m going to try to find a tutor or something in Santiago to get better. I really hated not knowing what people were saying at dinner without having to lean on Google Translate a lot of the time. 


Day One Traveling the World

Holy crap the first day was scary. The flights were smooth but when I got to Buenos Aires I forgot my debit card at an ATM, left my bag of carefully curated adapters and backup chargers at home, and my cell service, which was supposed to work in Buenos Aires, didn't work. Those things were carefully planned out ahead of time and they still went south. I was kind of panic-y but by the end, it's all good. 

I configured my Amex card to give me cash at ATMs (not cheap, but it works) and once I found an ATM that spoke English, I got cash. I had put a United States outlet to Argentina outlet adapter in my backpack so I had that, I didn't think it would work with a three prong plug but turns out, it does. I still don't have cell service but I stopped caring for the most part. I had saved maps offline in Google Maps. That combined with stilling having a GPS signal meant I could still get where I needed easily. You can't search for places or get directions without a data connection but you can look at the map and figure it out. 

Being able to charge my laptop was probably one of the most important things to figure out by Monday. I couldn't do what I'm doing without a super flexible job but to have that super flexible job, I need to be able to work and that means I need my laptop and wifi. And I do. 

I can eat, I can work, I have a safe place to sleep, I have a clean place to shower and poop. I'm pretty happy. The only thing I'm a little worried about is feeling isolated because the language and culture barrier is bigger than I thought it was going to be. 

Today was more interesting than the last few months combined back "home".


iSepta End of Life

Almost six and a half years ago Chris Conley, Jason Tremblay and I launched iSepta to make looking up the regional rail schedules in Philadelphia easier on your phone. Chris has done an AMAZING job of maintaining and extending it the last few years but we are all ready to move on. So yesterday I shut it down. It's been a lot of fun!


Origion of BRBots.brb

I often use phrases like "driving.bbs" for "be back soon" or "lunch.bbe" for "be back eventually". people have wondered where that come from so I thought I would explain it.

Back when I was a structural engineer (2005-2007) one of my jobs was to do the grunt work on three concrete towers near Old City Philadelphia. We worked on them in parallel because they were pretty close to identical except the various heights. I would have to analyze all three in a program we had which took a couple hours each. Pretty quickly I started running them on other people's computers when they they were out of the office so they could be analyzed in parallel. Each building would be analyzed for ~20 load cases which were for the most part independent of each other. Some examples would be wind from one direction, wind from another direction, earthquake, etc. 

Soon after I left to work for myself I thought it would be awesome if I could have easily dispatched each load case to other computers in the office that weren't being used very heavily. For example, the secretaries or people out of the office. I was calling them BRBots because the bots would say they were ready for work, I would tell them what to do, and they would come back for more when they were done. The file extension for the jobs was going to be "brb" so a job file might be named "load_case_1.brb". 

This whole idea never made it out of my head but the file extensions live on. 


Picking a Random Winning Entry When Entries Have a Weight

Assuming we have three entries for a drawing:

  • entry 1 has a weight of 3
  • entry 2 has a weight of 5
  • entry 3 has a weight of 2

We want to pick a random winning entry that takes into account the weights. This query will do that. 

How do entries get "weights"? Someone enters a drawing which results in an entry being created with a weight of 1. Later that day they are rewarded 5 bonus entries which just translates into us bumping their entry's weight to 6. 

Copying a Postgres Database

I often have to test things on a pretty large database that takes forever to import. Today I learned you can just copy it so you don't have to reimport!

Dead Man’s Snitch: SOLD!

Dead Man’s Snitch has been acquired! By Collective Idea! 

A little over a year ago a client had a problem for which we couldn’t find a good solution, so I made Dead Man’s Snitch. Dead Man’s Snitch is a service that will let you know if some periodic task stops working. Like a dead man’s switch. I have been running it ever since and it continued to slowly grow. Collective Idea have been interested in it from the beginning and are a development shop full of good developers and sysadmins. I think they will do a great job running and growing it. Read what they have to say about the acquisition.

So, why did I sell it after only a year? There are a few reasons but the main one is student loans. My student loans have been really bothering me lately because it is a loan that is not backed by an asset. I’ve been paying $421/month ever since I graduated from Drexel in 2005 and would continue to pay that going forward. I couldn’t sell them if I wanted to simplify my expenses. So I took Collective Idea’s interest in Dead Man’s Snitch and leveraged it to pay off my student loans in full.

Wait, did I just pay off my student loans?!


Our Loss is Your Gain

Update 8/1/2013: We have officially shut it down.

Lose It or Lose It is a website that helps people stick to their goals to lose weight. They sign up for a 10-week plan, give us some money, and will lose weight or lose that money depending on whether they make their goals. It has helped people lose nearly 3000 lb with a 62% success rate. 

