Every family has its customs, from eating dinner at the Outback Steakhouse on Sunday nights to the family vacation trip during the summer. There are special rituals that stand out in my memory: the coming of age ceremonies that transformed my cousins and me from boys into men.
My grandmother’s farm was the focus of the family while I was growing up. We’d visit almost every weekend, often staying the night during the summer. Their property and surroundings were in Midland, Texas, near the outskirts of the city. Oil pumps and mesquite bushes dotted the dry, dusty landscape. Randy and Ronnie, my two closest cousins, lived nearby. It was our Adventure Land and could easily rival staid, packaged and sanitized parks like Disneyland.
There we would find snakes, mice, jackrabbits, and our favorite: horned lizards. We called them horny-toads, and they were all over the place in West Texas. I’d put one in my pocket and it would kind of flatten out. They aren’t fast like other lizards, so I could easily catch them. Grabbing one of these was brave when you were only five years old. I’d carry them around for a few hours and let them go.
Grandmother’s house had this rock and weed garden in the front where the horny toads could be found. They also owned wide swaths of land around their house. I remember cows, a few horses, some chickens, a mean old bull and lots of alfalfa. That’s what they mostly farmed: alfalfa. My cousins and I came to know those fields very well. We would be assigned the task of moving the irrigation pipes during the hot summer months. They just lay on the ground, so we’d have to move them from one part of the field to another. That was a real chore. I’d remove the connection collar, then slide the big pipe out. The pipes were twenty feet long and had a nine-inch diameter. They weren’t too terribly heavy – at least I didn’t dare show they were heavy in front of anyone. One of us would pick up an end to dump out the water, and possibly dump out any rabbits that may have wandered into the nice, cool, water-filled pipe. We’d carry the pipes about fifty yards to a new spot and hook them back up, then walk back to the next set of pipes and do it again. Over and over. Hour after hour. All three of us were about eleven years old at the time, and it sure seemed like a lot of work for a couple of silver dollars. We were happy to do it: you knew you were “growing up” when grandpa invited you into his truck for a day in the fields.
Once all that alfalfa turned into hay bales in the fields, I worked hauling it onto a flat bed. Attached to the trailer was a hay elevator. It picked up square bales of hay and carried them way up in the air where they dropped out of the top. Sometimes they became stuck in the top. I’d pull them out with big hooks that resembled the ones used by that homicidal rain slicker slasher guy in I Know What You Did Last Summer. I’d stack them neatly on the trailer, hour after hour, layer after layer, until I was perched on top of five layers of hay bales on a rickety, swaying flatbed and hoping not to fall into the hay elevator the next time the wheels hit a bump.
Near the fields were some rent houses that my grandparents owned. At the end of the block was an old fireworks stand that we would operate around the fourth of July. It wasn’t a big stand: not much demand for fireworks out there in the sticks. What was really cool was to light a bottle rocket and hold it until just before it went off, then toss it high into the air. If I timed it right, the rocket would gain extra altitude from the boost. If I didn’t, the rocket would be pointed randomly at the dry grass, someone’s car, the house, or the person who threw it into the air. Then there was a mad scramble to avoid the widely careening firework before it exploded. I don’t think we burned too many things down.
Grandmother’s house needed burning down anyway. It was built in the 50′s, but it wasn’t vacuumed until the 90′s, if then. The pipes were almost totally corroded away from the super-hard water. I think they pumped it straight out of limestone or something. We didn’t dare drink the stuff. Using it to brush your teeth was torture enough. I’m not sure if I got cleaner or dirtier taking a shower, but I certainly gained a nice, shiny coating.
The backyard wasn’t any cleaner. There were random holes, snakes, flies and bits of unrecognizable metal lying around: farm implements that had seen better days. The fence was made of concrete blocks but it had no top. That made for empty holes where the blocks were with unknowable creatures living inside. Only the bravest of us would dare to walk on or near that fence. There was a rickety old wooden gate at the back. It led into the barnyard and the fields beyond. Sometimes the bull would get into the yard. I think. Maybe that’s just vivid nightmares of the bull getting into the yard or something, but I know there were bees around the side, near the extra front porch. If you had to mow over there, well, just make sure you were a fast runner.
