It’s that time of year again!

If you haven’t started your tomatoes and peppers yet it’s not too late to get them going!  Cole crops too!

Here are some pictures from the greenhouse:

image

image

image

image

Elderberry cuttings,  some paw paw seeds,  and some wild cherry seeds:

image

Radishes planted in the ground in the greenhouse:

image

The greenhouse is getting kind of full,  I really need to figure out some way to make use of the vertical space in there a bit better. 

– Fin

Crowd-Funding Campaigns

Every few days, someone messages me on a new and great crowd funding campaign.

Generally, this comes in the form of sharing a video – a video that makes many grandiose promises if I only donate a few bucks to the cause.  As a few of these campaigns have raised crazy amounts of cash, it seems that they are becoming more popular. Throw a coin at any “Make” fair, and see what I mean.

Now, this may be common sense, but I’d like to share my general way of looking at these crowd-funding campaigns in the hope that I won’t have to deal with people finding me a “Kill-Joy” when the next “big thing” comes along.

Questions I ask when seeing a campaign

What’s in it for me?

If I donate money to your cause, am I preordering a product, or buying a t-shirt that says “I liked it before it was cool”?

Pinonccio – $49 donation gets me a prototype

While kickstarter won’t run them, other crowd funding  sites will host “get a t-shirt” with donation campaigns. If you donate to these, you’ll get a t-shirt, but don’t plan on that t-shirt being anything more than a statement that you can easily be separated from you money.

Why hasn’t this been done before and how is it different?

Let’s say I run across a campaign for creating a garden time-lapse camera system. All I get until the $250 is a thank you and a t-shirt.

At this point, the campaign has satisfied the “something in it for me” angle. There is a real product, and I’m at least somewhat interested. But, is that product out there already?

A quick search on amazon shows me that producers of garden cameras do exist. And, a few of them are substantially cheaper than the $250 this campaign will cost me for one. Does this product provide something new? I may simply not like the company that provides the competing product. Maybe that company hasn’t listened to customer feedback. Perhaps there is a specialized feature I want. Or, maybe I’m just feeling generous.

If the product hasn’t been done – why not? Is there something fundamentally flawed with the idea? It’s possible that this particular product fits a very small niche, and that the only way  of seeing it released is a crowd funded campaign. Or, maybe this product has no real hope for success as the design itself has serious flaws.

Does the group have the expertise to pull the product off?

So, now we have agreed that they have enough of a “hook” for me to bite. At this point, the question becomes, can they make it happen?

Let’s say the campaign is for a desktop Fusion power generator, suitable for fitting into my flying car.

Does the group include a physicist? If not, do they have a good one on standby? If not, would anyone in the group have any way of knowing a good physicist? If not, has the group provided any evidence that they can solve the whole “fusion” part of the problem?

Is there any evidence suggesting that other companies have looked into this problem? Are there solutions out on the market now?

If the group lacks the expertise to build the idea, what are they bringing to the table?

Building a product takes more than having a bad comb over and the ability to shout “your fired”. If the group is going to pay to have the actual development done, have they shown a reasonable budget and plan for doing so?

In the case of a desktop Fusion generator, the evidence would need to be overwhelming before I’d even consider a donation. In fact, I’m not sure anything would convince me it wasn’t a scam. Extremely innovative products tend to have large money backing quickly. Large enough that crowd funding wouldn’t be talked about.

Returning to the Garden Camera, I’d probably look for a meaningful prototype, a good product manager with a gardening background, or simply some good engineers. The technology is known, and I wouldn’t need to worry about development of specialized high technology.

Are they over promising?

If I see a video of something so truly beyond the state of the art to be amazing, the question becomes, how is it real?

If a video advertises some whizz bang Artificial Intelligence, is there research that shows something is possible. For anything computerized, just imagine that instead of the ideal computer shown in the video – it’s your cell phone. How would your cell phone do at the tasks shown? If they are doing similar tasks with significantly better ability – how are they accomplishing it?

Or, are they just lying?

