Starting a company when you have a family

At the end of 2014 I decided to create a company that I could launch any personal projects under commercially.  I’m by far no Silicon Valley hot shot programmer who has companies knocking at their door.  Instead I’m someone who enjoys writing code.  The first application I release commercially was Weather Pilot for BlackBerry and Android.  When I first developed the app I was only married.  Since then we’ve had two kids and my free time has dropped off significantly.  No, it is probably more like an exponential drop that nearly resulted in the disappearance of free time.  Still, as I adjusted to the change I was able to get back to working on my projects.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to write about what it has been like creating a company while having a family and a full-time job.  I’ll go over how I’ve managed my time, family, integrated learning into different aspects of life, and my goals for the next few years.

Is global warming real?

Ocean view with clouds

Sunny day on the Atlantic

It doesn’t matter whether global warming is real or not.  The way I look at the atmosphere is much like a lake.  It is fairly self-sufficient on its own and short term changes are dealt with as long as things go back to normal.  But when a short term change becomes the norm the lake changes.

The example I like to use is a bit vulgar but gets the point across.  If one person defecates into the lake it isn’t a big problem.  The lake can handle the contamination and not impact the rest of the ecosystem.  When there are two, still not a problem, but when there are hundreds or even thousands of people all defecating into the lake the impact can be felt across the entire lake.  The water becomes contaminated, if not poisonous, and the species that used to rely on the lake either die or move to another lake.

What I see is the burning of fossil fuels and release of large amounts of methane into the atmosphere as the equivalent as defecating in the lake.  Whether it will cause global warming or not isn’t the problem.  We are literally poisoning the air we breath and not worrying about the future generations that will deal with our ignorance.  Just look to the large factory centers in China for an example of how bad things could be if there aren’t any meaningful regulation.

We can add natural cleaning filters by replanting forests and even look towards technological solutions for scrubbing the air.  But we can only clean so much before the system is overwhelmed.  We have to change our lives, how we make money, and how we grow our food.

As to whether I believe global warming is real or not, I do believe it is real.  I find it impossible to believe that you can pump large amounts of energy trapping gasses into the atmosphere for over a hundred years with no increase in ways to remove said gases and expect the planet not to warm.

We need A.I. powered traffic signals

How often have you been at a stoplight waiting for it to turn green and there is no one else on the road?  It is 3am and every soul for fifty miles is sleeping except for you and the local police and there you are waiting for the light to change.  This waiting shouldn’t be happening.

We should have traffic signals that utilize multiple sensors to see what traffic is currently at the lights as well as the traffic coming down the road from a farther distance.  If the traffic lights for a local area are all connected then they can communicate with each other to pass along details about the number of vehicles, speed of travel, and size of the vehicles to the lights nearby.  With this information traffic should be able to flow more efficiently by timing the lights so that lanes with more vehicles will have longer green light times.  And when a signal senses that there are no other vehicles on the road except for the single person waiting to turn left at 3am it will turn all other lights red except for that person.

The technology is here.  By using thermal, video, LIDAR, and many other types of sensors the signals can get a good understanding of the road.  May signals are already wired up to communicate with each other so that they stay in sync so there shouldn’t be a need to lay down new wires for the communication.  If anyone knows of research already being performed in this area let me know.

Why I became a Software Developer

Why I became a Software Developer is something that I get asked often at interviews and persons looking to get into the career field.  Some people started working with computers and coding early in life, others fell into it after their original career path didn’t pan out as expected.  For myself I took more of a middle ground.

Growing up I always wanted to be a weather forecaster.  The power of the atmosphere amazed me and grabbed my attention.  As a kid I was glued to The Weather Channel, this was back when they actually focused on weather, caught the Penn State University Weather World channel whenever I could, and listed to the NWS Weather Radio broadcasts anytime a big storm was forecasted for the area.  I even had my own map of The United States on a chalk board that I would update with the latest front placements.  As you can guess I wasn’t necessarily the most popular kid in school.

Meuse Argonne American cemetary

Army patches on the stained glass window in Meuse Argonne American cemetary

So after high school I joined the Air National Guard as a meteorologist.  I always wanted to be in the military and loved learning about weather so the two seemed like a great fit.  Once boot camp was completed I then proceeded to study forecasting, observing, and briefing weather for nearly a year with the Air Force.  Eight hours a day, five days a week, my job was the learn everything they threw at us.  Once that year was completed I had come to the realization that weather was not a career choice for my civilian life.  College would have to focus on my backup plan.

