Monday, January 11, 2016

News Update

I know it has been a couple of months since I last posted.  I could try blaming it on being busy or say that it feels like nothing much noteworthy has been happening.  Neither would really be true.  The truth is when I get home and sit down at my computer I generally start reading or playing computer games rather than write a post.

Since my last post I've done a number of things.  On my trip to the big island I ended up going to Volcano twice.  Once at night and then again the next day.  We also went to the vanilla farm and a chocolate farm as I recall.

After that things picked up with a startup that I'd been talking to.  The concept was to provide a platform for individuals and companies to provide scholarships so that when a student put in an application they would be available to all the registered scholarships.  This helped resolve the problem many small scholarships have with getting applicants.  By the end of September it was clear that it wasn't going to fly.  It turns out students in Hawaii mostly go through their high school college and career councilors.  The councilors each have their own "common" application which they send out to whichever scholarships they think the students qualify for.  They viewed our common application as a threat and insisted on conditions that meant we wouldn't be able to pay salaries for two years and would need to put in 40+ hours a week of developer time.

As some of you know I traveled back to Chicago the first week of October for my brother's wedding.  I had a good time visiting with family.  I was also able to take an evening to visit with Pat and the Naperville folks.  We had a good time at the sushi restaurant.  I was surprised at how much I remembered of the Ecosure applications when I was able to answer a question Pat had about the McD playground app.

Work has been going well.  We finished the project I was on and rolled it out successfully.  We're most of the way through a second website and working on requirements for another project.  This project is fairly complicated since it needs to provide a consolidated interface for three independent systems.  It will also need to be able to take a single command from the user and update each of those systems appropriately.  This will manage the contracts associated with providers in the Medicare, Medicaid, and private business systems.  I had fun drawing out the basic architecture for the application already.  I presented it at a meeting with the architect for the project and he is willing for us to go down this path.

I went to a hackathon focused on the Uber API.  Initially none of the pitches caught my attention and the API is properly focused on hailing and managing an Uber ride so I didn't have any ideas of my own.  I ended up on a team that was trying to put together an app that would allow users to setup a series of "waypoints" so that a tourist could easily setup an itinerary ahead of time and call an Uber ride from one place to the next.

A couple of weeks ago I went to another Startup Weekend - Honolulu.  I pitched a piece of one of my crazy ideas.  I call the full project "Project Encyclopedia" and the idea is to create a system that can provide a good education to anyone, anywhere, on any topic without using grad students or professors to teach or grade the work.  This goes beyond what MOOCs provide now.  They can provide static quiz's and lectures.  So far, they can't respond to the students without using people. The piece I pitched was the basic application.  I didn't end up attracting enough votes to start a team, but I wasn't expecting to since the idea is much too big to get done in a weekend.

I ended up joining a team that was also working on an education project.  It was on the edge of being permissible since the leader of the team has been working on the idea for the last 15 or 16 years.  She has created a line of educational songs and music videos that teachers can use to teach kids from kindergarten through third or fourth grade.  The ideas we hit on to make it work were games and an independent distribution system.  On that basis we won third place.  The leader decided she didn't want to continue after the weekend.  The rest of the team did want to continue, at least to participate in Global Startup Battle.  We quickly learned that the reason she had chosen not to continue was because she had come to Startup Weekend looking for potential employees rather than looking for possible partners.  Apparently it hurt her feelings that the rest of the team preferred joining a startup as partners over becoming regular employees.  The drama from that worked itself out over the course of a week or two.

Also in November, I participated in NaNoWriMo.  For those that don't know what that is, it is a challenge to see whether you can write a set amount of words in November.  You can get the details at  I signed up thinking it was like the Camp NaNoWriMo I'd checked out earlier in the year in that I could pick my target.  I learned that in November the target is set at 50k words for everyone.  After a little thinking I decided to participate anyway and just aim at an unofficial 10k word count.  I managed to hit my goal by attending almost all of the write-ins and struggling outside of those to get myself to write.  I did pass my goal on the 30th.  By the end of the month I learned one trick that worked.  Take the laptop away from the desk.  When I'm at the desk in my apartment I quickly get distracted either with the internet or with games.

December was busy at work.  We got a complicated project two weeks before Christmas.  The users want a way to pull data about providers from all five of the systems that hold providers.  This will allow them to more quickly research where applications of some sort need to go for processing.

Christmas was quiet and rainy so I stayed in for the long weekend.  I got some books from Dad, Leibniz, Locke, and Spinoza.  I've started on the Leibniz book already and I'm enjoying it.  One thing that hadn't registered with me before is that all three are contemporaries.  The introduction of the Leibniz book mentions that he cancelled the publication of a work responding to Locke when Locke died and the first work by in the book includes an aside responding to one of Spinoza's arguments.

On New Years Eve I stayed in and had pizza delivered.  I stayed up and played on the computer until midnight, which was just as well.  Some of my neighbors set off strings of firecrackers in the 45 minutes leading up to midnight.

With the new year I decided to set two goals for the year.  I want to go out on the weekend more than the once a month I was doing.  I also want to create a habit of doing at least a little writing each day.  It is too soon to say how the first is going to go, but it is clear that the second is going to be quite difficult.