Very talented people are working on lots of the ‘space age’ devices we want to see. Every day. If those devices don’t exist yet, it may be for a reason. Just remember the ‘pet robots’ in the 90s. Yeah, they are cool, but they weren’t R2D2.

Does the group have a valid business plan? Do I care if they vanish?

Let’s say that I really hate the companies producing the garden cameras, and want to donate to this new garden camera company. Does this group demonstrate that my donation will help create a sustainable competitor?

If not, will I care that I’ve purchased a one-off product? In a year, how much will I care if the product breaks?

Perhaps I’m happy that I’ll get my garden camera and can worry about the same problem again later, if need be. That’s a perfectly good answer, but one I should be aware of.

Responding to a Campaign

I’ll generally ignore campaigns that I come across, unless either poked or prodded about it directly.

If so, I’ll walk through these questions until I hit a reason not to donate, and if I hit that reason, I’ll try to let whoever know why I’m not. If the campaign has gone “viral” and I think other people might donate, I might be more proactive about criticism. And, it’s also possible that I’ll share a campaign I’d want to see succeed.

If you share a campaign video, remember – you are sharing a request for money. Requesting money, in my book, removes much of your ability to complain when someone tells you where to go. Manipulative videos may insist that criticism is fighting against a greater good.

We enjoy the right to ask the public for money. In return, the public may criticize that request. Don’t like it? Build the product first using traditional means. And remember, if you are sharing a funding request, then realize the social dynamic of seeking contributions.

Saying Yes can be a Bad Thing

I watched closely as the Diaspora project got going. For those unfamiliar with the campaign, it was one of the first kickstarter campaigns to go viral. Earning $200,000+ in very little time.

Any experienced engineer watching would have smelled trouble. The grand yet completely undefined scope of the project. The lack of real requirements. The lack of any experienced or skilled developers. The poor choices of technology, showing blatant ignorance of the current challenges of competitors trying to do the exact same thing.

In the end, the group of students working this project put themselves through some very rough times. It’s impossible to say what might have happened if the product just fizzled out. And indeed, the tragedies associated with the project, may have happened anyway. Windfall earnings does weird things to a group and to friends. Still, I don’t think anyone could have predicted the eventual suicide of one of the initial members. I don’t think the success of the funding campaign can be directly blamed, but it definitely didn’t help.

Kickstarter does a lot of work to prefilter applicants and campaigns, and even there, people have found a real “bit” in terms of taxes and fees eating into the cash intended for development of a product.

A lot of campaigns fail, but that doesn’t mean the dream has to die. And many campaigns, on their second try, find and fix the errors with the first.

TL;DR

  1. Try to apply some common sense before sending random people on the internet your money.
  2. Asking someone for money gives them a right to ask why and determine if you deserve it.
  3. Giving someone money isn’t always helpful.

There’s a lot of cool kick starter projects out there. Fin and I have sent money to a few. We’ve gotten some cool stuff in return. Do your search before. And if somethings viral?

My experience with viral campaigns is that they are rotten. The cool ones I’ve found and funded tend to be more niche oriented. Though, sometimes, lots of people get onboard for a reason.

— Fate

2015 New Year, New Goals

It’s that time of year again.

So far, my record for New Year’s Resolutions:

  • 2014 – 40%
  • 2013 – 25%
  • 2012 – 10%
  • 2011 – 30%
  • 2010- 50%
  • 2009 – 30%
  • 2008 – 50%

The past few years, I’ve not been hitting my goals. This past year, toward the end, things have started heating up again. Hopefully the trend continues. This year, Fin and I will likely be focusing a lot more on the family than some of our other endeavors. Still, we’ll be working at moving onward and upward.

1. Pay off at least one more account

Yes, even after succeeding for several years on this, there are more to go. This year, I hope to pay off at least one more account.

2. Publish an App for Android, PC, or Web

I’ve actually managed to do some degree of Android development this year. I’ve got ideas, and have even made a few toy apps on my phone. The next step is to get something released and out there. Hell, maybe I’ll do another Asteroids game. This really is a continuation of last years goal. I simply find myself not having enough time or ideas to put toward it.

