Apple Developer Program: Room For Improvement

I’ve wanted to learn to make iOS Apps for some time, so I finally bit the bullet and bought a Mac Mini, downloaded Xcode, and started programming. I’m getting to the point where I want to deploy and test my app on my own iPhone (rather than run in a simulator), but in order to do that, you have to join the Apple Developer Program so you can appropriately sign and deploy your App to real iPhone and iPad hardware. And boy, what a pain joining this program is!

I should qualify this statement…I’ve joined the Apple Developer Program before as an individual. Everything went through ok then, but i never got around to actually building an App. This time, however, I decided to F.O.C.U.S – Follow One Course Until Success – and to actually build an App this time. And this time, I decided to join the Apple Developer Program as a Corporate Entity; you know, with designs of becoming a Billion Dollar Unicorn. Apple gets funny with Corporate Developer Registrations, seemingly. They require that you have a DUNS Number. Ok, whatever. I’m used to bureaucracy. I went and got me a DUNS Number. But for some reason, it took weeks (in reality, months) to associate a DUNS number with my Company in Apple land. Dun and Bradstreet told me to wait a few weeks, after updating some key email and phone number information, before trying to enroll in the Apple Developer Program again. So I waited…and waited…and I’m still waiting…

After waiting entirely too long, I tried to enroll again. This time, Apple complained that my credit card was being rejected. Really? Ok, so I tried another credit card. Rejected again. Really???? I logged in to both credit card accounts. Sure enough, successful charges from Apple on both for $99, but for some reason, Apple would still not let me enroll in their program:

What would Steve Jobs do?

At this point, I am quite flustrated. Of course I will press on, because I am committed to this project and to learning iOS development. But I never had this much problem getting an Android App out into the Google Play Store…I expect much more of Apple.  This process should have been absolutely thoughtless and painless.  But it’s a good reminder of how difficult and tenuous it is to build a company on top of another company’s technology.

EDIT (2/16/2017): I called Apple today and was unable to resolve the technical problem behind registering online, so I registered for the Developer Program over the phone this afternoon.  Part of my urgency in getting this registration done was because I wanted a shot at attending WWDC2017 this year.  Registration for WWDC2017 is by random selection to members of the Developer Program in good standing as of 2/16/2017 at 0530am PST.  I registered online the evening of 2/15/2017, but it failed due to technical problems with the Apple website (my credit cards are fine).  So I’m hoping I can still figure out a way to get in good standing for possible selection to WWDC2017.

EDM Love

When I was in 6th grade, I discovered one of my Dad’s records (what the heck is a ‘record’?) called ‘Switched-On Bach’. I gave it a listen and was ABSOLUTELY mesmerized. I had never heard anything like it! The album was full of J.S. Bach music played on a Moog Synthesizer by Wendy Carlos. According to Wikipedia, this album placed in the top 10 on the US Billboard 200 between 1969 and 1972! The combination of old school Classical Music being played on a high tech instrument like the Moog Synthesizer was a blissful combination to me.

Years later I fell in love with the movie, ‘Tron’. The Tron soundtrack was authored and played by my idle from the ‘Switched-On Bach’ days, Wendy Carlos. It was about this time (I was a freshman in High School), that I started to get what an awesome combination computers and music made.

Since then, I’ve tinkered with digital music. I’ve written a few goofy songs. I’ve tried my hand at producing a few songs on Garage Band. I’ve dreamed of becoming a DJ, even talked to a few DJs about how to go about it. But I’ve never pursued this passion much further than that. I’ve been called a ‘fart in a frying pan’ because I chase alot of different dreams. I do need a bit of focus in my life…Anyway, two years ago I took my girlfriend to U Street in DC once to try to get a feel for the DJ scene in Washington DC. The main DJ was Afrika Bambaattaa, one of my faves in High School. We had an awesome time, but the vibe wasn’t really what I was looking for. U Street is no Ushuaia.

