Category Archives: business

January 2015 in Review

After that superbowl last night, I and all the other Seahawks fans have begun a long, painful journey back towards a point where we can learn to love and trust again. I believe I will work through this pain by doing a month-end review.

I recorded over 21 hours in project time last month, which is about 66% of the time I tracked last year. In that total I included about 9 hours of freelance work, which was unexpected, but welcome. I wonder if the blog is reminding people that I exist?

Speaking of the blog, I spent about 8 hours on it in the month of January, which is more than my novel, my firebase app, and my work on restoring Raingeek combined. This is why I’m writing this with a sharp eye on my system clock. I should not be spending half my project time on something with an audience of mostly spambots. Sure, I love crafting a good post, but if this is supposed to be my navel-gazing blog, I should save my typing for stuff that could actually get in front of people.

Now, on to the January goals!

Research Virtual Assistants to relaunch Raingeek
I spent about an hour on this, and I realized if I want to virtual assistants run this blog, I should have it running again myself, and have it making a little ad revenue. I once got $100 for a sponsored post. If I could do that again, I could buy about 20 “gigs” on fiverr.com. Then I’ll know if this venture can really sustain itself.

Write a blog post for every Monday
Ding! Some of them were a little late, but they all got out on Monday.

Write 10,000 words for my novel
I spent a little over an hour on this, and my results were understandably puny. I didn’t even make 1000 words.

Implement rules on the Seating Plan App
I got as far as displaying the student data when I clicked there names, so that’s something. Again, this project could really benefit from some hours.

Review twitch.tv setup
Another goal I couldn’t get to. We had to clean the apartment this month so we could list it, so at least my desk is clean enough that I can get on this goal for February. Until then, check out AngryPotatoLady!

Call local library about hosting classes
Got this one out of the way. The price of 1 hour at my local library is $12.50. Now, I just need a presentation….

I ended off the month with some losses, but some successes too. I’ll really have to address how I spend my time writing. I may start writing “morning pages” again to put my focus on production instead of procrastination again. With that in mind, here are February’s goals.

February Goals
Write at least one post for RainGeek
Write 4 posts for james-strocel.com at 30 minutes each
Spend 4 hours on the Seating Plan App
Spend 4 hours on my Novel
Review twitch.tv setup
Outline a programming presentation.

Finding Time For Personally Awesome Projects Using Freckle

Freckle Screenshot

It’s good to be serious about your hobbies. Personal projects not only widen your horizons, but they give you new skills to apply in your day job. The question, as always, is how do you find the time? It’s really an odd question, if you think about it. Are you supposed to scrounge around for spare minutes in the couch or something?

Nevertheless, you’ve got to juggle modern life with your time in front of the computer, crafting counter, or whatever you are working on. I try to use a scientific approach when trying to find time for my programming or my writing. I track the time take for my personal projects and review it to see where I can get more time.

To do this, I use a free account on a web app called Freckle (www.letsfreckle.com). It’s a freelance time tracking program with easily the best user interface I have ever seen for a program like this. The entry interface is unbelievably simple, there is a mobile app for any entries, and it also lets you hashtag your entries to control for factors like context or individual tasks. It also creates these neat reports for you like the one at the top of this post. Of course, if you have a paid account, (it’s $19 a month) you can divide that pie chart there into multiple projects, allowing for even more data visualization.

I’m usually able to squeeze in about 3-4 hours a week this way. Now that I look at this report, I may add tags to show where I do my work. I’d be interested to know how much writing I get done on the bike at the gym!

 

 

Selling in Person

Anybody can send away to city hall for a business license, but you never feel like you are your own company until you have to go on the road for it.

There is no sales team to gather orders. You can’t depend on your website’s contact form to gather leads. You know that an ad in the local paper can’t pay for itself.

There is just you, yourself, numero uno, picking up those business cards, establishing that rapport, and making those connections. The people you meet might be your friends for decades to come. Meeting people in the flesh says that you are willing to put in the time and effort to solve your customers problem. You are present and at their service. It might be all you have right now, but it also might be all you need.

I Play Video Games Socially

“Hi There, this is James from V2S Web Design. Do you want to play video games sometime?”

Now, what would you think if you picked up the phone and heard that sentence? What images and scenarios are taking place in your mind? Are you thinking of a business owner who’s trying to network? Or like me, are you picturing somebody in a cheeto-stained silkscreen t-shirt, living in an apartment (and with a catbox) that hasn’t been cleaned in 8 months?

