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.

 

Commitment to the Cloud

I made the decision to attend the AWS re:Invent conference in Las Vegas this year in November.   I’ve thrown my hat in the ring for Monday’s Hackathon at re:Invent, and am hoping to come away with new insights into ways to employ AWS infrastructure for faster and more cost-effective software deployments.  There is also 5k run on Wednesday morning that I signed up for.  I figured it was a good way to get in some exercise after sitting all week, and I’m working on some solid fitness goals for next year…

I also made a commitment to myself to study for, and take, the Amazon Certified Solutions Associate Architect Exam while I’m at re:Invent.  My primary study guide is the ‘AWS Certified Solutions Architect Official Study Guide’, AWS Certified Solutions Architect Official Study Guide.

While at the conference, I am particularly interested in hearing anecdotes from startups in how they are using Cloud-based infrastructure to start, grow and scale a technology/software businesses.  It would seem that Cloud Technologies could be a great leveler in this regard.  And of course, hearing from Werner Vogels about what new technologies are on the horizon for the AWS Platform should be very interesting as well.

 

The Greatest Generation

This past Tuesday I chaperoned a group of High School kids in my daughter’s Geography Class. Our mission was to spend all day at the World War II Memorial in Washington DC surveying visitors about the memorials the respondents were visiting, how far they traveled to get to DC, etc. I was glad to spend time with my daughter, but I thought staying all day at one memorial was going to be really boring. I was wrong.


World War II Memorial
As I sat at the entrance of the World War II Memorial listening to the High School kids survey random people coming and going, I watched and listened to the people milling about. I reflected on what the memorial really stood for and became quite moved by the overall experience. I heard accents and languages from Japan, Germany, Australia, Canada, Great Britain and from all over the United States. I witnessed World War II vets visiting from all over the country as provided for by the Honor Flight Network Program, a non-profit organization that helps US Veterans find closure by bringing them to the memorial of the war they participated in.


Honor Flight Veterans
I watched several cohorts of Honor Flight supported Veterans come through the memorial. One veteran, in a wheelchair and with tears in his eyes, shook my daughter’s hand and thanked her for coming. My daughter said she felt bad because the only reason she was there was because of her High School Project. 🙂 I watched these veterans take in the memorial and get transported back in time to the mid 1940’s when life seemed both simpler and much harder because of the war. These men and women cried as they looked and touched parts of the memorial recalling times past as they fought one of the most significant wars in history.


World War II Memorial
While at the memorial, I also thought about my Granddad, Jim Dupler. He was in the Army Air Corps (which became the US Air Force) during the War and flew B-26 bombers over Tunisia fighting General Rommel. He told me a few stories about his time in the war. He recounted to me how he could see flack from the enemy guns exploding below and around his aircraft. He told me he never really thought about dying through all of that. In fact, he only suffered some shrapnel through the bottom of his foot during one of his flights. He survived the war, retired as a Lt. Colonel, and was able to spend alot of time with his kids and grandkids. In fact, my Granddad survived all of my Grandparents and even my parents! He just passed away this October 2nd, 2016.  He was 96!

My Granddad was never able to visit the World War II Memorial, but I took him there that day in my mind and heart and we remembered with those who sacrificed and fought with him.

 

Claire

Lincoln Memorial

Monument

 

Book Review: ‘The One Thing’

The ONE Thing

I just finished reading ‘The ONE Thing’ by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. This book was recommended by several people on many of the different podcasts I listen to, so I thought I’d give it a read. This book both bothered me and inspired me…but it mostly inspired me.