One thing on my bucket list is to party in Ibiza

Fast forward to 2016. Never mind how old I am now. Not important. This past November, I had the privilege of attending a Martin Garrix performance in Las Vegas with my girlfriend. We were blown away by the richness of the bass, the visual sensations, and the overall experience. The Martin Garrix performance was at the AWS re:Invent 2016 Cloud Conference at the re:Play party. I felt I had been reconnected with my childhood fascination with computers and music. It was SENSATIONAL!!!

AWS re:Play Party 2016

Fast forward to today. Where is the EDM scene? Where are the best DJs in the world? Where can we go to hear them and experience the vibe? Turns out one of the best EDM DJ experiences in the world is in Boom, Brussels at Tomorrowland. So guess where we are going this July?!?!?! Headliners currently include most of my favorites, including Martin Garrix, Armin van Buuren, Afrojack, Kaskade, Steve Aoki, etc. I’m hoping that David Guetta, Dmitri Vegas and Like Mike are also there for the Weekend 2 performances – BE THERE OR BE SQUARE!! Tickets have already sold out. We are so stoked!!!!

If you are going to Boom this summer, drop me a line.

Building A Startup On AWS

Let’s Dance

Building on the knowledge learned from my previous two blog posts on my following of the Wild Rydes AWS Serverless Computing Tutorials, ( Wild Rydes Part I and Part Deux), I decided to put some of that information to use in my own work at www.nautilustracker.com.

I’ve been working on some mobile apps and a back-end platform supporting my trans-Atlantic Ocean Rowing attempt last year with my girlfriend, Cindy. I’d like to turn some of the things I’ve developed thus far into a Software as a Service (SaaS) for other people to easily use on similar adventures. To that end, I wanted to quickly create a responsive website to put out some information about my future offerings, including the ability to allow interested parties to contact me by providing their email address and a contact message in a simple contact form.

Know Your Limitations. Build On the Shoulders of Giants

I know I do not have great web design skills. Web Design is just not my focus. But I needed to create a nice looking website for my startup landing page. What to do? I did some quick searches and found lots of free Bootstrap templates I could use for my purposes. Over the course of an afternoon I grabbed a free Bootstrap Template that I liked, cut-in some of my own images, and modified the html to create the menus and sections I wanted in my landing page. I brought in some of the JavaScript from the Wild Rydes tutorial I was working through to connect my Contact Form to my DynamoDB database running in my AWS Account. After I had a look-and-feel I was going for, and the functionality was working ok for the Contact Form, it was simply a matter of uploading my web site assets to my S3 bucket:

> aws s3 sync . s3://www.nautilustracker.com

Stop Daddy

I had previously registered my Domain Name (nautilustracker.com) with GoDaddy last year. Now I wanted to move the DNS Registrar to AWS. This turned out to be very easy. Once I followed the documented steps to move a domain to AWS, I only had to add an A Record to point to the domain to my S3 Bucket containing website artifacts. I will point this A Record to a CloudFront endpoint soon.

Lipstick On A Pig

Now that the landing page is up, there is a mountain of work to do. The next step is to get email working for my domain using AWS SES so I can use that domain email to register as an organization in the Apple iOS Developer Program.

Food As Craft. Craft As Life.

I took my family to Paris, France for the 2016-2017 New Years Eve celebrations. We were essentially just there for the weekend, but it was a fabulous weekend – one that I will never forget. The sites and food were unforgettable. For New Year’s Eve, I treated my family to an 8 course French Meal and Wine/Champagne Pairing at the Hotel Raphael in Paris very close to the Champs-Elysées. My kids and I were definitely not used to fancy food such as this, but it was a beautiful and tasteful introduction to food as art (as opposed to American style ‘fast food’). Here’s a video of my dessert (thanks Alison ;):

In Paris, we were delighted to see the Eiffel Tower, The Arc De Triomphe, The Palace of Versailles, and to listen to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and other beautiful musical pieces, performed by a Chamber Orchestra at the Église de la Madeleine Roman Catholic Church. I left Paris with a profound appreciation for the art and beauty that abounds in this wonderful city, from her cuisine to her architecture, to her music and her people. The French seem to have a genetic disposition toward an aesthetic appreciation of life, which I find hard to come by in the United States. The french term, ‘Joi De Vivre,’ comes to mind when I reflect on our weekend trip to France.

