Mac – Not For Business Anymore

Catalina

A few years ago, I fell in love with the MacBook Pro. From the amazing display to the incredible battery life and everything in between, the MacBook Pro is an amazing machine. Unfortunately, Apple started killing that when they removed support for standard USB and I decided not to upgrade. Now, Apple has placed the final nail in the coffin for professional users with Catalina.

Apple has grown accustomed to telling their customers what they want and providing few options. Whether it’s the iPhone, the iPad, or their computer products, you typically don’t have many choices. This has always been a complaint lodged against Apple by PC users. But during the last year, this has killed the effectiveness of the MacBook Pro for business users. With Catalina, Apple has removed support for 32-bit software applications. Unfortunately, as a business user, I don’t have the luxury of upgrading my system if it’s going to kill applications I need for my business. In the business world, legacy code and applications may exist for a decade or more. So, I need to support those systems until they are end-of-life. This means insuring that I having support for 32-bit applications well into the future.

So, as of Catalina, I am no longer an Apple fan. I will keep my current MacBook Pro until it is no longer usable, but my next machine will be a Windows laptop. I can pick what ports I want, and find the corresponding laptop. I can decide what OS I want and what software. I don’t need Apple to tell me what I want – I’m a business user and I know my tech needs far better than they do.

WiFi Calling

Vintage Telephon

During the last few years, WiFi calling has become an option for cellular users. This is particularly exciting for those who use smaller cellular providers, those in rural areas, or those in building with poor cell coverage. But how good is it?

I have two cell phones – one that I use strictly for development and one for general use. A few months ago, I purchased a cell plan for the development phone to use Google Fi. My personal phone uses Verizon. My office is in a concrete building that does a pretty good job blocking cell signals. I do, however, have pretty solid WiFi. So, it only made sense to setup both phones for WiFi calling in my office. Now, no matter what, I can make calls from anywhere in the building.

My Experience

Unfortunately, the only option for WiFi calling on my Google Pixel is on or off. I can’t specify which should receive priority – WiFi or 4G – and I can’t specify what access points to enable WiFi calling on. So, when I’m in my car (with cellular WiFi), my phone uses the car’s WiFi for calling. Hardly optimal given that I pay per megabyte for data. When I’m at home, I have an excellent cell signal – so there’s no reason for WiFi calling. But that won’t stop my phone from defaulting to WiFi anyway.

This wouldn’t be a big deal if WiFi calling was as good as the cell network. But, unfortunately, it’s not. Even on an access point without any other users, my WiFi calling tends to break up or be delayed. Sometimes, it’s so bad that the other party complains and I’m forced to call back later. Of particular annoyance is that there’s typically a several second delay after the other party answers.

While I think WiFi calling is a great idea, it’s not reliable enough – at this time – for me to rely on. If I’m in an area without cell service, I may switch it back on, but until then I’m keeping it shut off.

Sleazy LinkedIn Users

Bar

As a small business owner, I am always trying to improve my social network. It’s an essential part of business development and the main point of LinkedIn. During the last decade, I’ve communicated with clients, prospective customers, old colleagues, and people I went to school with via LinkedIn. Unfortunately, now that I’m a business owner, I increasingly find that too many LinkedIn users behave like they’re at a sleazy bar. They connect with me to ‘grow their network’, and within a month I’ve received a half-dozen unsolicited messages to give them my business. I find this utterly annoying. Just because I connected to you doesn’t mean I am looking to outsource to your company, purchase your health care, use your accounting services, or anything else. And your behavior ensures that won’t change.

Previously, I wrote a blog about Social Media Etiquette. In that blog, I mentioned the Like/Know/Trust model. The idea is that you move connections from the outer circle to the inner. I start by getting you to like me, then get you to know me better, and finally get you to trust me with your business. Unfortunately, when you start by spamming me, I don’t like you. If I don’t like you, I will never get to a point where I trust you.

Why are people engaging in this sleazy behavior? I assume, sadly, that it gets results. If you spam enough people, you only need a small percentage of conversions to consider your method a success. But what happens to your reputation among those who didn’t purchase your product? It’s possible that I may have purchased your product at some point, had I ever gotten to know you, but now I never will. You have lost a potential customer who, because of your sleazy business practice, will never be converted to a client.

My advice for social media: slow and steady wins the race. Develop meaningful relationships with people, share meaningful content, engage your network. Through this process you will earn friends. And we all know that given the choice of working with a friend or a stranger, nearly everyone will chose to give their business to someone they know and trust.

To those who spam me on LinkedIn: my new policy is to immediately remove you from my network. You bring nothing of value to me. I get enough spam in my email, I don’t need it on social media too.

