Easier Living Through Half-Assed Code

So a large part of my job is mediating things.  Yes, technically I do tech support, but since I was promoted (Senior Technical Advisor, check it!), the focus has switched quite dramatically from solving just technical problems to solving people problems.  Not necessarily people that are problems, of course.  More like people who have encountered problems, and then been misinformed, mishandled or simply mistreated, either in reality or perception (which, we all know, is reality).  As a result, my new job relies a lot on calling people at home, apologizing for somebody else’s mess, and trying to repack Vesuvius in under 20 minutes.

I’ve come to realize that just a single call-back isn’t always enough, especially when a case ends up lasting a week before being closed.  My morning list usually starts at about 8-10 callbacks, and after those are done, about 10 more arrive before the end of the day.  Some of those get resolved immediately (about 30%).  Another 50% I place in a file for scheduled callbacks.  But that remaining 20% is the group that seems content, but could very likely have a better experience with The Company if I gave them a courtesy call within about 3-4 days.

From the surface, this seems simple.  It’s not.  With calls coming in every 7 seconds (no joke!), and each call averaging at 17 minutes, it’s extremely hard to keep track of everything.  Simply putting it into Pages isn’t enough anymore.  Plus, what if the person I call doesn’t pick up?  Their name remains on the list, and it gets bigger and bigger, until it’s a massive pile of bloat.

So today’s project is to write a program that allows you to quite effortlessly drop in numbers of people to courtesy call, rank them according to most/least crucial, give a bit of background information, and access a quick person to call based on how much time you think the call will last (for example: a call to check up on an iCloud restore is potentially going to be much longer than a call to see if a particular app has finished downloading).

Anyone who has worked in a call center knows that call lengths are impossible to fully predict, which becomes a problem when you have lunch in 10 minutes, are just about to take a new call, and will get negative attention if your lunch isn’t almost perfectly on the dot in regards to the assigned time.  So here’s the solution: fire up my program, sort by outbound calls you think will last less than 15 minutes, and pick up the phone.

The aim of this isn’t to make life easier (despite this post’s sneaky title).  It’s based on pure selfishness.  I want to write something that all my coworkers can use, and my boss might just accidentally happen to notice.  I desperately want to transition from tech support to a development role with The Company.  I’ve heard several success stories of people in my exact position striking it big within The Company doing exactly this, so it’s worth a shot.  At the very least I’ll have a slight technological edge over my peers.

 

JadenEasier Living Through Half-Assed Code

Cribs: Jaden Edition

Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 8.39.26 AM

That’s my old house. No, not the brick houses behind the fence. I mean that exact spot where the pewter SUV is sitting. Two years ago, I parked in that spot every night, and went to sleep.  It got so hot in McKinney, TX that one night I nearly drowned in my own sweat.  I was sleeping in the backseat at a weird angle, and the sweat just rolled down my throat until I woke up choking and heaving, half-naked in the back of a 2002 Ford Taurus, at 3 am.  The next morning I had to catch a plane to New Jersey, so I headed to:

Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 8.41.52 AM

That’s my old gym. Every morning I drove two miles from “home”, took a piss, showered and shaved, lifted for a bit, and chatted with the owner, who was an absolute saint. He also had a super cool name like “Titan” or “Ernesto” which I can’t remember. I’m pretty sure he knew I used his gym as a bathroom, but he was cool with it. When I couldn’t pay, he never complained.

Next door (out of frame) is a dry cleaner.  One time I had to catch a flight to Pittsburgh and I locked my keys in my car, with all my belongings.  The owner of that dry cleaner (without even knowing me) paid for a service to come unlock my doors.  Moving on:

Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 8.47.44 AM

 

This is Coffee Squared, the coolest little corner of Texas.  I lived here more than that Wal-Mart parking lot.  The owner told me “good morning” by name every single day.  I bought an English muffin and a cup of coffee religiously.  I made house music with Ableton 8 after work every day.  I met a talent scout who wanted to represent that music.  I met all the cool hardcore bands that the owner let play in his shop on Friday nights.

