This weekend was a bit of a time warp.  Re-connected with recently departed friends from my son’s former school in Nashville, and also reconnected with one of my oldest friends from childhood.

One’s life has some many layers, and we forget how many threads really do make up the tapestries of our lives.

It was a real comfort to remember those good times from long ago, and a perfect way to end what has already been a great family weekend.

I Paid Some “Stupid” Tax, So You Won’t Have To

I Paid Some “Stupid” Tax, So You Won’t Have To

You guys know what “stupid” tax is?

It is something you pay – financially, emotionally, professionally – to learn a life lesson the hard way.  Up close and personal.

I attended a local small business summit this past Friday.  Let me just say, right off the bat, I made several very good connections there, and met some people really doing great things.  In fact, these were the reasons I decided to go in the first place.  So, conference cost = money well spent.

The “stupid” tax came a little later in the morning.

For anyone that ever attends a conference with professional speakers, here’s the scam “business model.”  Successful, highly acclaimed motivational speaker speaks, provides video where he has spoken before, provides testimonial to the fact that he / she knew nothing, came from nothing, and became a jillionaire.

You with me so far?

At the end, they make a pitch for their book / work book / two day seminar / exclusive access to their sole ownership of the “secret” (fill in whatever secret you wish to learn here).

I’ve been around in business for 25 years, and the only thing that changes is the names on the fliers and the flavor of the secret (E-Myth, Tony Robbins, Ogg Mandino, Robert Schuler, Rich De Voss, … like I said, pick your flavor).

I generally avoid such things like the plague.  However, at the urging and invitation of a friend who put this together, I decided to attend because I recognized it as a great opportunity to plug back into a professional community that I had been physically absent from (and it was).

Like a good attendee I picked what break out sessions I would attend.  I chose one on marketing in a slow economy.  Hey – could be useful, right?

The session was led by Tony.  His talk was the same talk I’ve heard a few hundred times before, but he did grab my interest when he started talking about things that I knew to be true; that you had to capture attention, capture a person’s time, and be authentic.

He also used real world examples from his personal life in his examples during the talk: meeting Gene Simmons, how his kids got cards from one of the local eateries, yada yada.  How he had to do so many of these speeches to keep the animals fed back home (pets, too, not just the wife and kids).  You know – that authenticity thing.

What engaged me was that I could relate to having to work hard – and let me be honest here.  Tony wasn’t the greatest speaker in the world.  Not the worst, but I bet almost everyone reading knows someone in their organization that could give a better presentation.  But I could appreciate someone trying to make it in this business (events, event speaking, hawking your wares) and he seemed like an authentic guy.  Maybe he is.  Maybe he isn’t.  I don’t know.

Anyway, he must have interested me enough to decide to buy a book.

So, after he finished, I start walking up to say thanks for the session, but the guy had sprinted to the vendor hall across the foyer to start selling his books.  OK.  He’s here to sell books.  So, I follow him to his booth, say thanks I’d like to buy a book… and he asks me if I’d mind going back across the hall to pick up his bag containing his DVDs or CDs or whatever.

Sure.  No skin off my nose and I can definitely use the exercise.

I come back and buy the book.  Twenty bucks.  Signed with a smiley face.  I shit you not.

What did I expect?  A reduced rate?  A free book?  No.  Maybe some engagement beyond a freakin’ smiley face perhaps.  Anyway, this neither broke the bank or really got my nose outta joint.  I stuffed the book into my swag bag and went on to have really a great day making contacts, listening to a couple of other people talk about how they have the unique secret to business success, and had a beer at the end of the day.

So – where did the “stupid” tax come in?

When I got home to start reading the book – his latest, apparently – the first 26 pages are testimonials and “About the Author.”  Hmm.  I thought this book was about “saving me time and money and from being a marketing victim”?  This wasn’t looking good.  I was hoping to find “proven ways to crank up sales immediately and make your marketing sizzle” but I was seemingly spending a lot of time getting to page 1 of content.

OK… enough “About the Author”… what’s next? “Testimonials Capture Minds!”  Shit.  Another testimonial?  Three more pages of crap I care nothing about.

What’s next? “A Note to the Reader.”  Are you freakin’ KIDDING me?  Four more pages telling me what a great guy Tony is.  So far, Tony has only blown a lot of smoke up my ass – for twenty dollars – and I’m beginning to get this sneaking suspicion that the only thing that I am about to learn this afternoon is that even old hands can get roped in by a good story.