According to Wikipedia: “It ‘can be a joy of conversation, joy of eating, joy of anything one might do… And joie de vivre may be seen as a joy of everything, a comprehensive joy, a philosophy of life, a Weltanschauung…'”

I happened to catch a Netflix Documentary this evening called “Chef’s Table, France,” Season I, which was a story about an amazing French Chef, Alain Passard. As I watched the story unfold about how Chef Passard became a Chef, identifying his career path as early as 14 years old, how he found a mentor and soon bought his mentor’s restaurant, which he named ‘Arpege’, I was completely drawn in by Chef Passard’s sense of life purpose, mastery and pursuit of excellence in his craft. It is not often you find or learn of someone who absolutely loves what they do for a living. I hung on his every word in this documentary and even took notes, hoping to graph some of his sense of aesthetics and Joi de Vivre into my own life and professional career. Here are some of Chef Alain Passard’s quotes and anecdotes I noted from the Netflix Documentary, ‘Chef’s Table, France’:

“When you close your eyes at night, what’s important? You’ve spent the day taking risks. You’ve made some people very happy.”

Chef Passard relates that what you create is just as important as how you create it, which he refers to as ‘Gestures’ or ‘Hand Gestures’. The way you move your hands to create something of value is important and takes hours and years and decades of practice. Chef Passard’s Grandmother was an amazing cook; his mother sewed and his father was a musician. His Grandfather was a sculptor who worked with wood. He learned the importance of hand gestures early in his life and applied them to his craft. He works bread dough like it’s fabric. He sews Duck and Chicken together to create a unique dish. With regards to the hand gesture, he says: “In cuisine, in music, in sculpture, in painting, it’s everything. Either we like the gesture, either we like the hand, or we do not. And this hand, if we want it to be more beautiful, we must work seven hours, eight hours, ten hours in the kitchen every day. This makes the hand more precise, and more elegant.” He goes on to say that a 14 year old does not have the precision of hand that a 30 year old cook has. He says, “I am never happier than when I put my fingers on a new gesture or a new flavor. It feels wonderful.”

“You really become a cook between 40 and 50 years old.”

Can the same not also be said about other professions as well?

Allez Chercher

When Chef Passard started his restaurant, Arpege, he says that the one and two star ratings came fairly easily, but the three star rating was very difficult to attain. Three Stars is the highest rating for a restaurant. Maintaining three stars is apparently extremely difficult to do, but Chef Passard’s mentality is to pursue higher and higher standards, never stopping or resting upon his current achievements. The search for excellence is never ending, but it’s something he loves. I was struck how there was no mention of the pursuit of money in this documentary, it was purely the pursuit of passion, excellence, and the art of food. In fact, there came a point in Chef Passard’s professional career where he was losing his passion for cooking meat, so he decided to take a year of introspection to find his passion again. He reinvented himself and his restaurant as primarily vegetarian while still maintaining their three star rating. He found a new hand. A new outlook.

“My only ambition is to love what I do more each day. Just the idea of a job well done. No outside projects, needs, or dreams. If this story exists today, it’s because I love my job more than anything.”

Bon!

Versailles, France

AWS Serverless Computing Example: Wild Rydes Part Deux

WildRydes Admin Interface

In my last blog post, I mentioned how I was working my way through @jpignata‘s excellent tutorial on GitHub on how to work with AWS Lambda Services, API Gateway, etc.  I work through the tutorial when I have a few minutes to spare and am finding it quite enjoyable.  AWS Lambda Services and the API Gateway are pretty fun and interesting to work with.