Why the pictures?  I’m just reminiscing, I guess, and thinking about happiness, and change.  Some people think being happy is a sign that you live an easy life, and I disagree.  All of these places made me happy during the second-most miserable time of my life.  When I lived on the streets, I met a lot of people who were not only unhappy, but hell-bent on remaining so.  I wasn’t interested in that, so I wandered and wandered until I found people who thought I was interesting, and thought I had potential.

But something made me happier than even those wonderful people.  When I left Oklahoma it was finally me calling the shots.  I was no longer forced to live with an AK-47-wielding heroin addict, or pay for my boba tea (a necessity!) with nickels scrounged from the couch cushions.  I got a job within two weeks that put me on airplanes to every corner of the U.S.  It was an adventure.  Even being dirt poor and suffocating on my own sweat was suddenly wonderful.

My dad once told me that the great thing about rock bottom is that there’s nowhere to go but up, and (like usual) he was very right.  I told him once when I was homeless that I was the happiest I’d ever been, because literally every day was better than the one before.  Logically, it had to be.

Oh, hey, I think I found a reason for why I’m thinking these thoughts.  I have an opportunity to maybe change big things in my life again, and I’m a bit scared.  I think it’s a healthy fear, but it still irks me because I don’t like being scared.  Things are comfortable now, and shaking them up seems foolish.  Things are going well.  I was just promoted.  I’ve tripled my salary and my boss likes me.  I have an apartment and friends and new shoes and air conditioning.

But shaking things up is oh-so-tempting, and that’s a wild part of me that the Adderall can’t level out.  I want to throw caution to the wind again.  I want to convince myself that I’m smart enough to make things work.

Final thought: my “two-week experiment” with coding in Ruby has turned into an obsession.  I’ll love Python till the day I die, but Ruby has reached official side-ho status.

 

JadenCribs: Jaden Edition

Gone Girl Should Have Stayed Gone

So today I have an excessively important Skype conversation which I’ve spent the entire last week studying for, despite feeling so ill that I wondered if Ebola had become airborne. This call will test a whole bunch of skills that I have acquired in (no joke) the past 10 years. A nagging part of me keeps saying that I haven’t hone thosed skills into anywhere within the vicinity of sharp enough, so last night to calm down I went to see Gone Girl.

I was disappointed.

Now take note: the movie was outstanding. My only real complaint about the film (from a purely production angle) was that Trent Reznor’s soundtrack seemed hardly there most of the time, and when it was there, it felt as bland as the Amazing Amy books were supposed to be. Unlike in The Social Network and the Girl w/the Dragon Tattoo, that grumpy Nine Inch Nails sound stayed so far from “in your face” that it might as well have been playing softly in a Yankee Candle shop.

But besides that, the movie was also disappointing, and I think it’s because it was too faithful to the book. Books are slower mediums, so I can accept the fact that Nick Dunn does LITERALLY NOTHING to influence the book’s outcome. Wait- ok, he said “woodshed” on tv, after pretty much stumbling into the earth-shaking discovery that his sister’s woodshed is full of toys. That’s it.

At every turn, Nick does nothing to legitimately strike back at Amy. He barely even solves her riddles. It takes him nearly the entire movie to do stuff that most movie characters would do within the first act. He holds his head in his hands a lot, and we’re supposed to see him as a challenging character because he does bad stuff. But it’s not a challenge, really, because he never does anything good, or even that bad! He just mopes around like Harry Potter on summer break.

Somehow I didn’t notice in the book that Nick was entirely pointless, but in the book this was ok. Trying to watch Ben Affleck do absolutely nothing but get frustrated for nearly 3 hours was not. In the movie it was more painful than getting your throat slit with a box cutter. Even at the end, when Amy reveals her final cinematic master plan, he doesn’t do much of anything except get mad. That’s a natural response, and Nick could be forgiven for being useless if he was a human, but he’s the lead character in a thriller.

If you completely remove Nick from the movie, you have a story about a woman who runs away, gets robbed almost immediately, cries to her ex-boyfriend, murders said boyfriend, and then comes home. If you remove Amy, you have a movie about a man who is briefly harassed by Nancy Grace. If you remove both of them, you have an independent story about a woman coping with her brother’s trial. NONE of these stories intertwine at any point. I can’t even remember a single scene with more than two of Margot, Amy, Desi or Nick in the same shot.