I don’t know what happened, but I can remember a time in my life when video games were a social lubricant. See, we didn’t play King of Fighters ’95 just to watch Mai Shiranui’s 32-bit bosom tremble with victory. It was a time for me and my friends to talk about anything from girls, to school, to Hong Kong action flicks. Some of my best gaming experiences were with my old friends from high school. One time, we stayed up until 5:00am playing Metal Gear Solid. We only made it past the first battle against Sniper Wolf, but as far as I was concerned, that journey had made us all Bros.

10 years later, I own my own business through a series of career mishaps. Between all the bookkeeping, the marketing, and the care and feeding of clients, my opportunities to play video games with my friends are vanishingly small. Still, my social life is even more important now than it was when I was younger. If I don’t set up bonds of trust with people in my community, I might not see a paycheck at the end of the month. To make matters worse, all of us adults are so gosh-darned important that we can find any excuse we need to bail on a coffee or lunch meeting. No one I know in my industry partakes in the traditional business activities, like golf or racquetball. Phone-calls can be just awkward. “Hi there, I’m not calling you because I want money, I just wanted to hear your manly voice over the phone.” As for meeting up with non-local clients, forget it!

But Lo and Behold, there’s a technology out there that allows me to spend time with other people without necessarily having them be present. You don’t have to travel anywhere, you don’t have to buy any bulky equipment, you can even talk to the other person while performing said activities using voice-chat. What is this strange new device? Sign me up!

That technology, my friends, is video games.

According to Jane McGonigal’s essential book, Reality is Broken, over 60 per cent of top executives are playing casual video games to unwind and get a sense of productiveness in their day. How productive could those games be if they actually played them with colleagues and potential partners? Games form essential social bonds with people. You can find out how they think under some types of pressure and how they express emotion. Even teasing and trash-talk are important social milestones. They allow people to say to each other “I could hurt you, but I don’t want to”. It sets the stage for a whole host of complex social interactions.

So why, for the love of God, aren’t we doing this more often? Why do we subject ourselves to multi-player experiences that are as sociable as a morning commute with 12-year-old drivers? Why can’t we adults set aside time to get to know each other this way? You don’t even have to compete against each other! There’s such a thing as on-line co-op, where you can be on the same side against the Zombies, the Alliance, the Falling Jewels, or whatever else catches your fancy.

Our social ties are just going to get more and more important, especially in this economy. If you believe that the world isn’t run from the local golf course, then I’m afraid you’re in for some grim reality upside the head. Competence does not matter as much as your ability to work with people and enjoy their company. If the conspiracies of the Koch Brothers, Rupert Murdoch, or Stephen Harper on the golf courses of the world have got you down, it’s time we took to Azeroth and started making conspiracies of our own.

I really want to know your thoughts on this. Is there a stigma against playing video games together after age 25? If not, why don’t we do it more often? I’ve got three copies of Borderlands:GOTY edition from the Steam summer sale. You might get one if you can help me find the answer in the comments.

Wordcamp Seattle 2011: The Beautiful, Ugly World of Open Source

Hagget Hall during Wordcamp Seattle 2011

Seeing actual Automattic employees at Wordcamp Seattle gave the event a different vibe than the ones I had been to before. When you watch Scott Berkun or Andrew Nacin talk about the software and the open source community that created it, you get the feeling that they’re not just making money from this neat little serve-side toy. They are making a TON of money and changing the face of publishing on the web  while they are at it.

Whether I was learning about plug-in development best practices or the trials of the theme marketplace, every presentation I went to stressed the importance of the open source community in moving the industry forward. However, I found the most interesting talks of the day were at the lunch tables. It turns out all is not well in the worker’s paradise of open source.

Automattic is the company that runs the WordPress project. It decides which features are included by default in the next release of WordPress. This could be a bad thing for the community. As Trevor Green from Azure Creative pointed out, while the software is open source, the WordPress brand is not.

For instance, their plug-in called jetpack installs a slew of features that some say could be handled more competently by other plugins. Because Automattic has such a strong hold over the WordPress.com brand, a plugin like jetpack could discourage further development.

I have no delusions that Automattic is secretly planning to turn WordPress into a closed-source gulag. That would be spaying their golden goose. However, their momentum as a corporation and within the community makes it impossible for them to make a move without affecting the software ecosystem. Could the same thing happen to other open source projects, like Ruby on Rails? Rails 3.0 already includes its own test suite by default. Could edge out “competitors” like cucumber or rspec?

It’s fascinating that even in the game of open source, there are still winners and losers. For smaller developers, it’s just another chapter in the constant battle against commoditization and obsolescence. If we want to eat, we’ll just have to move on to some other more open framework.

Much thanks goes to Trevor Green and Torey Azure from Azure Creative, Curtis Mchale from SFN Design, Srinivas Penumaka of ReadyPulse , Christine Rondeau of Bluelime Media, Jacie Landeros, and all the other attendees at WCSEA for providing such scintillating conversation.