In Lab 3 of the tutorial we create an Admin Interface to allow authenticated users the ability to view the email addresses that have been added to the DynamoDB database.  Admin Users are authenticated by the Admin Interface against a Cognito User Pool.  This lab was pretty straight-forward as I did not fat-finger as any mistakes this time.  However, I did take note of the following:

API Gateway URL Notes:

  • Make sure to ‘Deploy API’ after you make changes to your API Gateway.  Many times I thought my configuration updates simply weren’t correct, when in fact I had simply forgotten to deploy the updates to ‘prod’.
  • Simply adding ‘Authorizers’ on your API Gateway is not sufficient for protecting the URL endpoint.  You have to also add the Authorizer to the Method Request ‘Authorization’ of the URL endpoint.  I found that my API endpoints were not protected until I remembered to do this step:

Lambda CI/CD Pipelines

As I am slowly working up to doing something more substantial with Lambda Services, I am curious how one might integrate Lambda Serverless Code into a CI/CD Pipeline.  It seems you can use Gulp/Grunt with the gulp-awslambda plugin (https://www.npmjs.com/package/gulp-awslambda) to accomplish this.  I need to to try this out.

My Admin screen is available on CloudFront, but you can’t log in.

My API Gateway Endpoint is publicly available as well, but it should be protected against unauthenticated users: https://wlqmlbphqc.execute-api.us-east-1.amazonaws.com/prod/emails

What a great tutorial!!  One more Lab to finish and I’ll hopefully be off building something real…

Some Randomness : ‘The Black Bear’

My girlfriend and I have been watching ‘Black Mirror’ on Netflix occasionally.  Last night, we watched the ‘White Bear’ episode, which freaked me out, as most episodes do.  But, it also made me think of one of my favorite Bagpipe Tunes, ‘The Black Bear’.  Hear some renditions to make your cubicle-bound blood start pumping:

Paaaaaaaassssssss. In. Revieeeeeeeeeewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!!!!!

AWS Serveless Computing Example: Wild Rydes Part I

I’ve been working through a tutorial I started in a session I took at AWS re:Invent 2016.  I did not finish the tutorial in class so I started working on it again after getting home from the conference.  The tutorial is on GitHub if you care to follow along.

Admittedly, I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer(but I am made of the hardest, most persistent steel…they call me, ‘Blue Steel’ – said in my best Ben Stiller voice).  It took me a while to figure out why I could not get the AWS Javascript SDK to allow unauthorized users, vis-a-vis AWS Cognito, to access my DynamoDB Email Table.  Here are some errors and things I learned troubleshooting this:

The latest Firefox browser seems to give better clues about why things are not working in the Developer Console than Google Chrome.  Using Google Chrome, I kept seeing an error like, “Missing Credentials In Config”, and was really confused what exactly that meant.  I was following the tutorial exactly, as far as I could tell, so I could not discern whether this error was from a code change I made or an AWS configuration problem?  Then I looked at my website in Firefox, using the Firefox Developer Console, and could see a little bit better what was going on.

Here’s my main error as seen in the Google Chrome Developer Console:

And here’s the same error as reported by Firefox Developer Console:

Ahh!  So a ‘ResourceNotFoundException’ is being thrown.  Now I could see that my Javascript code probably wasn’t the problem and that my Cognito/IAM Role Configuration might be the culprit.

After further investigation..a day (or so) later…I discovered a simple typo in my DynamoDB Table Name:

The table name should have been ‘Wildrydes_Emails’.  Seriously?!?!  Yes, I’m an idiot (but one made of ‘Blue Steel’…).  Once that was corrected, I was finally able to get my unauthenticated Cognito Role to access my DynamoDB Table.

There is still work to be done in this tutorial, and I’ll blog about any issues I overcome as I encounter them.  My work is being hosted in my AWS account on Cloudfront, so feel free to check it out and submit your email to my DynamoDB database.  Let’s get this startup rolling!

http://d39nkefhhvszkn.cloudfront.net/

'Out of the Box' Rubik

Infrastructure As Code

I recently read this article and listened to the 2015 AWS re:Invent session on the same.  This discussion really resonated with me.  I’m excited to try to automate everything, including infrastructure deployments, in my future development projects.  I like the idea of using automated testing frameworks, such as serverspec, for testing infrastructure deployments.