 

  • The interview question, ‘How do you eat an elephant?’, came to mind while I read this. The answer is one small bite at a time, and focus while you’re doing it.
  • The domino metaphor is a powerful one. Setup up a *HUGE* domino and try to knock it over by setting up increasingly smaller ones until the initial domino can be knocked over with a simple flick of the finger. In other words, big goals can be broken down into increasingly smaller ones, which when lined up in succession, can lead to an amazing chain of successes. ‘Overnight Successes’ are actually not a thing, but a long succession of ever increasing successes leading up to a big one.
  • FOCUS. Focus on ONE thing. Focus on ONE thing that will knock over the next domino. That’s the trick, now, isn’t it?
  • The first 4-5 hours in the morning are the most productive of the day. Don’t let anyone hijack that time. No Scrum. No meetings. No phone calls. Just productivity. Save the rest for the less productive hours of the day…in the afternoon. Easier said than done. Usually, our professional time is not our own. Perhaps, not yet anyway.
  • Keep your ‘One Thing’ in the fore front of your mind and activities always. Constantly ask yourself if what you are doing is helping you knock over that next domino.

Focusing on one thing is hard for me. I suspect it’s hard for most people. If it weren’t difficult to focus on just ONE thing at a time, I imagine there would be a whole lot more wildly successful people in the world. Focus has to be one of the secret ingredients to amazing success in life. My mind seems to always be wandering out to sea…


Somewhere on the North Atlantic Ocean...
Somewhere on the North Atlantic Ocean…

Summarizing books like this just doesn’t seem to do them justice, so I apologize in advance. These summaries are mostly for me and for solidifying key concepts in my own brain. This ONE book is definitely worth a read, however, so pick it up at amazon:

 



Getting MEAN: A Java Developer’s Perspective

I intimidate many people because I’m so pretty. Others might say I’m pretty ugly. But when I had the chance to get MEAN too, I jumped at it. In this context, MEAN is an acronym for the technology stack consisting of: MongoDB, Express, AngularJS and NodeJS. I wanted to briefly document some of my recent experiences and take-aways in working with this technology stack, so here are my thoughts.

For most of my programming career now, I’ve been working with mostly Enterprise Java. I started teaching myself Java in the mid-nineties from an O’Reilly book and from the start found the language very intuitive to understand (then). For a number of years now, however, I’ve been thinking that full-stack JavaScript is the way to go for Enterprise Software Development (and other applications as well). So when I had the opportunity to work on a short project using MEAN I was quite glad to get some hands-on experience with it.

First of all, when working with MEAN, you are essentially using the JavaScript language at all layers of application development, from the front-end to the middle-tier to the back-end data store. Theoretically, this should make the learning curve considerably smaller when working across layers, and should also make JavaScript Developers equally interchangeable across layers. The reality, however, is not quite that, but it’s close.

‘M’ Is For MongoDB

MongoDB is a NoSQL database used for storing JSON Documents. MongoDB is very easy to install and run, especially on Linux-based systems. You can run JavaScript in the database; you can even write MapReduce programs in JavaScript and run them on the database. But the main advantage of using MongoDB in this technology stack is the ability to easily store and retrieve JSON documents without have to apply JSON structure to your data after pulling it out of the database. This makes it easier to ship JSON formatted data directly to your front-end without having to mess with RDBMS tables and SQL… and even DBA’s for that matter (‘…can you PLEASE create a table for me!’). Wait, I don’t say ‘please’ anymore because I’m MEAN.

‘E’ Is For Express

Express is a dream to work with. It’s very simple and intuitive to use and takes no time at all to go from knowing nothing to creating fairly complex JSON REST Web Services. We connected Express to our MongoDB instance using Mongoose, which is so simple even I could configure it. Simple is good, right?

‘A’ Is For AngularJS

I found working in Angular 1.x fairly difficult to understand. The associated documentation is not all that well written and generally not very helpful. I feel like the framework is a bit over-engineered. I have not worked with Angular 2.x yet, so perhaps things have improved. Nevertheless, many, many organizations have invested heavily in Angular, so I’m sure I must be missing something, and without a doubt AngularJS is better than working with Java Server Faces (JSF) or Struts. Nevertheless, I might actually try ReactJS as the front-end framework next time as several co-workers have strongly recommended it.

‘N’ Is For NodeJS

NodeJS is the server-side JavaScript middleware that ran our Express JSON REST Services. Working with NodeJS requires that you get used to writing asynchronous code, but once you get the hang of that it’s quite fun and easy to use. From a Java Developer’s perspective, working with NodeJS is so much more efficient than having to compile and package Java Code into a WAR or EAR before deploying it to a JEE Container, like Tomcat or JBoss or Websphere or Weblogic. In Java land, that process seems to take years sometimes. When using NodeJS and a code monitor like nodemon, you simply forget about about the code deploy process and start to take for granted that your code changes are instantly available for testing on your local server. What?!?!