Oh, and another thing: if you’re going to make a movie *painfully* faithful to the source material, why only mention Amy’s quizzes once? That was the whole spin of her character in the novel. She couldn’t get through a single journal entry without some sort of passive-aggressive quiz.

On the plus side, Gone Girl did a fair job of making me angry at America’s knee-jerk jump to judgement, and the industry of spectacle vs justice. And I guess being too true to the book is better than just stealing the name and writing a new story. But after waiting more than a year to see my favorite book of 2013 turned into film (and then being stoked at the mastermind behind the soundtrack), I felt like I could have gotten more enjoyment just re-reading the novel.

JadenGone Girl Should Have Stayed Gone

Fighting Gravity

I think I can officially admit now that the original concept sketch of RackStax (as seen on this site) would be a bad idea to create. When I made that sketch, I hadn’t yet realized a few very important details about weight racks, primarily the absolute tiniest measurable modicum of space that they generally provide between the weight and the bar. Also, my design would have resulted in a tremendous amount of downwards pressure placed entirely on a backbone of plastic, which as we all know is a notorious wimp.

Now that doesn’t mean I’m giving up on RackStax. Quite the opposite. Finding that my original concept was (let’s admit it) just plain silly has really got me excited to finish up the next design, because now I know that I can critically examine my work and point out design flaws. Any by discovering the major flaws with version 1.0, I also encountered the primary foe of RackStax: gravity. Also: angry gym patrons, but those won’t exist because RackStax will make them all happy customers, right? Right?

Since I found out that Version 1.0 was standing square in the path of the earth’s gravitational force, the concept of ‘fighting gravity’ has stuck with me. If you think about it, we fight and win against gravity all the time, every day of our lives, but it would be crazy to suggest that you’ve overcome gravity. Instead, we just find ways to subvert and redirect it as we grow up, until we don’t even think about it anymore. We learn to walk without falling, then we learn to balance on a wobbling bicycle by keeping in motion, then we learn how to swim, and so on. The unstoppable force of gravity is simply diverted.

So that’s the current goal with RackStax. I need to think of the design in the same way as I first looked at a bicycle. If I jump on immediately, I can either fight against gravity and bite the concrete, or figure out some way to build momentum (push the pedals) and look really cool. Because just like when I learned to ride my bike, the primary motivation for making Rackstax is just to look really cool. Money and all that is secondary.

JadenFighting Gravity

The Sam Pepper Problem: Prank Channels

Over the past few days, a reasonably well-known Youtuber released a sequence of 2 (now 3) videos that caused a fuss.  The first one doesn’t matter because nobody watched it.  The second video set the internet aflame.  Not like a “light the beacons to Gondor!” aflame.  More like a “your cigarette set the orphanage ablaze” sort of aflame.  People were mad.  Very, very mad.  Sam Pepper was instantly banned from several of the major Youtube conventions and his 2nd video was unceremoniously removed from Youtube by the admins.

In less than a hundred hours, Sam Pepper became public enemy number one of the American feminist movement, by releasing a “prank” video in which he swiped (seemingly random) women’s posteriors after distracting them by asking for directions.  The immediate vitriol that the internet rained on him reached far enough that even Youtubers who don’t get involved in tube drama began to condemn Sam Pepper.  It was and still is a big angry mess (so, business as usual for the internet).

Note: Sam Pepper may or may not deserves all the disgust that people direct at him.  I don’t know the guy or his intentions.  After the incriminating second video, he released a lengthy third video in which he explains that this was all some sort of complex master plan to draw attention to male spousal abuse or something.  Honestly it sounds like an absurd, panicked contingency plan, but I have no way of knowing.

Anyways, my point here isn’t to talk about Sam Pepper, or grabbing women’s butts on the street.  It’s the “Prank” channels that have gotten so big on Youtube recently.  They’re like the evil nemesis of Flash Mob Channels.  Whereas Flash Mobs rely on doing something productive and coordinated to generate genuine surprise from passerby’s, Prank channels rely entirely on putting your victim on the spot, making them think you mean them harm, and then loudly shrieking “It was a prank, brah!  A prank!”