While I was negating any cool points I had earned studying weather in high school I also started learning how to program.  Coding was amazing, you could take a blank screen, write some lines of code and create whatever you imagined.  You became a god, the Alpha and Omega of your application, your limit was knowledge and imagination.  This feeling grabbed hold of me and stuck around while I was training with the military.  Once my training was done I started college and changed my major over to Computer Science immediately.

From the first class I knew it was the right choice.  The professors and faculty in the department made me feel at home.  It was a small department, about half a dozen professors, but they all genuinely cared about the progress of the students.  The classes they taught kept me hooked with the constant revelations of new concepts and with the burst of interest in Internet technologies going on outside the classroom the future looked bright.

Since graduation I’ve stuck with the career.  I’ve worked in various fields ranging from finance to government research to defense.  The problems being solved have never been the same and the field has changed drastically since I first started my studies.  This career is one where success can only be had if you are willing to continually learn.  You don’t have to pick up every new language or framework that comes out but you do need to atleast dig deeper into the technologies you already know.  For myself I initially tried to learn about all of the latest concepts coming out.  It was great reading about them but at the same time drained my energy as I tried to learn them all.  To combat the potential burnout I’ve changed my tactic and now focus on a few specific technologies.  The change couldn’t have come at a better time and has kept me excited about what the future holds.

From BlackBerry 10 to Android or iOS?

I’ve been a BlackBerry user since 2007…nearly a decade.  Transitioned from the original BlackBerry OS which required reboots weekly to BlackBerry 10 which just worked.  My current phone is a Z10 and I’ve loved it.  Smooth interactions, easy to navigate between applications, has the ability to make great phone calls, has the Hub, and doesn’t sell all of my data to advertisers.  I was hoping to pick up a Passport but apparently AT&T owns the phone and it will never come over Verizon.  So now I’m left with picking up either an iOS or Android device.  I’d consider a Windows phone but Verizon doesn’t have a great selection of those phones and picking one feels like picking another dieing OS.

iPhone has one big advantage, most of my family uses them.  I could do Facetime with the family and have a selection of top quality applications.  The OS hasn’t been seeing the best quality since version 9 came out, ZDNet even wrote about it last year, which is a bit disappointing since they spend so much time make the phone look beautiful.  It honestly seems like the company is pushing their software division to deliver an unfinished product knowing the diehards will deal with the bugs.  They have promised to focus on delivering a better quality OS as was mentioned here on 9TO5Mac, but we’ll have to wait for the release later this year to see if that promise comes true.

And then there is Android.  The OS has been receiving some good updates to improve battery life, security enhancements, and provide developers with a way to make professional looking applications.  Basically, it has been slowly getting up to par with iOS.  There is still a proliferation of low quality/questionable apps on the Play Store but that doesn’t mean they are all bad.  The fact that BlackBerry now makes the PRIV which takes the best of Android and BlackBerry 10 and melds them together is a big plus.  BlackBerry does message handling better than any other device I’ve used and the virtual keyboard with the swipe feature is an efficient beast.

Hmm, unless BlackBerry ports over their Hub app to iOS I think I’ll plan on picking up the PRIV.  Great camera, beautiful screen, BlackBerry Hub and DTEK, should have the latest Android OS by the time Verizon releases it in March, and the fact that it has expandable storage is a huge plus.  Fine, I admit, I’m still a BlackBerry addict.

Show the New Years resolution that you’re serious

It is three weeks into the new year and how many of us are still being loyal to our resolution?  Hopefully whatever was picked for this year is obtainable and not something like winning the PowerBall.  Each year I tend to pick a personality trait and something health related as my goal for the year.  Usually it is something generic enough that by the end of the year I have no real idea on if the goal was actually accomplished.  This would leave me not feeling too bad about the goal at the end of the year but I also felt that I really hadn’t changed.  So last year I decided to try something different.

I’ve never really enjoyed salads but knew I needed to start eating healthy.  There was no way I could just dive in and start eating a salad everyday so I made it simple.  Each week I would eat one salad.  If I missed a week then I would double up another week to make it up.  To add another level to it I teamed up with a coworker who decided to give up smoking.  I made a deal to myself that as long as he kept to his goal I had to keep to mine, no matter what.  There really is no tie in between our goals but I knew that if I add another person to the mix then I will have a better chance at keeping my goal.