Meanwhile, I’m working on some stuff for myself. I’m hoping at least one of my efforts I can publish, if only to pad my resume.

3. New SuburbanReject.com theme

I started playing a bit with this mid-year, when the site went funny looking for a bit, and ended up reverting back to the old theme on the newer wordpress. I’m still looking at some ideas here, but like the Application business, time has been an enemy.

4. Document at least one project for each season (Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall) here

I think the previous years, I’ve tried to plan out my year in to much detail, and ended up doing nothing. So, this year, I’m simply stating that I want to complete a single project every 3 months and document it here. That will hopefully mean doing some fermented beverage, or making soap, or maybe a piano recording. We’ll see. I’m leaving this open ended so I can decide on a project every few months and do it.

New suburbanreject theme and publishing an app both don’t “count”.

5. Complete at least one online course

I enjoyed the Coursera experience earlier. This year, I’d like to work through at least one more online course. Maybe I’ll learn something useful.

6. Post another piano recording

Not going to go for a multiple here, I just want to do one this year. Hopefully more will happen. Ideally, I’ll play in another studio recital and have a strong performance this year.

7. Work my company’s “Wellness Program” plan

Every year, my company does one of those “Wellness Programs”, where you get a physical, set some goals, and potentially try to loose weight and exercise more. While I generally roll my eyes at such things, this year, I’ll play ball and take it a bit more seriously.

I’m also thinking about things I can do to start expanding my activity tracker goals into some real workouts. I’ve been doing a bit of running around the house to hit goals, I think I might start doing some more to focus on strength training. I’m not really considering that part of the company “Wellness Program”, but more along the lines of “bonus points” for this goal.

8. Write more and Produce some referable  content for this and/or my other blog

I’ve written some widely circulated articles in the past. I find myself realizing that I do have some skills and knowledge and ability to explain some difficult tasks well. I’m not sure exactly what articles, tutorials, or opinions I’ll be posting. But, I’d like them to be the sort others will find enough value to read and link to.

9. Actively take time off work

Unfortunately, family obligations might make it difficult to take some planned days off this year, but I’m hoping to plan and take some vacation time – a day off here and there. Simply to avoid the constant grind of working and lack of work/life balance I’ve had so long.

My goal is to take planned vacation day at least every 4 months.

10. Get to know Kansas City better

To be clear, I want to visit / do some of the historical / touristy things around here I haven’t done. I’ve lived here now for 8 years, and still haven’t been to many of the museums or parks around here. I’ve really done a minimum of the “KC required” tour outside of walking the plaza a few times.

And I know there’s a lot more and a lot more history around here.

So, this year, I plan on taking a bit of an effort to do a few of the larger attractions.

There’s also several large communities that I should be more active in – Make, Sustainability, general Nerdom.

Extra: Stay Positive

There’s no doubt that 2014 was a rough year, and 2015 looks to be rough too. Fin and I did a lot this past year. We learned a lot, and had a lot of positive experiences.

This year, I’ll also be looking a bit at the past several years goals, and trying to accomplish/track a few of them as appropriate. We’ll see how that works when the year closes.

Still, it’s been difficult. This year, I’m hoping we can stay positive and take the good and bad together. I’ll be hoping for a great year, but whatever more life throws at us, I’m hoping we can stay positive through it all.

 

 

 

 

2014 Year In Review

To borrow a phrase from the wonderful world of sports, “This was a rebuilding year”. While Fin and I work to shape and build a new lifestyle, I’ve found myself wrestling with questions of how to have a healthy view of life while also looking forward. Another year has passed by, and I find myself wanting to enjoy the next year more, to live a bit more in the now, instead of toward the future.

I’m not a fan of sharing too much on the internet, but the work/life balance issues, followed by the challenges of health in aging parents and relatives have put more than a little strain on Fin and myself.

Previous Years Resolutions

This is the time of year I force myself to look back into the past, and look at my previous goals. I see a mixed bag.