Not only does it help people lose weight, it also makes money. It keeps around 21% of all money that goes through the system. 

John and I have run Lose It or Lose It for over three years but we’re ready to move on to the next project. We would really like it to live on and continue to help people so we are looking to sell it. 

Originally we were looking to sell it for $150,000 but the interested buyers were not able to go through with the sale. We were about to shut it down but we want to see it live on, so we have dropped it to the no BS price. 

Here’s a price we think is fair: $30,000. Any cash in the LIOLI bank account at the time of sale would be added to the sale price.

Lose It or Lose It generates about $10,000 of revenue each year. So the $30,000 price is equal to three years of net revenue.

What does this $30,000 get you?

  • A modern, well-tested Rails app built with Postgres, Rails 3.2.x, Ruby 1.9.3 and 1800 passing tests (no legacy code to deal with)
  • The LLC
  • A finished but unreleased iOS app to help people weigh in
  • All the services used by the website (hosting account, email accounts, Paypal account, bank account, etc)

We think an ideal buyer would be someone interested in helping people lose weight and continuing to grow the business. They would also be a web developer or someone with access to a web developer to help them make changes as needed.

Are you interested in acquiring this site and continuing to grow it as a business? Do you know someone that may be interested? Please email me (Randy) at me@r38y.com


Why Does Family Tech Support Leave Most Tech Folks Feeling Anxious?

As someone who works in tech, one of the only universal truths is that when a family member asks us to help them with their personal computer, it will fill us with anxiety. Hell, we even made a Nerd Merit Badge about it. You don’t really see this in other fields and so we end up feeling pretty guilty about not being helpful. Don’t get me wrong, we want to be helpful, but in any other task besides helping with their computer. 

I’ve been trying to figure this out for quite some time and I finally think I’ve figured part of it out. 

  1. They don’t actually understand what we do. Many of us use a single computer as a tool to help us build or run other things. We don’t set up personal computers for other people or help them with their personal computing problems. They just know that we do “computer stuff" and in their world, computers are the things on their desk. In reality, they probably use a computer just as much as we do. 
  2. They don’t have a mental model of what it is their computer is actually doing (even at a high level)
  3. We aren’t confident we can make them happy in the end (it seems like almost no civilian is happy with their computer). At best things will just be a little less horrible. 
  4. Learned helplessness, maybe taught by the IT department where they work. They don’t think they can understand it so they don’t try. They just memorize steps you tell them and don’t know what to do when they don’t work. They also tend to zone out when you try to explain at a high level how things work. They need to take ownership in what they need to know and learn it. 

As a way of expanding on “they don’t actually understand what we do", I want to give an example comparing what I do with another field where I have some experience. 

Say you are a carpenter and one of your relatives needs to install a door and asks you to help them. You are a carpenter and installing doors is part of what you do. Since most people understand the purpose of a door and whether or not you installed it successfully, you are confident you can indeed install the door and leave them happy with what you did. You install the door, they see that the door does indeed open, close, lock and keeps the weather out. You both call it a success and they happily use the door for the next ten years. They can see and feel and understand this thing you just did for them. 

Now take me and what I do. I am a web developer who can help you build a custom web application to run your business. I use a single computer (mine), a Mac, to do my job. A family member comes up to me saying their Windows laptop takes forever to boot and they can’t do anything on it anymore. There is no real known quantity of success in this situation except maybe they’ll be able to do stuff again? Helping consumers with their computers is not what I do. The only real difference between me and them is I have GRIT and know how to use Google. I can’t help them. I don’t even know where to send them for help. But it will probably end up with them not believing I can’t help them. 

So, since I really want to be helpful to my family and make them happy, here is what I can and can’t do:

  1. I can and am happy to help you build a custom web-based tool to help you do something you couldn’t previously do. This is what I do for a living.
  2. I can and am happy to help you set up your home network (mostly)
  3. I can and am happy to help you move furniture bodily or with my truck
  4. I can and am happy to help you install drywall and trim out a room
  5. I can and am happy to act as unskilled labor for pretty much anything else you need help on
  6. I can maybe help you with your Mac-based consumer issues and questions. I’m a Mac “power user" but I don’t know everything there is to know about how consumers use their computers. It’s probably best to start with the hands-on help at the Apple store since they are experienced at helping consumers do consumer things with their new computers. I truly believe that using a Mac as your personal computer will lead to an overall increase in your happiness when it comes to personal computing. It doesn’t mean you will have zero problems, but your overall happiness will be lifted. 
  7. I can’t really help you with your Windows computer problems. I haven’t used Windows as a tool in over seven years and have no idea where to start. I also have decided that Macs make me happier and you should listen to my advice to use them ;)

How can I help?