2015 has come and gone and I have had at least 52 salads and my coworker didn’t smoke once last year.  Now that we’re in 2016 I’ve upped the ante and now have to eat two salads a week.  Nothing exciting, but with any luck I’ll not only get myself to enjoy salads but will also get to the point where I don’t need goals to keep me eating healthy.  It will just become a habit.

Earlier this month HBR IdeaCast had a podcast covering ways to keep your goals.  I suggest listening to it, at 20 minutes in length it isn’t going to take up much of your time.  Check it out at HBR IdeaCast, Achieve Your Goals (Finally).  Some of the advice they gave were to keep the goal were to be specific about what you want to accomplish, be flexible, try replacing a bad behavior with a good one, and be prepared for temptation.  Putting these strategies together should help you to keep your resolution this year and end the year on a success.

Compromised accounts

It feels like every few weeks or months I get an email about one of my accounts possibly being compromised by hackers.  Instead of waiting for the company to send out an email about the data breach there is a way to automatically have your account tracked by haveibeenpwned.com.  The website might not sound like the most legitmate place but it is.  Users can search their login names or setup an automatic alert so they can be notified when the account is found in a data breach report.

Adding every account or login might be a bit tedious so focusing on accounts that have personal or financial information would be the best place to start.  If you are a developer there is even an API that can be used to search the database.

Laptop recommendation

I’ve had a number of family members ask about whether I have any recommendations for an everyday laptop that is under $500.  Something that can easily handle the normal rigors of Microsoft Office and the Internet and doesn’t feel cheap.  After getting one for my wife I let them know that the Dell Inspiron 15 i5558-5717SLV is a top choice.  The touch screen is beautiful, has a full numeric pad, has enough weight so it sits nicely on your lap, and is as smooth as butter with 8GB of RAM and a 1 terabyte harddrive.  The current promotion has the laptop listed at $449 instead of the original price of $749.  When I originally purchased the laptop it was at $549 which I thought was a great deal so getting another $100 back later when it dropped in price was a bonus.  As it currently stands my father has also picked one up and my sister-in-law is looking at getting one too.

Privacy?

There has been a lot of talk about adding backdoors to electronics and secured communications lately.  Politicians and intelligence officials say it is the only way to gaurantee we can thwart terrorist attacks.  It has gotten to the point where governments are looking to force companies into designing weaknesses in their products.  The BBC has a couple of nice writeups; Paris attacks:  Silicon Valley in the crosshairs over encryption and Can the government ban encryption.

Now don’t be mistaken, I realize this isn’t an easy issue to deal with.  On one hand you don’t want child pornographers, terrorists, or human traffickers to have the ability to hide their digital tracks.  There should be a way to lawfully get access to the evidence.  If all commercial encryption had backdoors then there wouldn’t be any problems.  Get a warrant, request the data through the backdoor, and voila, all secrets are exposed.  But how do you guarantee privacy online when all secrets can be exposed?

Some people will say this is fine.  They have nothing to hide so they aren’t worried about the police or government having access to their digital life.  But the issue isn’t having nothing to hide, it is having the ability to keep your personal life private.  Moxie Marlinspike has a great article on Wired.com from 2013 that goes over this exact concept.

This route also has another problem.  It assumes that the criminals will knowingly use products that have this insecurity.  Why wouldn’t they just use a known secure security algorithm like public key encryption to keep their information private?  They could easily use standard communication applications like SMS or email and still encrypt the message before it is sent.  The algorithm is simple to implement, anyone with a high school diploma and some basic coding skills can impement it in a matter of a few hours.

So what does this leave us with?  How can we thwart criminal activities?  Human intel still works.  Creating custom malware and viruses to install on their electronics has been a proven method.  Realize, once a freedom is lost it is hard to get back; as each piece of privacy is taken we get closer to 1984.

Hello world!

I’ve owned the bnolan.org domain for a number of years.  Initially the website was used as a development site where I could try out different Javascript and PHP technologies.  This remained true until after college and life became consumed with work and family.  Now that a more predictable rhythm has developed I am hoping to bring this site back to life with posts about technology, politics, and life.  My hope is to break down some of the more complex technologies being discussed these days into easier terms so that even readers who don’t have a passion for the field can understand what is going on around them.

With that said I’ll hopefully have my first real post up in the next two weeks.