Watch this:

 

That’s the type of videos that Sam Pepper often tries to make (not exclusively, though… he actually has some decent, interesting content on his channel).  These prank videos have potential for people to get hurt, or at the very least extremely pissed off.  There’s nothing acceptable about this.  The sort of person who grabs a guy/girl’s cellphone and runs with it just to record their shock on camera and make money is exactly the sort of person I would expect to sexually assault women on the street.  The people behind Youtube Prank channels demonstrate that they are willing to use your discomfort for personal gain, whether that means views, dollars, or sexual gratification.

Which brings me to my second point (sorry this is running long): escalation.  These Prank channels generate a tremendous amount of money, but that money comes from shock alone.  This isn’t like pop music that occasionally uses shocking themes to generate attention.  Pop songs are still songs, and the shock is a secondary selling point.  With Prank channels, the shock is the content.  So as more channels enter the market, the original kings of that subculture are going to have to become more shocking, more offensive, and venture into riskier territory.  I don’t think I’m being too alarmist when I predict that eventually someone is going to end up in the hospital.

So honestly I hardly even blame Sam Pepper for this isolated incident.  His career is hinged entirely on attention, and the internet just gave him lots of that.  Maybe (as he says in his third video) this was all a misunderstood ‘social experiment’ to somehow draw attention to spousal abuse against men.  Maybe he knew this would generate press coverage but didn’t fully expect how decisively America would strike back.  The only thing for sure is that this is not a problem with Sam Pepper, but with the concept he has discovered that you can shock and insult people and use that to  live in a fancy apartment in Los Angeles.  As these channels continue to generate money with shock content, their owners will continue to see literally anything (including grabbing your butt on the street) as a waiting opportunity.

JadenThe Sam Pepper Problem: Prank Channels

Overtime

So you’ve probably heard that a major company just released a new phone, a new operating system, and a whole slew of new features just waiting for well-meaning people to get confused by.  I happen to work for that company, so things are a little hectic here at the home office.  We were encouraged to sign up for extra work hours.  I don’t believe in doing anything halfway, so I doubled the minimum recommended hours.  That was mistake number one.

Mistake number two was getting promoted right before this took place, so I have all sorts of new responsibilities and access to technology that is as confounding as it is helpful.  Luckily I live my life like a kid in a candy store, dashing around and grabbing things until someone tells me to stop.  So it’s actually been quite fun.  I get the opportunity to figure out this new phone/software faster than anybody else, because I get to see exactly what happens when it breaks down, and then work in reverse until it gets fixed.

The flip side of this, naturally, is that my usual days off work are now more like “10 hours off work”.  I’ve completely abandoned my social life for the next two weeks, and I hardly leave my room.  After work I just go to sleep, then wake up again for a new day.  The other day I found a gun on my living room table.  That means while I was working nonstop, someone interesting enough to leave a .9mm entered my house, had fun, and left his gun (either through carelessness or some sort of weird reverse-robbery fetish).  I hope it was someone my roommate knew, but just in case it was a home invader, well, at least we know he’s tends to missplace his weaponry.

Rackstax is moving forward.  Our team has grown from 1 to 2, which is promising for the future.  Really, Rackstax is the reason I chose all this overtime.  I need a little bit of extra seed money to generate the prototype once we have the design worked out.  Expect big things.

If we make it out alive, from the depths of the sea, compass point you anywhere closer to me

 

JadenOvertime

Evidence of Dumbassery

Yesterday I told my roommate: “I need to sneak into about three gyms tonight, to measure the weight racks for RackStax.”

He said: “Why don’t you just go to Academy and measure the racks there?”

Insert cartoon za-doink sound here.  Yes, I’ll admit the thought never crossed my mind that it might be easier to walk into a department store than to dress up like a gym patron and squeeze my way in unnoticed.  But that’s just because I don’t like to take the easy road, right?

Also- my apartment complex is really trying to imitate a bad girlfriend as much as possible.  On the first days back-to-school I was getting nonst0p texts about free pancakes and strawberry pudding pops and invitations to hang out at the “clubhouse”.  Then the texts began to dwindle, and now when I text them asking for free pancakes, they don’t even respond.  Soon enough they’ll block me on Facebook and then our relationship is over.  Except for the fact that I have to pay them every month.  So I guess they’re more like an increasingly cold prostitute.