1. Pay off 2 more accounts

BORDERLINE. Fin and I free-wheeled into paying off one of my student loans. At this point, we’re “better than average” Americans on debt. Not quiet where we wanted to be, but we’re definitely still making progress. The closer we get, the more effort it seems to stay focused.

2. Publish an App on the Android App Store

FAIL. I’ve taken some time to learn about Android and app development. I even have made a few demo/test apps for my tablet and phone. At this point, it’s about finding time to actually sit down and build something. Taking care of family has been significantly more important over the past year.

3. Make a few batches of fermented beverage

FAIL. Didn’t even get a chance to look at this.

4. Develop a whizz-bang suburbanreject.com theme

FAIL. Ugh, same here. But, I’ve at least kept this site online!

5. Record/Produce a few pieces of music and publish them on the net

BORDERLINE/FAIL. So far, I’ve put up a single recording on SoundCloud, and it was a quick and dirty playing for a Mic test (versus something done to record). I’ve focused more on developing my musicianship this past year, including doing a bit of the coursera thing.

 

6. Have a solid work out routine formed before September

FAIL/BORDERLINE. This has been slowly developing for the past few months. Mostly, on account of having purchase an activity tracker: the vivosmart. I’ve joined the “get my steps in cult”, and it definitely helps to have a “trainer” that sets reasonable goals and pushes you along.

7. Learn C#

CHANGED. After switching jobs, I’ve found myself more involved in C/C++ land than before, but I’m now adding OpenGL and SQL into the mix. I’m working on developing newer technologies, but will probably target Java first, and then C# as required for work.

8. Get a few of the homestead Carpentry/Plumbing/Electrical “TODO” items out of the way

NEAR WIN. I accomplished a couple things here on my list. More to do still, but there’s been progress!

9. Average 2 posts a month on SuburbanReject.com

WIN. Not all quality, but I managed this one.

10. Resume my tutorial writing / developer documentation niche

FAIL. Life has been in the way here.

Stretch Goal #1 Develop Income Sources Outside of Office Work

Stretch Goal #2 Get Involved with Make style community

Stretch Goal #3 Amateur Radio License

All stretch goals where fail.

Unexpected Developments

Switching Jobs

My former employer turned into something of a drama show during last winter. Disagreements between managers, the owner, and a multitude of political games and politics killed my desire to work there. The environment leaked into my personal life, and caused inordinate amounts of stress.

From the months leading up to my leaving, I watched many good people walk out. At the end, only a handful of people from my starting remained – mostly the successful sales people.

I’ve switched to worker for a larger company, and so far, it’s treating my well. If only as a place where I don’t have to deal with as much interpersonal stress and confused dynamics.

The majority of wins in my goals list all came AFTER switching jobs. And more so, after switching jobs and spending some significant time decompressing.

Health

Fin posted a while back about the challenges we face with her father. I don’t have any plans on actively blogging about it except to say – it’s been tough for us both.

Fin might not be around here much, because she’s focused on taking care of her Father. Watching her makes me think just how lucky he – and I – are to have such an amazing person in our lives.

Conclusions

This blog remains an experiment to chronicle our adventure – in trying to escape a “suburban lifestyle”. And yet, in that adventure, the timeless issues of living come and rear their heads. I find myself wishing we did a better job chronicling the earlier – we’ve done some really cool stuff over the year.

But, that’s getting into my standard “new years” post.

Fate’s Obligatory Update

Since starting the new gig, I’ve definitely found myself – slowly, but surely – having more energy. It helps that my current work environment is a lot more positive than the previous. Meanwhile, on the home front, the haunted house and family health concerns have taken over. Today, is the first in a long while, I’ve felt like I could sit back and breath.

I actually sat and played piano some. All that, and I still have a list of chores around the house. Even as ugly clouds hang over us, Fin and I have been fairly motivated lately. When we both were feeling down and out, we decided to start working from “the inside out” – taking the steps to reach our goals that were closest to us, as opposed to simply trying to hit them.

Changing my job was one of our first steps.