Not wanting to think the worst… I read on.  Four pages of Acknowledgments.  You know, I’ve actually read Anna Karena a couple of times – no mean feat – and Tolstoy didn’t have four pages of acknowledgments.  I knew I was in trouble.

Just beyond the acknowledgments was a three page in-your-face hard sell of buy crap from Tony.  Dan Brown and Patricia Cromwell at least have the good sense to at least let me READ what they wrote  before asking me to buy the next thing from me – at the END of the book.  It was then, I knew I had been had.

So, 42 pages later I get to the cover page of what I thought to be the beginning of “content.”

Instead, ten pages of “what this book is and what this book is not”, some stats from the SBA, and a quote on page 7 (page 49 for the math challenged who actually counted the unnumbered pages) that “Filler is not permitted.”  WTF was the preceding 48 pages?  The only “authenticity” I was feeling was the authentic sense that I had taken one to the shorts.

Needless to say, I decided at this point that I had just basically paid some “stupid” tax.  Or, as they say in the Marketing Game, the “one time sale.”

Now, gentle reader who has stayed with me so far, let me give you some REAL marketing gold:

  • Do what you say you will, how you say you will, when you say you will.

Tony isn’t the first bullshit artist I’ve ever met, nor the worst, nor the last.

He is simply in the bullshit business and was good enough on his game on a particular day to get me to buy $20 worth of his bullshit.  Congratulations.

So, in order to turn this into a positive learning moment, I offer up the following:

  • If you say Filler is not allowed, don’t offer up filler as the first thing your reader sees for 48 pages.
  • Nobody gives a shit who you are.  They care about what have you done.  About what you can you.  About how is that applicable to me / the people you wish to reach.
  • Authenticity comes with being authentic.  It is not a patina to be put on, but a state of being conferred by others upon us by how we act and are.  It comes by relationship and not by proclamation.

I offer up one last story, not related to this petty little transaction, but pertinent to the conversation.

Years ago, my father in law who was from a very small town in Southern Illinois, traveled to Chicago for perhaps the first time ever.  Almost immediately he was sold three pairs of socks from a guy on the street.  When he got back to where he was staying, he found that what he had indeed bought was only the TOPS of three pairs of socks.  And to this day – seventy years later – he still jokingly (?) refers to “Dirty Chicagoans.”

Tony may be a marketing genius.  I’ll never know, because I feel like I just bought the tops of three pairs of socks from a guy on the street, when I should know better.

A short follow up word: Seth Godin’s book “The Dip” is 70 pages – soaking wet, cover to cover – and is 1000 times more substantive than the time waster I bought.

Google it, go buy it, read it (easy to do in one sitting).  You will prosper more than I did Friday.  That is my final gift to you guys on this beautiful Sunday.

Are Facebook Apps Dead? Ask Me Again in Six Months

Are Facebook Apps Dead? Ask Me Again in Six Months

The short answer is – of course not.  But Facebook isn’t doing developers any favors, either.

Has the new Facebook design had a deliterious effect on applications in general?  My personal direct experience says “yes” and buzz around the ‘Net says most people are seeing a 20%-25% drop in app traffic.

The Facebook platform has been good to me professionally, no doubt about it.

That said, however, I am continually amazed that with each iteration of the platform, the channels by which applications may be exposed to a larger audience and through which the application may be made visible get more and more application averse, if not anti-use entirely.

I wrote a post earlier in the year about writing my last social networking application.  It was written out of frustration, and in retrospect was both premature and prescient with regard to what is happening today.

I still believe that there is room for great exploitation of the Facebook platform by business for hosting business applications beyond the advertising driven model that permeates most paying (if not profitable) apps.

I’m afraid it may have to wait for the next great creative cycle – Web 3.0, the great re-re-awakening, or whatever we wind up calling it – before this really happens, for a number of factors (not the least of which is there is a tremendous gap remaining between businesses that embrace the social web and those hostile or worse ignorant of it).

So, for now, I’m watching with a great deal of interest as to whether conditions improve for developers on Facebook.

But I’m not optimistic.

Hockey in the Land of the Mouse

Hockey in the Land of the Mouse

Yesterday my eight year old played his first hockey games of the season here in Central Florida.  I was interested in seeing what the relative level of play in the youth leagues would be here, versus where we came from in Nashville, TN.

I was pleased to find that there are some good skaters here in North and Central Florida, and overall the level of play is fairly comparable to that found in Middle Tennessee, Alabama, Indiana, and Georgia, where we played travel hockey last year.