On the opposite side from the bees and way in the back, there was a big hay barn. When we were old enough to go exploring on our own, probably about twelve, we could walk through the field with the bull to go play in the barn. I’d stay close to the fence, but there was a problem with that strategy. The entrance to the barn faced the road, and we came up on the backside of the barn. Therefore, I had to either risk the run in the field with the bull or else climb over the fence. The climb wasn’t a big deal; it’s where I was climbing to that was the problem.
Bees. Lots of bees. Hives of bees. They were kept at the end of that field behind the barn. I guess they helped pollinate the fields of alfalfa. Maybe that hive on the side of the house was founded by Columbus Bee. All I knew back then was that: 1) Bees made honey, and 2) Bees stung little boys. However, they were near the hay barn, and although it was a good walk from the house, it was fun to play in the stacks and stacks of hay. It was also the shortest path to the gravel pit.
After working in the fields all day, we’d go down to The Pit and play around. It was big, probably a football field in length and forty feet deep. It had a mucky, yucky, water-filled end where we would swim, usually with cousins and sisters from five to fifteen. We had to wear these ratty old shoes because the bottom of the “pond” had the sort of trash you’d expect in a gravel pit: old tires, rusting re-bars and other pointy, infectious objects. There was a sort of platform (too generous to actually call it a “dock”) on one side. It was just barely possible to jump off and sort of dive into the water, but we first had to walk around out there to make sure we wouldn’t impale ourselves on something. Usually we had to aim to the side to avoid hitting an underwater obstacle, and it seems like only we twelve-year-old boys made that leap of faith. The water was only about four feet deep, and we couldn’t see the bottom.
All of these adventures helped shape the boys in our family, but there was one final exam before you could say that you ran the gamut and survived.
Grandmother’s house was near, way too near, a sewage treatment plant. When the wind was just right, which was all too often, the smell would waft over the house and fields. We boys were drawn to that place like flies to carrion. We just had to go see what a sewage treatment plant was like. It was at the outer edge of walking distance, just past one of the fields and across a highway. I don’t know why the plant drew us, but draw it did. We would talk about it almost every weekend.
“Let’s go to the plant!”
“Nahh, I saw a truck and a bunch of people when we came up. They’re doin’ somethin’ over there.”
“Let’s go see what they’re doin’!”
And so the dialog went, always discussing but rarely taking the chance until the need to visit overcame the obstacles of distance, highway and danger. First we’d plan the attack.
“Right after lunch,” I’d whisper to Ronnie, “We’re goin’ to the plant.”
“What are we gonna tell Mom?”
“Nuthin’, let’s just go to the other block and play around. We’ll head off down the road when the coast is clear.”
“I’ll tell Randy.”
It was rare that we’d attempt the trip when the wind was blowing the stench across the farm. It couldn’t really be that much worse close up, right? We’d work our way toward the plant, down the road and across the highway. It was at least a twenty minute walk. We ignored the “Keep Out!” signs and clambered over the low fence to stare at the pools of ooze before running out of stench range.
This was the pinnacle of our coming of age rituals: visiting the sewage plant and getting the blast full on. It was our final family test of manhood.
I’ve been on a few Scrum teams now, the latest with my current Intuit Hosting Engineering (HE) position. HE is doing Scrum well, implementing almost all of it as far as I can tell. I recently took the training to be a certified Scrum Product Owner – one of the three primary Scrum roles. It seems like this is what was missing from the Innovation Lab (iLab) processes we used – the “what came next” part that was always a challenge for us.
In the iLab, we had an unmatched process for discovering innovative solutions for tough problems, and getting quickly to the minimum viable feature set. What was tough was then transitioning that to a business unit for development and launch. Scrum takes care of that part of the process.
The cost/time of development would be established if you already had a Scrum team, but it only takes about three Sprints – 1 to 4 weeks – to establish a baseline “velocity” for a new team. Velocity is a simple measure that indicates how many story points that a team can accomplish in a given sprint.
When a team follows Scrum, they can become hyper-productive: teams that quadruple their velocity compared to their first sprint. There’s apparently two simple things that get a team to this measure – a backlog that has very well-defined user stories and an automated build that includes automated testing.
