Synthesis : Scott Becker

Lazy weekend day

Lazy weekend day. Not a lot of computer time. I’ve been thinking about information products, and how it might be fun / challenging / educational to create an ebook or technical screencast site, and what the content plan for such a thing might look like.

Interesting Links

LispyScript: A JavaScript with macros. LispyScript is not a dialect of Lisp. There is no list processing in LispyScript. LispyScript is JavaScript using a Lispy syntax (tree structures). This is so the syntax tree can be manipulated while compiling in order to support macros.

The Important of Being Prolific: The value of working fast and shipping more, vs toiling slowly and perfecting a smaller body of work.

How to Get Guaranteed Results in Anything: Never ship. The results are guaranteed – nothing.

Exploring Everyday Things with R and Ruby. Explore a wide range of questions by learning how to assemble, process, simulate, and analyze the available data. Looks like a cool book.

Bloom Filters: A very cool interactive visualization and explanation of how bloom filters work.

Data Stories: A podcast on data visualization. Latest episode interviews Jeff Heer, creator of 4 data visualization toolkits, including D3.

Recline.JS: A simple but powerful library for building data applications in pure JavaScript and HTML.

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Solid Waste of Time

So, over the weekend, I ordered a solid state drive (SSD) and a hard drive enclosure from OWC – Other World Computing.  (This might be very uninteresting to others, and that’s fine, but I’m going to rant about it because I’m annoyed.) I ordered it 2 day air, assuming it would arrive on Tuesday. It arrived today, Thursday. 4 day air. Ok fine, whatever. When it arrived, I excitedly dug into the package, like the nerd that I am.

The purpose of this SSD is to extend the life of my Late 2008 model MacBook Pro, because although I’d love a retina display MBP, I’d rather wait for the 13-inch model, or a MacBook Air with a retina. So for now, I can squeeze some extra speed out of this old puppy by dropping an SSD into it. The purpose of the enclosure is to simply transfer the data from my old hard drive to the new one. The enclosure (OWC Express) was only $15. And it worked for about 5 minutes. You get what you pay for. With Mac OS X Lion you can’t use Disk Utility to restore from the boot partition while its running in normal mode. You have to go into “safe” mode. To do that, you must reboot. So after rebooting, the enclosure became defective, because I now consistently get a message from the machine that says “Because a USB device was drawing too much power from your computer, one or more of your USB devices has been enabled.”

If you do some searching around the internet, like I thoroughly did, you’ll get various suggestions like resetting the Mac’s SMC or PRAM. I did this repeatedly, to no effect. No amount of reboots will revive this enclosure. The iPhone still works when plugged in, so I know it’s not the ports on the machine. And apparently these enclosures are known for this. I just don’t understand why a company would sell a known-to-be-defective product as part of a “kit” to upgrade hard drives.

I contacted OWC’s chat-based tech support, and after receiving being greeted by a support technician, I gave a very detailed description of the problem and asked for help. The person I was chatting with never said another word for 10 minutes. I assumed our connection had been lost and ended chat, tried to reconnect, but never got reconnected with another support technician. So much for support!

I went to the local Best Buy and found a powered enclosure for $50. I decided to try to save money and find a cheaper one elsewhere. I went to Staples and found a nice employee there who actually lent me a cable for free that he thought would fix it – a split USB cable that draws power from one USB port and transfers data over another. Drove home, and the cable doesn’t work, of course. I was sure it wouldn’t, but decided to try it anyway. I also tried plugging it into a powered USB hub, no luck there either. I’m thinking the error message is erroneous and that either the enclosure and/or the drive itself is fried. Long story short, a waste of a Thursday night! Rest assured I’ll be returning the defective junk. Better luck tomorrow.

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2012 Midpoint Review

So it’s 11:45pm, cutting it a bit close to the wire for day two of the July challenge. I had a long day and wasn’t able to sit down to write until about an hour ago. Tomorrow I plan to get started earlier.

A new wrinkle in the challenge has appeared: my friend Kevin Lynagh has proposed a wager to make things more interesting, and I’ve accepted. He’ll do the challenge as well – write every day and run three times a week for July. If either of us fails, we pay the other $500. Not only would I fail publicly and suffer the embarrassment, I’d also lose a significant chunk of change. Or 100 IPAs.