My son more or less fell into a slot on a local travel team.  We hadn’t really planned on playing travel hockey this season – not because of we didn’t like or want the travel, but we were wanting to concentrate on school work after such a big move.  Plus, we played something like 60 games last season and really weren’t sure that we were up for that much travel this year.

My son was asked to participate after one of the coaches saw him at a house league practice and wanted to know if he would be available for three (3) games on Saturday.  Since the first report card a week or so back was better than expected, and since we weren’t committing to the full season, we said yes.

At the end of the day, my son’s team finished with 1 tie, 1 loss, and 1 win, in that order.  The team’s play got progressively better as the day passed, with the last game of the day being their best – not just because they won, but because they were playing good positional team hockey and were making great passes and plays.

I gotta say I forgot how much I missed watching hockey in the months since the end of last season.  And even though it was something 95 degrees outside the rink, it was a touch of home to sit inside an ice rink on a Saturday afternoon to watch my kid play.

So, it looks like in addition to our house league play, we’ll be playing an additional 18-20 travel games this year.  Fortunately, most of the travel will be in and around Orlando, with the visits to Rockledge (Space Coast), Tampa Bay, and an outlier or two to Miami (probably the only trip really requiring an overnight stay).

It’ll be interesting to see how the league play continues to stack up as the season unfolds.

Some “Cheap Gas!” Link Love – Thanks, Etan

Some “Cheap Gas!” Link Love – Thanks, Etan

Thank you, Etan Horowitz, for the kinds words and exposure on his Orlando Sentinel Tech Blog this morning for my upcoming “Cheap Gas!” iPhone app.

One can never have too many friends or enough link love.

What You Do Is Noticed… and Matters

What You Do Is Noticed… and Matters

I think we’ve always been told to behave ourselves, because one never knows who may be watching and taking note.  Even in our most unguarded moments, someone is probably eyeing us and remembering our gestures, tone, and attitude.

Sometimes, that’s a great thing.  Others… well, let’s just say not so great.

Even though most of us hear this familiar warning in the context of how to behave socially, the same is true in the workplace.  Maybe even doubly so.

I had a very cogent lesson today on how a couple of developers basically co-opted a pair of development servers because it made their jobs easier, but effectively broke every body else’s ability to use the development environments.

For me, this represented almost two days’ worth of effort in trying to run to ground an issue that was really a ghost in the machine.

I’m quite certain that the developers had no ill intent whatsoever.

Still, it doesn’t negate the fact that what they did (basically ignoring development protocol and testing standards at this particular shop) caused several projects to go long and expensive high value development talent (the smart guys that ran the problem to ground) to spin their wheels for several hours.

Work, as in life, is more than just showing up.

Have some situational awareness and remember that everything you do has a consequence, and matters.  Even when you think it doesn’t.

Cheap Gas!… Now in App Store Review

Cheap Gas!… Now in App Store Review

Demo of the release candidate for Cheap Gas, now in App Store Review (and hopefully, available soon!).This is the “free” version. I hope to have a premium offering with the ability to set GPS sensitivity, set check other postal code gas prices, and offer other station services.

Mobile post sent by davidjhinson using Utterzreply-count Replies.

Another Interesting Day Ahead

Another Interesting Day Ahead

Today can be one of “those” days.

You know.  Like in 1987 when the market tanked.  Or April of 2000.

Or, potentially, 1929.

My counsel: strap down for a bumpy ride.

Getting it. NOT.

Getting it. NOT.

Social Media has enabled us to open our mouths extra wide in order to stick the maximum number of feet inside.  I’ve strangely grown a certain taste for shoe leather… which explains why I’m writing this post.

Two days, two conversations.  In both cases, the persons speaking with me said that they were “on board” with my thinking.

This isn’t a post about me being right and everyone else being wrong – my wife is writing THAT post (rim shot).  Rather, this is simply an observation that people say one thing, but their commitment to action belie their true interest and intent.

In one case, the parties on the other end of our conversation had talked with my past business partners, had read (and spoke directly and pointedly) about my blog, and quoted specific twitter posts I had written to bolster their claim of moving in the same direction.

In the other case, a lot of lip service was paid to being on the same page about a new project… but in truth, we were operating on different planes of reality.  There is no blame to bear, other than the classic pitfall of being approachable, and people mistaking that for gullability.

As someone keenly attuned to bringing in more money than I spend, it’s always instructive to note how people value (or not) other people’s time.  Seth Godin had a great short post about this very thing a couple of days ago.