I think there’s a trifecta here that, when combined, would be a simple but effective way to make a successful idea into a successful business: front end innovation (iLab style), with lean startup-mindset prioritizing of user stories, developed by a Scrum team.
It’s finally here (or at least it’s in the App Store awaiting review)! This is the Super Conversions (aka SuperConvert) that I’ve always wanted to develop. I had some time, so I coded almost non-stop, and it’s ready to roll. This is a fully functional calculator, with Memory, sin, cos, Pi, tan and other useful functions. See the calculations at the top and the unit conversions at the bottom, with easily selected conversion categories and units. Copy either the calculated value or the converted value.
If you have a support question on this or other SuperConvert or Super Conversions apps, please post a comment below or @Super_Covert on Twitter. There are also “conversion facts” that show up every once in a while. If you have a fact you’d like to see in the App, tweet it to @Super_Convert and I’ll add it to the list. Include a link to an image if there’s an appropriate one for the fact. Note that all facts are moderated.
The design of the new SuperConvert 9.0 is actually based on an old calculator I’ve had for about 28 years. The solar powered device still works, and it’s still the primary calculator I use at my desk. Check out the picture of the app and compare it with the picture I took of my calculator. I used that picture to design most of the visual elements of the app.
If you have any support questions, or features you’d like to see, bugs to report, etc… – please post a comment below and I’ll get back to you.
I’m currently testing an iPad Dashboard app for QuickBooks Windows Desktop. It shows a few informational things about your QuickBooks company in a dashboard style app on an iPad. I have no idea yet if it’ll be useful for anyone, or if I’m showing the right kind of information. I’m using TestFlightApp.com to get testers running the app before (if) it goes live in the Apple App store.
If you’ve never published into the Apple app store before, and you’ve never used TestFlight before… I have to say, it isn’t an easy process to use. It took me about 3 hours to finally get the TestFlight process down to the minimum. I installed and deleted and re-installed on my iPad.
Apple doesn’t help – if you delete a device from your allocation of 99 test devices, then re-add it, it takes up 2 slots. I added my personal iPad, then deleted it, then added it again. Presto: down to 97 devices. Avoid deleting a device if you can. Apparently my allocation will reset after a year. When I pay another $99 for the iOS developer subscription.
Intuit has, of course, a developer account and provisioning certificates and all that… but is also limited in the number of devices. When you have a dozen apps you’re testing, then the team doing the apps will need their own iOS developer subscriptions. I guess that’s okay.
And that’s step number 1: get your own iOS developer subscription.
Apple has a great product in Xcode, but make sure you have the latest version – 4.3.3. Because if you don’t, using TestFlight gets harder.
That’s step number 2: use the Mac App Store to install Xcode 4.3.3 – note that it’ll nicely, at least mostly nicely, update your Mac and get rid of the older version for you.
Step number 3 is to always use Xcode to manage your developer profiles and account – go to the Organizer in Xcode, Devices/Provisioning Profiles and click Refresh. That’ll generate the various certificates and such that you need – just click the various dialogs to automatically submit requests and such. Hey, and make sure your iPad is connected to your Mac when you do the refresh.
Next you will need to go back to the Developer site and add an Ad-Hoc Provisioning profile. That’s step number 4. Provisioning, Distribution, New Profile, Ad Hoc. That’s pretty much it – select all your devices (probably only your personal one will be there). Apple will accept that “new profile” as a request, then approve it. Apple used to take up to 24 hours, it seemed, to approve, but now it appears to happen within seconds.
Step number 5 is to go back to the Xcode organizer (after your Ad-Hoc profile is approved) and click Refresh again. That’ll download the new Ad-Hoc provisioning profile.
Step number 6 is to make sure your app is setup with the proper profile. In Xcode, go to your Target, Build Settings, Code Signing. Click the Top “Code Signing” line and select iPhone Distribution. If the Ad-Hoc is the only distribution profile you have, it’ll be the one properly selected for everything. If it isn’t the only one, you’ll have to look at the drop down and select your new Ad-Hoc profile.