Now, we’re working a bit more on getting healthy, and I’m starting to think more and more about fixing this old house up to sell – or at a minimum, but nicer to live in. We’ve got a few cool experiments going now, and Fin may yet have a few blog posts to write.

There’s been a lot of news lately, but I’ve been lax on writing my “interesting news bits”. Given my general feelings anymore about the news, and people writing it, I’m not sure I’ll continue the series.

I’m tired of “news” for the sake of creating opinions that doesn’t lead people to think or actually do things. I’m tired of the continual attacks on various “cultures” deemed inferior by talking heads. In short, I’m tired of reading the opinions of others with no real backing or facts other than to spew forth their personal Utopian view for society. Or, to put it another way, news is dead, propaganda is all that seems to be around now.

And I’m tired of reading it.

I’m hopeful I’ll figure out a way to cut through some in favor of reporting on “cool things” going on out there. That’ll be my goal for next week. Until then, I’ve got some music to find and work around the house to get done.

— Fate

Missouri Election Info

While I’d like to avoid this becoming a super-political blog, Tuesday is election day and there are a few big-issues coming up for a vote. There’s not much going on with our State / County officials, but the Amendments are important.

If you’re voting on Tuesday, take some time to learn what’s up. These amendments all have some hidden agendas and funny business going on.

CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS

Amendment #2

Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended so that it will be permissible to allow relevant evidence of prior criminal acts to be admissible in prosecutions for crimes of a sexual nature involving a victim under eighteen years of age?

If more resources are needed to defend increased prosecutions additional costs to governmental entities could be at least $1.4 million annually, otherwise the fiscal impact is expected to be limited.

Most press sources are endorsing this particular amendment. It’s very hard to not get the “for the children” element. That said, there are a few that have some arguments against.

Amendment #3

Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to:

• require teachers to be evaluated by a standards based performance evaluation system for which each local school district must receive state approval to continue receiving state and local funding;

• require teachers to be dismissed, retained, demoted, promoted and paid primarily using quantifiable student performance data as part of the evaluation system;

• require teachers to enter into contracts of three years or fewer with public school districts; and

• prohibit teachers from organizing or collectively bargaining regarding the design and implementation of the teacher evaluation system?

Decisions by school districts regarding provisions allowed or required by this proposal and their implementation will influence the potential costs or savings impacting each district. Significant potential costs may be incurred by the state and/or the districts if new/additional evaluation instruments must be developed to satisfy the proposal’s performance evaluation requirements.

If any conservatives are out there, I’ll warn you – while the collective bargaining elements of this might sound good to you, I promise you’ll likely see a fairly immediate move to “Common Core“.

I’m not as rabidly anti-common-core as some of those tea party people out there, but as someone that’s spent a lot of time in classrooms, I hate standardize testing. I’ll be voting NO.

Amendment #6

Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to permit voting in person or by mail for a period of six business days prior to and including the Wednesday before the election day in general elections, but only if the legislature and the governor appropriate and disburse funds to pay for the increased costs of such voting?

State governmental entities estimated startup costs of about $2 million and costs to reimburse local election authorities of at least $100,000 per election. Local election authorities estimated higher reimbursable costs per election. Those costs will depend on the compensation, staffing, and, planning decisions of election authorities with the total costs being unknown.

Call me a traditionalist / snob, but I’m not generally a fan of week-long election cycles. That said, if you ARE a fan, it looks like this Amendment has a few provisos that would potentially kill early voting in MO for the foreseeable future.

Amendment #10

Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to require the governor to pay the public debt, to prohibit the governor from relying on revenue from legislation not yet passed when proposing a budget, and to provide a legislative check on the governor’s decisions to restrict funding for education and other state services?

State governmental entities expect no direct costs or savings. Local governmental entities expect an unknown fiscal impact.

The KC Star calls this a “vindictive” amendment. I may not agree with the reasons it was created, but prefer strong legislative oversight.

Lazy Sunday Listening

What better way to start the week leading to Halloween with a little classical music?