MATLAB

Code

Running my own software company, I run into people trying to solve all kinds of different problems with software. As such, I end up using a variety of different technologies, languages, platforms, and frameworks. Recently, a client project required me to download MATLAB in order to experiment with several existing toolkits needed for the R&D phase of the project. The first thing I noticed was the price tag. Today, the overwhelming majority of development environments are free. However, MATLAB carries a hefty price tag of $800/year for commercial customers. After installing the application, I found out that the plugins (called toolboxes) averaged an additional $500/year. All told, this development environment was going to cost me around $3000/year after all necessary plugins were purchased.

Is It Worth It?

Seeing that MATLAB is so expensive, and so highly regarded by many in the research and academic community, I assumed that the MATLAB user experience was going to be epic! How wrong I was. The code I was examining contained dozens of files across numerous folders. Of course, this isn’t abnormal for any large project and I expect any decent IDE to be able to handle it. Any IDE except MATLAB. Need to find where a function is defined? Don’t expect any tools in MATLAB to accomplish that! Of course, you can do a find in files for all references of a string, but that’s not particularly helpful when a function is called dozens of times or has a short name. How about displaying a call hierarchy so that you can see where functions are being called? Nope – that’s not possible either. Ever aspect of the IDE proved to be well below what was commonly available in other IDEs.

If you’re not intersected in the user experience, I guess MATLAB is great. Apparently, its ability to perform all kinds of mathematical wizardry is beyond compare. It’s great for solving linear algebra problems and other advanced math tasks. Unfortunately, I wasn’t interested in that.

Open Source Code

I managed to find several open source projects and toolboxes for MATLAB. I was interested in understanding how these particular toolboxes work, so I started examining the code. MATLAB, like so many other languages, is a weakly-typed language. While weakly-typed languages do offer many benefits, readability is rarely one of them. MATLAB also does not require variables to be defined before use. This can be very difficult to follow particularly when the bulk of the code I saw contained neither useful variable names nor adequate comments to understand what’s going on. Very typical of people without a development background.

Conclusion

I was very disappointed with everything I saw in the MATLAB community. I assume most of the users are mathematicians and have no idea the kinds of features that are available in modern environments, so they have no idea what they’re missing. Likewise, I assume they’re used to digging through poorly documented code with variable names like g, f, c, and y. For me as a developer, this is neither acceptable nor maintainable long-term. For number crunching, I much prefer R. It may not have the most advanced IDE, but it doesn’t set me back anything either!

Value & Time

Growth

When we think about value, we think about the cost we pay for something. However, that’s a very shortsighted definition. We probably only consider cost as defining value because most of the things we buy are defined this way. For instance, when we go to a grocery store, we look at two brands of cheese, and the cheaper one is the better value. It doesn’t matter much which is the better quality cheese, it simply matters which is the cheaper cheese. As consumers, we typically only consider the cost. To me, the definition of value is far more complicated.

Buying Vacuum Cleaners

Twenty years ago, when I would buy a vacuum cleaner, I only considered cost when purchasing. The cheapest vacuum was the best value and the one I would purchase. But time and time again, I found that my value vacuum cleaner would stop working after about a year. So, I’d go back to the store and buy another one. I was paying about $100 per year to purchase vacuum cleaners. Note that now my value definition has a time element. After several years, I considered buying a Dyson vacuum cleaner. It was four times as expensive, but I had hoped it would do a better job than the $100 vacuum cleaners and that it would last longer. And today, 15 years later, I still have that same Dyson vacuum cleaner. If it were to break today, I would have spent $400 over 15 years for my vacuum. That’s a substantially better value than before!

Value of Technology

The cost of computer technology is very similar. You can buy the $300 laptop and expect to replace it next year, or you can buy a MacBook and have it for 10 years. But custom software is a little more difficult to directly compare since the price tag isn’t as clearly defined. What I’ve found is that when customers purchase consulting services or software development services based solely on the cost of those services, they often find that the price tag explodes over the lifespan of the product due to poor development. When you find the developer with the lowest cost, he probably has the least experience. He will take longer to accomplish the work since he’s bound to run into more snags than an experienced developer. He’s also likely to overlook things that a senior developer wouldn’t. These issues will result in additional costs during the lifetime of the application to fix in addition to lost time and productivity from your software users.

Conclusion

Paying for custom technology services is more like buying a vacuum than it is purchasing a block of cheese from the grocery store. The true value of those technology services will be defined not by cost alone, but by how long those services solve your technology problems.