Okay, that’s it for the basics. Those 6 steps don’t have to be done again. However, the next part of the process, using TestFlight, is a bit repetitive – you must do it over and over, every time a new tester is added (or at least every time you want to authorize new tester(s) for your app).
Step A: Invitations - TestFlight has a couple of ways to invite folks. I’ve found the one-off invitation form to be useful. Click on Add Teammate and you can enter an email address and a short message. The recipient will get a link to TestFlightApp.com’s acceptance page, with a single button click to accept (and an optional form to fill out if they want to permanently register on TestFlightApp.com).
In addition to Accepting, the invitee must also install a TestFlightApp profile on their device (shows up as an Add my device type of button after Accept is clicked). It’s just a matter of “Yes, accept, yes, install, Done” type clicks.
You’ll get an email for each action – Accept and Device Added. The Device Added email will include an attachment containing the device ID for that tester.
Which brings me to Step B: Add Device. You must add that tester’s device ID to your Apple developer account list of devices. In the developer portal, click on Devices, then click Upload Devices. Select that text file that was attached to the email from TestFlight. That’ll add that tester’s device.
Next, you must add that new device to your Ad-Hoc Provisioning Profile, aka Step C. Click on Provisioning, Distribution, then click Edit and Modify next to your Ad-Hoc profile. There you can Select all the devices for that profile – the new one you just uploaded will be available but un-selected. Just select it and then click Save.
Step D: Update Xcode. Now go back to Xcode’s Organizer and click Refresh. It’ll churn for a bit, eventually updating your Ad-Hoc profile with the new one that includes the tester devices.
Step E: Compile and save your app as an IPA file. Now that you have valid testers in the Ad-Hoc provisioning profile, you can compile a version of your app that is ready for TestFlight-ing. Build for Archiving, then Archive. The organizer will pop up and you can select Distribute, Save for Enterprise or Ad-Hoc. Make sure you select the same Ad-Hoc provisioning profile in the subsequent drop down that you used to create the build. The dialog will ask you the filename to save as an IPA.
Step G: Inform your tester. After uploading, you’ll see the “Permissions” dialog in TestFlight. Select the new tester and click the Update and Notify button. That’ll send an auto-generated email to that tester with a link to install the app.
And you’re done! At least until the next time a tester accepts your invitation, because you’ll have to go back to Step A (well, really Step B since they’ve obviously been invited already) and do it all over again! Ahh well, at least it’s much easier than trying to enter those IDs manually and distribute the IPA to be installed via iTunes or other such messy means.
Okay, so most of you probably already know how to do this, but it only occurred to me today. I develop various websites, usually creating a local version, then uploading it to an online dev version, and finally to the production instance.
In the past, I’d go into my httpd.conf configuration file and change my DocumentRoot to a different website, then restart Apache.
But I realized I could just use a hosts file to point local subdomain to a different folder, e.g. gi.localhost or site2.localhost, or, I could even use the real site’s eventual url: mysite.com or some such.
On my Mac (generally my exclusive machine these days), I edit /etc/hosts and add a line:
Then I make the appropriate changes in /private/etc/apache2/httpd.conf
<Directory /> Options FollowSymLinks AllowOverride All Order deny,allow Allow from all </Directory>NameVirtualHost 127.0.0.1:80 <VirtualHost 127.0.0.1:80> DocumentRoot /Users/mhart/localhost ServerName localhost:80 ServerAlias 127.0.0.1:80 </VirtualHost> <VirtualHost 127.0.0.1:80> DocumentRoot /Users/mhart/gi.localhost ServerName gi.localhost:80 ServerAlias 127.0.0.1:80 </VirtualHost>
In Windows, the hosts file is in c:\Windows\System32\Drivers\etc, and your Apache config file can be found from the Start menu.
I think that my best apps are the ones I create in order to fulfill my own needs. PhotoKiosk is one of them – I wanted a nice way to view and discover photos. I set it to view the Flickr public feed, Utata Pool, my own feed, plus a variety of tags. It’s cool!