So today I ran for the first time in the fancy new shoes. I also used the Nike+ app to quantify and track my progress. 2.23 miles in 25 minutes, around the ol’ neighborhood. Not bad for the first in over a month. Feels great. Also helped a friend move this afternoon and played drums for an hour this evening, so all in all an active day.

2012 Midpoint Review

Now that it’s July, it’s a good time to review the past six months. This year I planned to go back to working for myself, and did so. In February I started Olio Apps, a company dedicated in part to web development consulting, and also in part to launching new products. The classic strategy. On the consulting side, I’ve got a steady stream of work coming in. On the product side, I’ve made good start/stop progress on a couple projects, and hope to get one of them out the door in the next month or so. I need to update the website, start a company blog, and a host of other things. I love the freedom to pick and choose which projects to work on, who to work with, and what technology is used.

I also planned to do some slow travel and working remotely with my girlfriend, and we successfully accomplished that earlier this year – staying a month in Hawaii and a month in Florida. It was a great experience in both instances. I now feel a basic freedom of movement. The trade off for this freedom is a small amount of additional stress. Figuring things out, securing plans for a place to stay and transportation, the additional expenses involved, finding someone to take care of the cat, and receiving important mail. Both places we stayed this spring were in the United States, so it’s still relatively easy. We’re considering going somewhere outside of the county next time.

I planned to start establishing a presence in the tech community again, and to that end I started attending more local tech events including the local user groups for Ruby, JavaScript and Clojure, and gave two talks at Open Source Bridge last week. I’ll talk more about it and post the slides soon.

I picked up Clojure, a very cool programming language based on Lisp and focused on simplicity. I’ve absorbed the functional programming dogma and have started preaching the good word to others. More on that soon as well.

So the goals for the rest of the year – continue to build on Olio Apps initial success. Refine the messaging and post an online portfolio. Launch a product that’s currently in the works. Possibly travel later in the fall. More tomorrow.

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Working to Live, Traveling Slow

When I last wrote, it was the beginning of February and I’d just finished my January challenge of dietary restrictions. It’s now mid May, and of course, much has changed!

On February 10th, I left my full time job at Jive Software to start a new company, Olio Apps, a software development and consulting firm, with a focus on mobile, social, and web apps. There are many challenges that go along with starting a new company – getting all of the paperwork in place, setting up systems for accounting and time tracking, getting booked up with work, and generally getting acclimated with juggling many more balls at once than an employee at a mid-size firm has to deal with. It’s been challenging, and I love it.

Along with that, my girlfriend and I have been achieving our goal of traveling slowly – living and working in one place for a month at a time. In late February we travelled to Oahu Hawaii and lived there for a month, staying with some family/friends who recently moved there, working on our laptops during the weekdays, and exploring Oahu on the nights and weekends. A month is a long time, and it’s quite a different experience than a shorter trip. It’s not quite like a vacation, since we’re still working. We’re also cooking meals, doing laundry, paying bills, visiting friends, and doing all of the other things you do over the course of a month. There is enough time to explore most of an area, and even go back and revisit favorites.

After Hawaii, we came back to Portland, travelled to Scottsdale Arizona for a few days to attend a conference (JSConf), came back to Portland for a couple weeks, and then flew to Florida for a month, where we are now. Why Florida? For one it’s where I grew up, and much of my family still resides here. Living in Portland, I don’t get much chance to see family and old friends that much, except electronically through email and Facebook, and that doesn’t always cut it. Secondly, being a native of Florida, I start to go a little nuts in the spring time in Portland, when it generally stays cold and rainy a bit longer than the rest of the country. All that has made me wonder over the past couple years – “wouldn’t it be nice to go live in Florida for a bit in the spring?” So, this year I managed to do it.

Has it been worth it? Absolutely. When I lived in Florida permanently, I lived about 45 minutes from the beach. For this trip we got a place a couple minutes from the beach. It’s quite a different experience, and we have a routine of having a nightly evening walk or run on the beach at sunset, which does wonders for decompressing from a day of work. We’ve also managed to squeeze in a lot of time with friends and family, checked out a lot of new places to eat, drink, and get coffee that didn’t exist before, and even attended a couple great concerts – Beach House in Orlando, and a reunion show for a local band I used to look up to and admire, Spiller.

We’re here for a few more days, and I’m excited to get back to Portland, be in my own space, see Portland friends, start playing music again, be closer to work colleagues, and generally enjoy all that Portland has to offer. So yeah, travel works. Energy renewed.