At the strike of midnight on Halloween, Death wakes the dead with his violin for a night of dancing. At Dawn, they must return to their graves. Watch for dancing bones in a few days ;)

Fate Plays IT…

Things have been a little bit dead around here. Mostly because Fin and I have been hugely distracted from other activities. My main PC was knocked out by a thunderstorm a few months back. Not long after, Fin’s mom lost her computer as well.

Apparently, 2014 wasn’t a good year for the SuburbanReject family’s electronics.

Hardware

Fin and I discussed things, and decided on building a new PC.

Parts Picture

 

At this point, I’ve FINALLY finished building / rebuilding / installing / reinstalling and tweaking the system. This was the first PC build I’ve done in a long while. I stopped using custom built PCs roughly 4 years ago, when I decided I had better things to do with my time. Not sure why, but my nerd took over again and I wanted to tweak and customize. For the nerds out there, PCPartsPicker is a fairly cool site that does a good job with organizing a build and finding good prices. I easily saved $200-300 off the retail costs of all these parts over the course of the build through a combination of careful shopping and using that site. I’ve posted the gory details / nerd porn over in a review and write-up at the same site.

Software, Software, Software

Given the death and rebuild of two computers, it seemed like a good team to evaluate software choices and find new / better solutions based on my previous tried and true solutions.

Backup Solutions

CrashPlan

I played with multiple different backup software solutions. Previously, my go-to has always been a simple clonezilla image of the post-install computer, and then attempting to burn regular DVD backups.

Loosing my last PC, I discovered that:

  • I don’t make backups nearly as often as I thought
  • Backups are worthless if you lose them

Currently, somewhere within 3 different family houses, there is a DVD binder with years worth of pictures and digital archives. This DVD binder is missing. I’ve been working through multiple old hard drives, saving off backups, and looking for new/old files and trying to restore my previous archive of my digital life.

At the same time, I’ve bought-in to the idea of backing up to the cloud. After looking at multiple vendors, I’ve landed on CrashPlan. It’s got a couple cool things going for it: cloud storage at a decent price and the ability to backup to personal cloud / other computers. The only real gripe I have is that they don’t really give a good method for whole-PC backup / restore. For that, I’ll keep using Clonezilla and burning to BlueRay BDR.

Anti-Virus

With Windows 8.1, I’ve been a little bit irritated at Microsoft’s Security Essentials package. Not to mention, there’s a lot of knowledgeable people advising against using just that. While I’m generally careful with browsing, I do leave a bit open to the internet (for remote access), and like the idea of at least a basic antivirus program.

After some experimentation and playing with trial software, I landed on BitDefender. There software gets good reviews for detecting malware and the system load is minimal compare to major free  antivirus programs.

I purchased the solution from Herman Street and saved a bit of cash. Transaction was smooth / easy.

Data Recovery

I’m not sure what sad circumstances caused it, but I’ve never seen a data drive quiet as toasted as I received from Fin’s Mom. At first, it appeared to be a lost cause. While physically fine, I’ve not seen the data on a drive so well and truly shredded before. After creating a mirror, I ran the volume through multiple data recovery tools, both free and commercial. Usually, testdisk can work some serious magic.

In the end, after trying multiple system recovery tools, including: Recover My Files, Restorer Ultimate, Recuva, and others I can’t remember, I found *one* just *one* that didn’t resort to raw signature based recovery: Stellar Phoenix.

Stellar’s software works for data recovery. While the UI looks like it’s designed by a two year old, the option selection sucks, and the whole thing feels *clunky*, it managed to process and restore gigs of lost family photos, tax records, and more. And that’s *without* going to the effort of raw data recover where you sort through endless files named Image0001.jpg, Image0002.jpg, many of which are browser thumbnails or mis-matched data.

So, if you have managed to toast a drive without killing the hardware, give it a shot.

Back to your regularly scheduled program…

I don’t make any promises on posting while Fin and I are working an extra job, but… at least I’ve got our computer situation sorted out this week. Next week? Well, I’ll keep my fingers crossed nothing new dies.