Drive & Success

Drive

Most people would say that I’m a successful person. I’ve started my own business, enjoyed 20+ years of a happy marriage, raised a wonderful daughter, earned a third degree black belt, and done so much more. Of course, each of us may view success differently. To some, success may be earning their first million before 30 or to earn their MBA. Success may be marrying the woman of your dreams or buying the car you’ve always wanted. Regardless of how you define success, the formula is pretty much the same.

Drive

The relationship between drive and success is well defined. Tommy Hilfiger said: “The road to success is not easy to navigate, but with hard work, drive and passion, it’s possible to achieve the American dream.” Chuck Norris also recognized the connection: “I’ve always found that anything worth achieving will always have obstacles in the way and you’ve got to have that drive and determination to overcome those obstacles on route to whatever it is that you want to accomplish.”

But what too many people seem to ignore, is that the opposite is also true – without drive, you will have a very difficult time being successful. When I look around, the people I most often see struggling to get by are the same people who have little – if any – drive. They buy their next lottery ticket and hope this is the one. They put their money into fad diets because it’s easier than working on the body they want. They rely on whatever easy method or get rich quick scheme they can find. And where does it leave them? Exactly where they started.

My wife has often says I’m driven by a rubber band. She says that I never stop, and that she believes I could achieve anything if I set my mind to it. I’m thankful to have that drive. It has served me well. But to those of you who have not achieved the success in your life you have wanted, why do you think that is? Are you driven to success, or just driven to the couch to binge watch the next season of your favorite show? Are you as interested in learning Italian as you are sitting on the deck all summer? If you’re not getting where you want in life, what do you intend to do about it?

It’s never too late to change your life to be what you want it to be. However, you need to start by taking charge of your life and focusing on the things that will drive you toward the success you wish to achieve!

Samsung Galaxy Watch

Galaxy Watch

Over the last several years, I have owned several smart watches. Unfortunately, I was never impressed with any of them. Early smart watches had horrible battery life. At the end of the day, it was not uncommon for my watch to have less than 20% battery  remaining. Use your watch more heavily, and you could expect to recharge mid way through the day. While early smart watches were nice toys, they lacked any real use case beyond being able to read your text messages.

How things have changed. I bought a Samsung Galaxy Watch hoping to give smart watches another try. Not only is the battery life amazing, but so are the features. At the end of the day, I typically have 70% or more battery remaining. I can now go multiple days without charging! In addition to being able to send and receive text messages, I can use my watch to make calls! The Samsung Galaxy Watch includes WiFi, NFC, optional 4G, and is even waterproof!

The Samsung Galaxy Watch is also an amazing tool for runners, hikers, bikers, and anyone who wants to keep track of their exercise or heart rate. With GPS, altimeter, barometer, step counter, and heart rate monitor, the Samsung Galaxy Watch is the perfect tool for any fitness enthusiast.

The Samsung Galaxy Watch has rewritten the book on smart watch technology. Their watch is absolutely amazing and is the first smart watch I have ever really loved.

Remote Connections

Computer on a Tree Stump

As a techie, I often need to connect to a variety of computers to accomplish my work. But as a small business owner, I enjoy the freedom to do my work from wherever I choose. How can you accomplish both? Remote connections! Through a variety of technologies, I am able to access the resources necessary to do my job from anywhere around the globe.

SSH

The simplest means to remotely connect to a computer is through Secure Shell – better known as SSH. SSH is a secure replacement for the much older (and insecure) telnet protocol. SSH uses public-key cryptography, so you can setup keys to connect to your server instead of a password. This makes connecting easier and more secure. SSH is a text-only connection type and is particularly well-suited for Linux machines. However, while SSH is a great tool for controlling a Linux server remotely, it doesn’t allow you to use resources on that server (or network) from your local machine. For example, if the remote server runs a website, you won’t be able to access that site via SSH.

SSH Tunnel

While SSH won’t allow you to access remote resources directly, you can turn options for tunneling. Tunneling will map local ports to remote ports so that your local computer can access resources on a remote computer. For example, if your remote server runs a MySQL server, you can setup an SSH tunnel to forward localhost:3306 to remotehost:3306. Then, you can setup your MySQL client to connect via your local machine. The SSH tunnel will then forward your requests to the local machine. I heavily use this technology for web sites on my development build server. For example, I run a Jenkins server on port 8080. I can SSH into my machine and create a tunnel to port 8080. This allows me to view my Jenkins web server from anywhere. I even have an Android application (JuiceSSH) that allows me to setup SSH tunneling from my phone. So, when I need to control a Jenkins build on the road, I connect via JuiceSSH and make the necessary changes.