I recently saw new toy prototypes for the next Batman movie, beautiful snowscapes from around the world, and even a ladies’ roller derby team party. It’s also cool watching what people tag as “iPad”. It’s usually a drawing created on the iPad, but sometimes it is children using the device or a new case. I saw a sort of stick on peel off case that created a form-fitted protective cover around the iPad.
I updated PhotoKiosk, so check out the Lite and paid versions in the App Store.
Here’s the Feed list I use on mine:
- public feed
- Utata Pool
- wildlife (tag)
PhotoKiosk turns your iPad or iPad 2 into a gorgeous kiosk, displaying photos from an unlimited number of Flickr photo feeds or compatible URLs. Also works with the iPhone and iPod Touch.
A password-protected setup screen allows you to add feeds using an individual ID, a group ID, tags, the public feed, or a custom feed URL, or any combination. Feeds can be easily switched on or off, and a description of each feed can be optionally displayed on the kiosk.
Feeds are automatically cycled based on the refresh time you set, and the number of photos to display can also be changed. Touch a photo to zoom in, triple tap the screen to access the settings (after also entering your password), or quadruple tap to refresh the page and move to the next feed.
Older pictures are smaller and/or more transparent, while the newest pictures show up larger and opaque. Tap any picture to zoom in to the fullest size possible.
Works in either landscape or portrait mode and automatically compensates when you rotate the iPad. Use it in conjunction with iPad kiosk hardware that hides the Home button to turn it into a photo display for trade shows, non-profits or other businesses.
In this version:
* Customize the kiosk name
* Custom kiosk description or per-feed descriptions
* Unlimited feeds
* Select the number of photos
* Select the refresh timeout
* Change the password
Updated to version 1.2 – fixed a bug introduced by a Flickr API call change. Also removed the interruptive error messaging.
SuperConvert is the iPad/iPhone/iPod version of the popular Super Conversions Windows application, with over 20,000 conversions possible in 18 categories: Distance, Area, Volume, Weight, Power, Pressure, Temperature, Time, Energy, Force, Acceleration, Illuminance, Concentration, Electrical Current, Hydraulics, Density, Velocity and Viscosity.
Now Available! Click here to view it in the App Store.
Updated to version 8.2, fixed a problem where it was ignoring decimal places.
First part in a series detailing my journey line as a programmer
I encountered my first computer when I was in the 8th grade. I was living in Reno, Nevada, and had a friend who’s dad ran a couple of 7/11 stores with the help of a TRS-80 and some software he’d written. The program’s listing was printed out on tractor feed paper and was completely incomprehensible to me. I also saw the “Dancing Demon” application. The listing for it was even more crazy since it made extensive use of string packing, where machine language was encoded into BASIC string statements.
I was hooked and had to know more about this “personal computer” thing where you could write your own games and such.
Enter my summer job washing dishes at Dodson’s Cafeteria, circa 1979. I worked full time and saved my money. At the end of the summer, my step-dad took me to Radio Shack and kicked in the last hundred dollars or so for my very own TRS-80 Model I Level II, a 16K black and white computer with a cassette tape drive for storage. I also got a subscription to SoftSide magazine, a monthly publication with program listings n BASIC for the TRS-80. I typed in the listings and, with the help of the computer’s reference manual, debugged the programs and got them running. Thus I began to learn how to program.
In 1980, at the age of 14, I was hunched over a keyboard in the attic office space of our home in Dallas, writing a silly Enterprise vs. Klingons game, with a big blocky Enterprise on the left and a Klingon warbird on the right. Each player used a pair of keys to move their ship up and down the screen, and another key to fire upon their opponent. I knew little about realtime action programming at the time, so all movement ceased during a firing. It wasn’t the funnest of games to play, but it was my first real program, created entirely from scratch.
I was off and running!
December 2008. The snow turned to rain, falling steadily throughout the night, coating the forest surrounding my house with tons of ice. A layer of warm air, high above the surface, melted the falling snow. The air at the surface was still below freezing, causing the ice storm. I live down a one lane gravel road, tall trees guarding the road and the power lines that snake up the hill. Both mighty oak and tall pine trees were broken by the onslaught of ice, yanking the phone line from our home with a loud tearing noise, snapping heavy power lines in two. The grid went down at around 2am.