My three big take-aways from the video:

  1. If it’s not automated, it’s not done.
  2. If it moves, measure it.
  3. if its’ not monitored, it doesn’t exist.

My Path to AWS Certified Solution Architect – Associate

On December 1st, 2016, I took and passed the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate Exam.  I took the exam at the AWS re:Invent Conference in Las Vegas, and by ‘passed’, I mean by the skin of my teeth!  But to me, passing is all that matters and I achieved that objective.  Here are some notes on how I prepared for this certification exam:

  • I tried to use AWS Services as much as possible.  I signed up for a free for one year account and started deploying some small applications I had written to EC2.  Initially, I ran MySQL on one of my EC2 instances, but when I discovered RDS, I learned that RDS is an easier and more cost effective approach to using an RDBMS in the cloud.  Aurora and DynamoDB are some other excellent options for cloud-based databases.
  • I bought the Official Study Guide for this certification and started studying it and working through the exercises in the book about two months prior to my exam.  As I am now done with this book, I am happy to mail it the first request for free as long as you agree to pay for shipping.  I have marked my copy up pretty good, however, and I’ve circled all of the answers to the practice test questions in ink.
  • I paid $20 to take the AWS Practice Exam.  I failed it with a 50% score and almost ended up re-scheduling the real exam.  I decided, however, to double-down on my studying and to stick my original plan.  This is one gamble of mine that actually paid off.
  • I attended the 2016 AWS re:Invent Conference in Las Vegas and participated in the Monday Night Hackathon.  Here I quickly learned how to deploy REST services on AWS Lambda using the API Gateway service.  I also learned a bit more about DynamoDB in the process.  The Hackathon helped to focus my understanding of some services, and the re:Invent Conference helped to broaden my understanding of many others.
  • I took my certification exam on Wednesday Night of the conference at 8pm in the Venetian Hotel.  I thought I would be the only one taking an exam at that time of night, but there were at least 15 other folks in the examination room with me.

Here are some of my associated exam expenses along the way:

  • The Official Study Guide on Amazon.com: $57
  • Scheduling the Certification Exam: $150
  • Practice Exam: $20
  • AWS re:Invent 2016 Conference: $1600
  • Travel and Lodging at Las Vegas (me, girlfriend and kids): $750
  • Estimated Exam Focused Time Investment: 2 months
  • Estimated Total Investment: $2,577

AWS re:Invent Conference

So was my investment in this certification worth it?  One thing I learned at the re:Invent conference in Vegas is that if you want to win big, you have to bet big.  I think this investmAWS Solutions Architect Associate Certification Study Guideent was a pretty big bet as far as certifications and technical focus are concerned.  I don’t think attending the re:Invent conference was necessary in passing the certification exam, however, but I do think it was necessary in trying to accurately gauge the viability of the AWS Cloud Platform in the coming years.  Participating in the Hackathon was a great way to get focused on approaches to deploying solutions to the AWS Cloud in a team environment.  AWS re:InventAttending the AWS re:Invent conference helped me to broaden my perception of the sheer breadth of AWS Cloud offerings, not to mention the insight I received in learning about some of the innovative ways companies are using AWS Cloud now.  I witnessed over 30,000 conference participants, from all over the world, attending sessions from 8am to 8pm non-stop, learning as much as they could about the AWS platform.  I, too, drank the cool-aid and truly believe AWS Cloud is a secure, cost effective, highly elastic, high performance platform for all types of software applications.  And I don’t see any other cloud company as a close competitor to Amazon right now, nor may we ever.  Amazon has built their Cloud Platform from lessons learned being the largest E-Commerce Platform in the world.  I feel like I’ve made a safe bet.

AWS re:Play Party

Financial costs aside, the re:Play Party at the end of the AWS conference was truly amazing!  There were drinks (lots of drinks), t-shirts, amazing, amazing food, retro video games, mechanical bull riding, foosball, etc. etc. Time to re:Play I’m sure there was even more stuff, I just couldn’t take it all in.  Then there was the headline performance by DJ Martin Garrix, which was radical.  I took my girlfriend to the party and we had an amazing time.  It was an amazing week in Las Vegas, which ended with a quick family jaunt to the Grand Canyon, but I’ll save that for another blog post.