I have more to say, but lets not blow it all in one giant post eh? Stay tuned for the next post, “Just Ship It”, about writing, recording, and mixing a new song in one day.

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Open Source Bridge

I submitted a proposal for Open Source Bridge, an ambitious, community-driven conference happening in Portland, Oregon from June 17th to the 19th. The deadline for submissions is today!

I'm submitting a talk to Open Source Bridge - June 17–19, 2009 - Portland, OR

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GitHub Theme for TextMate

PJ Hyett asked for it on Twitter, so I created it. Announcing:

The Github Theme for TextMate!

Hosted on, GitHub! (what else?) The basics are defined, but I’m sure it could be improved. In which case, you know what to do.

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Yes, it’s time to go virtual. But lets be realistic.

David Berlind’s video Is it time to throw away your servers? is a nice high level explanation of Amazon EC2, and he begins to make the case in business terms for moving to virtual servers. Unfortunately his cost comparison is not apples to apples – he fails to atleast touch on the extra costs involved. Particularly EC2 bandwidth, which was completely left out on the EC2 side, and was no doubt included in the $350/month per physical box number.

Not to mention the time/money for atleast one linux guru to setup your EC2 servers, secure them, back them up, SLAs, etc. I’d like to see a more in depth whiteboard video that goes into these issues. I think EC2 is great, but the cost differences aren’t quite as dramatic as Berlind’s video would have you believe, unless no one ever visits your site. Lets see a more honest comparison. I think EC2 would still come out ahead.

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Re-claim your space

JDiskReport is a cool disk usage analyzer that helps you see where all the space is going on your hard drive. Find big un-used files, and delete them! It’s got a cool interface, it’s cross platform, and it’s free!

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Self Control

Great Article: Self Control is the Key to Success

Thinking back, this makes lot of sense. 🙂 When I was disciplined at enforcing self-control, I acheived great things. (Graduating college, completing recordings of albums, quiting smoking early on, buying a house, getting my current project done) and well, everything else. When it comes to finishing something, it all comes down to self-control.

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Discovering Podcasts

Podcasts are great. I only listen to them when I’m stuck in a car driving and can’t do anything else, but when you ARE doing that, it’s a great way to keep your brain active. It also allows you to fulfill your dreams of thinking about whatever you’re interested in literally ALL the time. Forget day dreaming and thinking about other aspects of life. I now think about web design and development 20% more of the day, not to mention balancing my two careers where I do just that! Oh well, this is an experiment in total immersion.

My favorite podcasts:

Venture Voice: This is the model by which interview-style podcasts should emulate – Greg Galant has a professional, polished interview style which makes you forget this is a Podcast and not NPR. He’s also got one of the more unique accents our there (atleast to my Florida ears), and seems to be able to get interviews with anybody who’s anybody in the tech and venture capital worlds. Listen here for inspiring stories from people in the trenches building new companies right now.

Ruby on Rails Podcast: The web development framework which continues to kick ass has its own Podcast, hosted by Geoffrey Grosenbach of, author of the nuby on rails blog, the Sparklines, Gruff, and pure-CSS graphing libraries for Ruby, and lots of other helpful stuff. This Podcast interviews the who’s who in the RoR world, where the creators and big users of RoR get together and feel good about Rails. – A couple of funny brits hang out and talk web design. Each show focuses on a specific aspect of the biz. They go off on tangents here and there, but I’ve already learned some interesting tidbits from the couple shows I’ve listened to so far. And I’m getting better at imitating british accents at the same time!

Web 2.0 – A couple of funny americans hang out and talk web 2.0. They also conduct interviews. In show 7, Jason Calcanis of Weblogs, Inc. basically turns the interview around and asks the interviewers a lot of the questions. It’s funny. This is another show to hear interviews from the who’s who of the web.

I also plan to check out the Audible Ajax podcast, since they just interviewed Thomas Fuchs of, and the newly discovered Duct Tape Marketing podcast, since they conducted yet another interview of Jason Fried. Although, I don’t know how much more Jason Fried interviews I can take. I like the guy and his company, but I’ve already heard the gospel many times, plus I regularly read Signal vs Noise and peruse the 37signals website. How much new information could their POSSIBLY be?!

Never the less, I can’t resist, and I will probably download these new interviews at Duct Tape and Web 2.0 just in case there is anything new or inspiring in them.

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