 

JadenEvidence of Dumbassery

Rackstax (I know the name sucks)

prelimdesign

 

This here is another new project of mine.  All I need now is to carefully measure a few weight racks, get a rapid prototyping corp in Austin to print me a few sizes/colors, and then start shopping it around to gyms.  I think a good idea is to generate some buzz by giving out a few (free)  branded copies to local gyms first, to see how their customers react.  Afterwards we’ll talk money.

JadenRackstax (I know the name sucks)

Fastery

So I’ve made the executive decision to not take my meds on days that I don’t work. So since I’m sitting through a three-day weekend till Thursday, my brain is a roiling pile of disorganized porridge. In this chaos, however, I had an idea for a Django project that I want to launch.

Fastery (which needs a better name than “Mastery” with an “F”) is going to be a website that solves the primary shortcoming of self-guided learning: the question “where do I go next?”. Take programming for example. Once you finish the starting tutorials, you’re nowhere near being hirable for that skill. But finding good, relevant tutorials that will lead you to real mastery is difficult. Not impossible, but certainly not convenient.

With Fastery, you’ll put in which skill you want to learn, find a small group of 5-10 other people who are currently learning that skill, and get access to a live list of which learning materials (websites, books, classes) that they are using to reach mastery. You can trade tips, view other groups’ progress, make challenges, and then lord your rapid learning process over your friends. Also, you hopefully learn the stuff you’re trying to learn.

Along the way, you contribute your own self-guided learning path, and everyone contributes until either everyone gives up or everyone agrees that they’ve reached the level of mastery that they aimed for when they joined.

Imagine you’re 10, and you’re learning to ride a Rip-Stick (something I still can’t do). If you’re only accountable to yourself, you might never learn. My younger brother wanted a Rip-Stick like nobody’s business when he was a kid, because his friends all had their own already. When he got that board, he fell off 10 million times, but because he wanted to look as cool as his friends (none of which were really as cool as him), he kept trying.

The reason that my younger brother can ride a rip-stick and I can’t is because he had a support network of people giving him tips, learning how to ride that board just like he was. He had a social impulse to learn quickly, so as not to appear uncool, while I just had a mild desire to prove that I could keep my balance.

I believe this same concept can be carried over into a web app.

Like seriously, my head isn’t working at all right now. I’m starting on some basic layout stuff today, so by Thursday, when I’m medicated again, this will probably look very foolish.

JadenFastery

Being Grateful

So before we get started, know this: I’m operating on the tail end of an unexpected all-nighter, so my thought process might come across as a bit patchy. With that said, today I want to talk about being grateful, not just for Things, but also for Things Going Right.

If you follow me on Twitter, you might have seen that I was very excited a few days back because I took my car in for a repair, and it seemed to be fixed. The car hasn’t been able to speed up over 50 mph for exactly a year now, and naturally this has made any sort of travel frustrating and dangerous. Considering how frantic last year was in my life, the car was really the least of my worries. Because I’ve been going through a pretty much nonstop period of Things Happening for the past year, I wasn’t able to put aside money for a repair until last week.

I took the car in, the mechanics did their thing, and they said “It’ll work better now, but that might only last for a few miles. Bring it back Friday.”

So of course I revved the engine up to maximum speed and enjoyed the hell out of the past five days. Predictably, yesterday all the original problems came back.

And this ties into the idea of ‘gratitude’ how? Well, even though I’d been forced to drive a broken car for a year, as soon as the major symptoms disappeared, I forgot those bad times ever existed. My brain just switched to “Everything’s OK” mode and I didn’t stop to realize how nice it was to feel that way again.

It was actually jarring when the Check Engine light came back on, because my mind had already shifted into the mode that goes “Everything is good and it’s gonna stay this way.” I find that I’m the sort of person to quickly complain about bad luck, but seldom mention when things are going well.

So even though my car is back to square 1, I’m forcing myself to be grateful for the few days it worked.

I’m also super grateful that I finally have a working budget in my life. There’s no feeling quite like checking your monthly bills (stuff like Time Warner Cable, Sprint, Spotify, and student loans) and confirming that they’re all paid from the previous paycheck.

JadenBeing Grateful