The sauce in your site

I like to cook a lot of foods from scratch, and back when we had 3 or 4 growing and constantly hungry children underfoot, I spent a lot of time at it. At one stretch, we even grew many of the ingredients ourselves. This meant I had acquired a lot of kitchen gadgets, many tools to do different things to make the process of getting the vegetables to the table easier.

Over the years, the kids have grown up, our needs have changed, and many of the neat kitchen gadgets and weird tools have been cleaned out. there are some, however, that I’ve kept – even though I use them once a year or less. I have a pasta maker I whip out for special occasions – and they have to be really special, because taking 3 hours to make homemade ravioli that disappears in less than 15 minutes can be a little daunting. I also have a tomato strainer. It’s large, has many pieces, and the box frequently gets in the way unless I keep it on top of the fridge.

But keep it I do. Why?

Well, once a year, maybe two, we either grow, buy, or get gifted with more tomatoes than we can handle or even eat in a week. And our family loves tomato sauce. Yes, you can buy tomato sauce cheap, and we go through a lot of it. But until you’ve tasted fresh homemade sauce, you have not truly tasted tomato sauce. The way this machine works, it gets the whole family involved. Someone clamps it to the table and put the thing together, someone starts quartering tomatoes, and one of the kids starts tossing the pieces in and turning the crank. Seeds and pulp come out one end, and beautiful crushed tomatoes come out the other, right into the pot. Then I give it a simmer, add spices and there we go.

making tomato sauce

So why go through all this effort, and maybe more to the point – why talk about tomatoes on my business blog? 😉

Underlying all this is a process that highlights where something comes from. It’s easy to buy a jar or can of tomato sauce. It’s harder still to grow the tomato, process it and make the sauce yourself. My tomato machine helps me in that. But mostly it helps me, and the children, understand how involved that final product came to be.

And today that got me thinking about WordPress. Sure, I could hand-code an entire website in HTML – and I’ve done so. It takes an enormous amount of time. WordPress, on the other hand, is like my tomato machine. I set it up and just.. crank.

There are other tools I’ve used in my work life that also make my job easier. Sometimes I go back and do things the hard way, just to keep my skills sharp. Yesterday, I coded. I could have asked Ron to do it for me. And he could have done it in 20% of the time it took me to do it. But I wrote that function so I could still remember how to write a function, and thus get better at explaining it to others. Even if it was a really simple 3 line function. (Two of them, in fact. Go me!) I had tools at my disposal like the codex and forums to help me.

What kind of rarely-used tools do you have that can make your work easier? Even on tasks you don’t do that often? What tasks do you do occasionally to keep your work brain sharp?

Work hard, play hard

Funny how both Ron and I have worked at home before, but it’s taken this long to figure out how to work together, and work efficiently.

Since I have been at home for pretty much most, if not all, of our marriage, transitioning to working at home wasn’t a huge step. I mean, I was on the computer multiple times a day anyway, right? Those times just sort of got longer and melded together. Eventually, my routine became this:

get up, stumble to office, turn on computer
go to the bathroom, get tea
sit in front of computer
notice stomach is growling and tea is cold
notice the kids are up
get Ron up because he is up different hours
talk to people I live with and get breakfast
check computer
get dressed
check computer
cook lunch
eat lunch in front of computer

And so on… It was really easy to fall into a reactionary routine of being what I referred to as “on call”. Am I up? Yes. Is the computer on? If so, I’m “working”. then I realized this was most of the time.

On my more lucid days, I started paying attention to employees from places like StudioPress and Automattic, saying how they were enjoying their breaks and time off. This coincided with a week of trying to plow through a huge lists of tasks to get caught up, and not doing anything else but that. Seriously. Then the light bulb *finally* struck me:

I can’t work effectively without a decent break.

(Whoa,. Earth shattering, no?) I’d already figured out that I cannot function without a certain amount of sleep. that happened very fast, actually. I’m one of those people that need a good solid eight hours or no amount of anything would be done properly or effectively. I can’t even fake it on little sleep.

Ron and I first noticed this in my habits when I tried to not sew all week. I was miserable. Not just because I really do like sewing that much, but it was the regular mental breaks from work task that really helped me. I really do have issues with focusing on one task for a long period of time, so breaking things up works just dandy for my brain.

We clued in that play time – time to rest, recharge, recoup, and recreate, is essential for productive work time. It’s all related, just like everything else. And your play time or when you take it does not have to look like mine, or be at the same times.

My weekend schedule – and I figured I do need a weekend, that time to focus on my household, the people in it and me outside of work – starts on Friday afternoons and goes to Sunday noon. Yes, I work Sunday. 😀 It’s a GREAT time to focus on those “extras” because there’s not a lot of online distractions like there are on, say, Tuesdays.

Ron has also changed his work time in that he gets up and does *not* turn on the computer first thing. He takes care of himself first, then does some things around the house until lunch time. He works more effectively later in the day, so his work hours are afternoons and evenings. I start on a high note in the morning and go downhill from there. 😀 This way, we both have alone time in the office, and have a joint time.

Not only that, we’ve been forcing ourselves to have a break from work – even if the first few tries either one of us were meandering aimlessly around the house. And now, I can do tiny little breaks throughout the day .When it’s mealtime I stay downstairs. None of this rushing back to the office to check one more thing, just in case. People can wait! And it’s not worth burning my dinner over.