VPN

Sometimes, a tunnel just isn’t enough. Maybe you need your computer appear to be on another network. Running my own business, I have some clients who allow me to access their systems – but they require me to connect from my office IP address. Since I like to travel – or work from home – I need a way to remotely connect to my network. A VPN is the perfect solution. I can access everything on my network, and I appear to be on that network by other systems. Unfortunately, a VPN is a little more complicated to setup. OpenVPN software is available to setup a server, but I have found it more difficult to setup than I would like. (When I did get it setup, I found it frequently locked up on my Linux server too.) So, I decided to buy a Netgear Nighthawk router. Their embedded VPN works great from Android, Mac, iOS, and Windows.

An added bonus of a VPN is that it can be used to secure your connection when you are using a public WiFi connection. Additionally, since you will appear to be at a particular IP address, you can access services that are only available from your geographical area. For example, web-based TV programs only available to users within a specific geographical area.

Conclusion

The ability to remotely access resources means you can work from any location in the world. You don’t need to be at your office. You can even access your home computer from work or from your phone. If you’re looking for an easy way to connect, look at SSH – it’s a simple and very effective way to access remote computers!

Development Environments

Workbench

As a developer, it’s a great time to be alive. We have countless options for development languages and frameworks. But, sadly, many of them leave much to be desired in terms of tools and environments.

The Model Environment

As a veteran Java developer, I’ve been spoiled with excellent tools. We have numerous IDEs including Eclipse, NetBeans, and IntelliJ. Everyone has their preference, but all three are excellent. Likewise, we have numerous build and dependency management packages such as Maven and Gradle. We have test frameworks, automation frameworks, debuggers, profilers, and anything else you could want to engineer even the most complex of application. In short, Java provides the best development environment there is. Seriously. Few languages have IDEs as good as what Java has. Even fewer have tools that can complete with Maven or Gradle.

When Will Other Languages Catch Up?

I continue to see how Python is displacing other languages. But when will it catch up to Java in terms of development environment? Are there any IDEs that complete with Eclipse for Python? (NOTE: Eclipse can actually be used for Python, but it always seemed to me more of a hack than a real Python IDE) How about debuggers? Go ahead and try debugging Python or JavaScript code and you’ll quickly see how far behind Java they are. Not to mention dealing with libraries and environments!

A Call to Action

As we continue to shift to newer languages, I’m concerned that the next generation of developers will actually have a more difficult time than we do today. Why, as a development community, are we only focused on creating new languages but not on creating solid environments? How are Go, Python, Rust, and the myriad of other languages ever supposed to achieve the same widespread adoption of Java if we never had the rest of the tools we need to get the job done? I want to enjoy the benefits of some of the newer languages to come along. But, until they can complete with Java, I’m unable to stake the success of my customers on them.

Fit for Sale

Sales

As an app developer, I am often approached by friends and acquaintances with “great” app ideas. They believe their idea is worth millions and that I should drop everything and develop their app. Businesses too fall prey to the idea that “I need an app“. Either way, it’s imperative that adequate market research be performed prior to developing any piece of software. 

A Great Idea

A few years ago, I was approached by an individual who had a “great idea” for a software application that was going to revolutionize the industry. He had some startup money to develop the application, and was in a hurry to get started. He contacted me to write him a mobile application, cloud-based management system, and REST services for integration points. It was an ambitious project for the client, and I was excited to start developing. He provided the requirements to me, and I wrote the software. I provided feedback to improve the application, but it was ultimately the customer’s decision what he wanted to include or not include.

Poor Market Research

Unfortunately, as the project moved forward, I learned that the client had very little money for development. None-the-less, we worked to create a working product which we achieved on his budget. But, as he would learn during the next month, he was creating an application that nobody actually wanted. Not only did his application lack features that would be necessary for adoption, it served only a very small niche market. The customer assumed he knew what people wanted, and had never bothered to reach out to any prospective clients for feedback.

Consequences

Due to the customer’s poor market research, he was unable to find clients interested in his software application. Months went by with very few interested parties, and nobody ultimately purchased the software service. Consequently, the customer blamed me for writing an application that nobody wanted. He even fought me on payment because he was unable to make his money back through sales.

Lessons Learned

There are several important lessons to be learned from this experience. First, if you’re paying someone to write you software or create any other work for you, make sure it’s worth the cost. It’s your job as the customer to know what you are purchasing and to ensure that it will meet your business objectives. As a software consulting firm, I can provide you with information and develop software. However, I can’t tell you wether or not your application will be a success. Second, market research is of paramount importance for any project. If you don’t know the target market, the demographics, the estimated number of consumers, and other key data; you can’t determine financial viability of the project. Before you go into any project, do your part first and ensure that the work you are paying for will take you where you’re trying to go!