In the first conversation that I mentioned, said value was mentioned, and at the end of the allotted time we adjourned to continue later – on time, on task, and with a conscious effort to respect each other’s time.

In the second conversation, we talked about this respect, while discussing why our regularly scheduled meeting was being postponed for yet another week in a line of missed meetings.

One of these conversations is going to lead to a great relationship.  And one of these is leading no where, fast.

I wish there was some magic one could use to sniff out those time wasting endeavors ahead of time, before time, talent, and treasure are spent drilling empty holes in the ground.

But there is no magic to be had for building relationships – virtually or in the flesh – one fulfilled commitment at a time.

All we can really do is to try and “lower the water level to see where the rocks are” as quickly as we can, qualify what if any upside is to be had ongoing with our relationships, and then commit – and not only commit, execute upon – promises made to our partners with our full attention and talent.

Transitioning: Strategy for the Long Haul

Transitioning: Strategy for the Long Haul

I had an interesting conversation today about how one must constantly negotiate transitions in one’s career in order to succeed and stay relevant.

I have had some variant of this same conversation since I started my professional career back in the mid 1980s.

A common mistake made in the field of professional software development – from the most junior of coders to grizzled veterans of the trenches – is that if, by some magic, we could only master tool / language / strategy / product X we would be on easy street and the jobs would be plentiful.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

It is not the tools we master that makes us proficient – it is our ability to transition between the useful life-cycle of one set of tools when they become obsolete and the arrival of the “next thing.”

My programming experience spans writing IBM 360 assembler using card keypunch machines and Hollerith code (I still have my IBM “Yellow Cards” with opcodes) to writing 8086 assembler for the first IBM PCs to writing SCSI device drivers to writing Terminate and Stay Resident (TSR) C Language Apps to writing Multitasking Kernels that ran on MS-DOS (think something like Quarterdeck and you’re not too far off) to writing Point of Sale Software to Writing Enterprise Data and VoIP Engineering Tools to writing Social Networking Apps to writing iPhone Apps.

In short, I’ve had dozens of different software “careers” if all one did was focused on the tools I used to build my projects.

I am not the best software developer in the world by a damned sight.  Nor am I the most economical or the fastest or the cheapest or the most expensive.

But what I am is a software developer who knows that if I simply concentrate on the now, and not continously learn and re-learn about what is happening in my profession every single day that I will be roadkill tomorrow.

So, in my life and in my approach to software development, I begin each day with the premise that during the administrative lifetime of any project, there will ultimately be more that I don’t know about the problem set at hand than what I do know presently, and when possible, make allowances for that ignorance.

A beautiful example of this design principle is the concept of interrupt vectors in the original IBM PC.  An interrupt vector is a place in pre-set areas of protected memory on a computer that initially holds the address of a hardware routine to do some task (operate the hardware clock, check incoming serial ports, check the keyboard, etc.).

The beauty of interrupt vectors is that they can be re-written with the address of another rotuine in memory that can then take control to insert additional tasks to be performed and then either chain back to the original hardware routine or declare the interrupt to be processed or handled.

In short, the designers of the IBM PC knew that they could not possibly conceive of everything that needed to occur on a clock tick, or upon every keystroke, or upon every incoming bit on a serial line.  They planned on being extensible in order to stave off obsolescence.

As professional developers, we need to be extensible as well, so that we don’t become obsolete.  We do that by concentrating on the process of creating product and not just on the tools that help us create the product.

Don’t get me wrong – I love working with people who have mastered their tools of the trade.  And some folks are natural born tool making and using sons of beeches.

But tools are merely the means to the end.

If you stake your career solely on being a Javascript God, you’ll go the way of the Dodo if you lack the ability to transition into whatever takes the place of Javascript when it comes along (substitute whatever language / platform / tool you feel to be the best in the world here – it doesn’t matter).

Today I spend the majority of my time writing VB.NET, or PHP, or JavaScript, or XCode / Objective-C.

Five years ago, I spent the majority of my time writing ASP and VB6.

Twelve years ago I spent the majority of my time writing C, C++, and 808x assembler.

Twenty years ago I spent the majority of my time writing Fortran, Cobol, and IBM 360 assembler.

It’s not the tool that defines what kind of developer that I am.

It is my ability to take whatever tools are made available to me and to craft something useful that people are willing to pay me money for.

And at the end of the day, to me, that is what defines a software professional “lifer.”  Someone in it for the long haul.