Also realizing I don’t have to handle everything at once is good too. Especially before breakfast. Oh, and breakfast is important. Knowing I have a break coming up where I can forget about work items really does help me work hard, as well as knowing what to shut out. I make my lists, I double-check them and cross check them with my partner to help keep me on track. And when it’s play time, knowing that things are fine or will be fine work-wise helps me to really enjoy what I’m taking my break on. Even if it is laundry.

And! As a perfect example while I was writing this, our internet speed tanked. Before, we both would have sat here refreshing, trying other things, stopping certain programs. Now? We walked away and came back in an hour. The world didn’t end, the connection worked itself out (like it always does) and neither of us were frustrated. Plus we got our daughter’s bedroom painted. Yeah, that’s winning.

Why All Computer Users Will Benefit

Andrea bought me Free Software Free Society by Richard Stallman (RMS) for Christmas. I haven’t been reading it that fast. It’s one of those books that is much better to read a bit and then mull it over for a bit.

The title of this post is the title of the RMS essay that I’ve given some thought to and had my own thoughts that I wanted to add. What RMS explains in the essay is how he feels restrictive licensing is detrimental to both society and the software/technology industry.

Arrangements to make people pay for using a program, including licensing of copies, always incur a tremendous cost to society through the cumbersome mechanisms necessary to figure out how much (that is, which programs) a person must pay for. And only a police state can force everyone to obey them. – p 36

Over the last decade there was a huge amount of effort (and money) put into preventing the distribution of licensed materials which for the most part was not successful. By design, the Internet is a distributed fault tolerant network which routes around blocks (as any fault tolerant system will). RMS is spot on that the only way licensing can be enforced is through a police state. The costs of administering and enforcing restrictive licensing systems outweigh the benefit of those systems for both society in general and the industry itself.

Secondly, at a base level, restrictive software licensing is essentially an industry regulating system. Whether you agree with regulating industries or not, in theory there is some merit in regulating a profession like engineering. The principle behind engineering certification is to ensure that the people working in that profession have the training and skills to competently practice that profession. There are two significant differences between restrictive licensing and industry regulation. Restrictive licensing does not regulate the software industry, it regulates the consumers/end user. It does not do anything to assure the quality of the profession or product. Secondly, software licensing is determined by the software developer where most regulated professions are regulated by the profession itself.

Some easily rebutted objections to GNU’s goals:

“Won’t everyone stop programming without a monetary incentive?”
Actually, many people will program with absolutely no monetary incentive. Programming has an irresistible fascination for some people, usually the people who are best at it. – p 39-40

I taught college level programming for a few years, and I think RMS has it backwards. Some people are fascinated by programming. Those who pursue that fascination are the ones who become the best at it. The only consistent factor in my students that correlated to how their skill as programmers developed was how much they liked it. Fortunately most of the students who started in one of the programs I taught in and discovered that they didn’t like programming dropped out part way through their first year.

Restrictive licensing does not help people who program because they love doing it. Restrictive licensing sets out to extend the financial mileage that can be made out of every line of code. Instead of doing something that they love, a programming ends up spending time doing something that they most likely do not enjoy.

A good programmer will look at something they had written at some point in the past that’s mediocre, scrap it and start over. On the other hand, in my experience as a teacher & working in the industry, a mediocre programmer will try to salvage any work they’ve done for as long as they can. While that sounds strange it make sense if you look at it from the perspective that the mediocre programmer doesn’t like to program. What’s unfortunate about that is that in most instances, salvaging mediocre programming to continue making money from it takes more work than scrapping it and starting over.

“Competition makes things get done better.”
The paradigm of competition is a race: by rewarding the winner, we encourage everyone to run faster. When capitalism really works this way, it does a good job; but its defenders are wrong in assuming it always works this way. If the runners forget why the reward is offered and become intent on winning, no matter how, they may find other strategies—such as, attacking other runners. If the runners get into a fist fight, they will all finish late. – p 39

A programmer wins at programming competition by writing the best program (for a particular purpose or range of purposes); but in programming there isn’t a starting pistol or a finish line. A programmer is only a winner until another one writes a better program. The aim of restrictive licensing is to make as much mileage as possible out of each win. The competitors who garner no benefit from the restrictive licensing are the ones who love to program (ie. the best programmers). The programmers who gain the most are the ones who only program when they have to (ie. the mediocre programmers).

In a straight up competition, mediocre products/programmers will gradually fall further and further behind the the best ones. Like my students, some will realize programming isn’t for them and they will drop out of the race and look for something that they will enjoy more. Those that don’t often turn to taking swipes at their competition. I’d love to be able to say that the FOSS community is free of that, but it isn’t entirely void of it. I do think over time the FOSS community does shed those who turn to that sort of thing though. By taking the low road, a person or business is elongating their stay in the competitive market. But there must come a point where what they are offering is no longer competitive.

Rennick Media Ltd.

In my year end review I mentioned in the closing paragraph that we would be incorporating a business. In 1995, I incorporated my consulting business first under a numbered company and then later as a named corporation. At the time you could realistically count on a minimum of 4 weeks to register a named corporation. At the time I needed one in 48 hours to meet a requirement for a contract. So, I did the numbered company first and the name registration after. Now the registration process here is all electronic and if you were in a rush, you could probably register a named company in less than a week.

Without further ado, we are pleased to announce that we have incorporated Rennick Media Ltd. and will be moving the ownership of all of our media services and our clients projects over to Rennick Media Ltd. The company name is in keeping with our business focus on media services. We are expecting to continue to do some development projects. Over the last 6-8 months we have pared down the number of active projects we are working on one time to a more manageable level. By doing that we have also been better able to focus on individual projects.