Foosball

EL Galeon in Alexandria, VA

Today I stood in line with throngs of people along the Alexandria water front awaiting an opportunity to step aboard a 16th Century Spanish Galleon replica.  The vessel (pictured below) is quite stunning.  I tried to imagine how such a magnificent machine could be fashioned by humans in the 1500’s and 1600’s.  Can you imagine how it must have felt to see one of these vessels coming into your home port back in the 16th Century?

image1 image2 image31 image20 image19 image17

Interest Rates And ‘Stacking Benjamins’

A lender contacted me last weekend about refinancing my home.  It seems interest rates have fallen roughly half a point since I first acquired the liability I call home.  But half a point isn’t quite enough for me to go through the pain of refinancing a mortgage, so I told the lender I’d sit tight for a while.  In response, the lender tried to educate me about impending interest rate hikes in December and that I’d be throwing lots of ‘Benjamins’ away if I failed to take advantage of this opportunity.  Ultimately, I think I’ll wait to refinance until a little while later, and here’s my rationale for doing so…

I’m not an economist.  I am simply a middle-aged guy doing his level best to save and prepare for a retirement…of sorts…sometime in the fairly distant future.  And I struggle to understand the intricacies of macroeconomics much less how to save for my own retirement at the microeconomics level.  The differences between microeconomics and macroeconomics seem closely akin to the differences between physics and quantum physics, except in reverse.  Ok, what?  Like, I am trying to understand how the decisions made by ‘Big Whigs’ at the macroeconomic level affect how well I can manage the money I am personally in charge of (microeconomics).  I am pretty sure macroeconomic decisions impact me directly, like in the case of my home refinance opportunity, but how exactly those decisions impact me and even how and why those decisions are made are not quite so clear.  So I am very interested in the ‘big picture’ and how Federal Reserve decisions, with regard to interest rates, impact my life, your life, and our present and future.

Today, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), chaired by Janet Yellen, met to discuss the possibility of rising interest rates before year’s end.   The FOMC seem to say roughly the same nebulous things at each meeting, which makes me wonder about what is truly driving their decisions.  I don’t think the Federal Reserve cares much about people with microeconomic concerns (i.e., concerns such as paying for milk and gas each month much less the mortgage).  Why would they?  They are not elected officials of the people of the United States.  So here’s how I think interest rates are going to play out…

Take a look at the following chart of interest rates in the US since interest rate data have been collected:

Federal Interest RatesThe chart shows, as Grant Cardone has so eloquently pointed out to his listeners, a significant trend…to ZERO!!  In fact, interest rates have pretty nearly done bottomed-out already.  So maybe we get another tiny bump on interest rates in December, but past that, I think we are headed into negative interest rate territory.  I agree with Grant Cardone’s analysis that there is no way interest rates can go up.

I believe the key to understanding the Federal Reserve’s guidance on interest rates is driven not by the strength of the US Economy and Inflation, but instead by the National Debt.  Whoever holds cash benefits the most from rising interest rates.  Right now, many countries hold alot of cash, in the form of notes or I.O.U’s, sold by the United States to pay for things like Wars, seeking-out Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, and then Reconstruction and keeping the Government open for business.  The result is a mountainous debt (thanks to former President Bush (Republican) and current President Obama (Democrat)).  If interest rates do go up, these foreign note holders get more and more leverage as their notes become more valuable.  Simple math says you stand to collect more money if someone is willing to pay you 5% for the dollars you hold over 1%, for example, when your note becomes due.  If interest rates go down, cash and I.O.U’s become less and less valuable.  In fact, if interest rates go down enough, say into negative territory, people and entities holding cash may have to pay someone else for the privilege of holding cash.  Think about that!  The bank could conceivably charge you money to keep your cash in their bank!  You know, kind of like 401k programs do now…sort of.

So, rates may go up some in December, although I’m not sure why they would.  If the real drivers of Federal Interest Rate Policy is the minimization of National Debt obligations, then interest rates cannot go up until the US National Debt is greatly reduced.  Therefore, I think the FOMC is going to lower interest rates even more, and I think they may even go into negative territory soon.  The upside of interest rates going negative is that you might get paid to have a mortgage?!?!

I think there is still some time to consider mortgage refinancing.