I ventured out every time a falling branch or tree shook the house, just wanting to check the integrity of our shelter. I didn’t venture far, and I wore a protective… well… a bike helmet… just in case. The crash of falling branches sent me scurrying back under the roof. Trees continued falling all through the night and even into the next afternoon. I wasn’t too worried – I was reasonably prepared for an extended power outage lasting, oh, three or four days.
I had a stockpile of good wood, enough to last maybe a week of solid burning. It was dry and underneath a tarp.
Our water comes from a well, but I had enough – we began conserving as soon as the power went out – even filling containers before going to bed.
The house is reasonably well insulated – it would keep warm enough without even a fire for several days, especially after I got out the duct tape and made sure the recessed can lights weren’t leaking warmth into the attic.
But this was no ordinary outage, and it showed me how little I was prepared to be off the grid for an extended period.
There were about 6 very large trees blocking the driveway, and about 30 smaller ones. My neighbor and I went through two chain saws clearing them. We just picked up the power lines and moved them out of the way as best we could – no way there was any juice running through them!
The family moved into our warm room, closing the door and putting a towel under it. We had a light from the small generator, plenty of heat from the air-blown fireplace, board games and plenty to eat. We put a table on the deck and emptied the fridge onto it, covering it with a tarp. We didn’t need no stinkin’ fridge! Not with the outside temperature peeking at 45 or so during the day.
The true extent of the disaster unfolded during the next few days. Power wasn’t just “out”, the entire grid infrastructure was broken. Hundreds of miles of power lines had to be rebuilt all over the Northern counties of Mass and some Southern New Hampshire areas.
Not only were we dead center in the disaster zone, but our house is one of the last ones on the grid. We were hosed. And we couldn’t even drive out of the disaster area – there was a huge tree hanging off a powerline in the middle of the road.
After six days, I began running out of wood. Water wasn’t too big a deal, and the food supply was still okay. But the nights were going to get really cold without a fire. The generator ran out of gas, too, so no fireplace blower. My wife had already left for a hotel in Burlington, Ma, with the kids, where her car window was shattered by a GPS thief. I stuck it out for a while longer and prepared the house to be on its own for a while. I left after, I think, day 9 without power.
It takes a lot of work to become prepared for an extended period off the grid. The best book I know of is Cody Lundin’s “When All Hell Breaks Loose”. It’s practical, not fanatical, and Cody lives what he teaches, having been off the grid for (correct me if I’m wrong) decades. I had some big basic things I wanted to do to be prepared for the next time it happens, and Cody’s book has done a great deal to fill in the blanks and give me confidence that I’ve taken the right steps.
Cody teaches the rule of 3′s – you can live 3 weeks without food, 3 days without water, but only 3 hours without warmth.
- Core body temperature.
This means a simple fireplace isn’t good enough, nor is a six day supply of fuel. So, wood stove and lots and lots of wood. Better overall insulation in the house – plug the gaps. Quality sleeping bags – for everyone. No more SpongeBob overnight bags, might as well buy the good stuff.
Stored potable water – enough immediately on hand for a month for 3 people, plus enough in a backup source, plus the means to make it potable, for as long as 100 days for 4 people. In addition to the 50 gallons in our regular water tank. And then there’s the lake down the road, and several year’s worth of disinfectant for water. Yeah, we got that covered now.
Okay, so this one seems to be the hardest for some reason. Looking at all the food options, things that seem to make it easy……. Cody makes it pretty clear – just buy more of what you eat right now, and rotate it. That’s a little harder when you eat a lot of fresh stuff. But, some things are easy – more rice, more spaghetti, more spaghetti sauce, lots of Pop Tarts and cereal. Okay, maybe not as hard as I thought! Plenty of bullion cubes and hot chocolate mix and some instant coffee. And, well, go ahead and get that 10 pound box of powdered milk, but put it in a food safe plastic container!
It’s not too hard, and it’s mostly cheap – even an installed wood stove is less than $2,000. You don’t need to go crazy, or be crazy, to prepare for a disaster, or at least prepare for an extended time of living off the grid. It’s happened to me, and tens of thousands of others around me.