The Node Package Manager (npm) makes installing and managing modules very easy as well.

Fast Development, Fast Deployment

As mentioned, using code watch tools like nodemon, or even grunt or gulp serve-up local code changes in real-time. That speeds up development time significantly. Moreover, your mocha, chai, karma, etc. test scripts are invoked automatically each time you make a code change, so feedback on whether your build is broken or not is instant and continuous. Once integrated with an efficient Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) Pipeline, code commits to Git can be automatically built, tested and pushed-out to a running server in your environment of choice. Of course you can do the same in Java, but I bet that MEAN Developers can develop twice the functionality, if not more, than Java Developers in the same amount of time.

In business, speed kills when your MEAN (and pretty).

The Boys in the Boat

Book Review: The Boys In The Boat

I just finished reading the book, ‘The Boys In The Boat’ by Daniel James Brown, and I can honestly say that this is one of the best books I have ever read.  This book is about a team of 9 University of Washington, depression-era oarsmen, with a focus on one particular rower, Joe Rantz, who mesmerized America and the World by defeating Germany and Italy in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

I was particular struck by how Washington Coach, Al Ulbrickson, struggled to understand the inner workings of his most talented oarsmen, what made them tick, and how to get them to gel as a team. But once the right mix of oarsmen was discovered in the 8+ cox configuration, the team was literally unstoppable and undefeated. In my blog post about ‘Building Great Software Teams’, I talk about the importance of building the right team over individuals, and how the benefits can be astounding and greater than the sum of it’s individual parts. So it was with the success of the University of Washington 8+ 1936 Olympic Rowing Team.

The Boys in the Boat
The Boys in the Boat

Author Daniel James Brown does an amazing job of interweaving other historic facts with the facts of this story. For example, he describes how the Zeppelin ‘Hindenburg’ launched from New Jersey to fly to Germany at the same time the 1936 USA Olympic Contingent left for Germany on board the S.S Manhattan; and how Nazi Film Directory, Leni Riefenstahl, played such a pivotal role in her movie documentation of the final Men’s 8+ Sweep Race in hopes of documenting Nazi Germany’s supremacy in rowing events on the Langer See, but instead captured an epic American victory over Germany and Italy, which instead ultimately foreshadowed their demise in WWII.

The author also helps to remind us that even as difficult and scary as the Great Depression and WWII were, many great stories of perseverance and success, such as the one of the University of Washington 8+, arose from the ashes of their circumstances. And this is a comforting reminder as we remember the events of 9/11/2001.

If you are are interested in reading this book, please click the Amazon Affiliate Link below to purchase.

Collecting Energy Price Data

I’m not sure why exactly, but I am particularly interested in fluctuating energy costs, particularly the costs associated with putting gas in my car.  I remember that Regular Unleaded Gas (or Petrol for you Europeans) was $.99 a gallon when I started driving around 1985 in the arid South West of San Antonio, TX.  Of course gas is more expensive today, but I’m often surprised how relatively cheap gas prices remain for a gallon of Regular Unleaded.  I feel fairly confident that it’s just a matter of time before all energy costs, Regular Unleaded Gas not excluded, will rapidly increase.  Energy is a limited resource yet the global population continues to grow.

Anyway, I wrote a python script (adapted from a Perl script I wrote to do the same a few years ago) to grab the current National Average Price for Regular Unleaded Gas.  My script runs automatically each morning to collect the daily price of Regular Unleaded Gas and dumps it into a MySQL database I have running on AWS.

Here’s a graph snapshot of the data I’ve collected so far (click to enlarge).

Graph the GasHere’s the table of the data I’ve collected so far:

+—-+———————+————+——–+——+——-+——+
| id | rec_create_dt | price_date | price | year | month | day |
+—-+———————+————+——–+——+——-+——+
| 1 | 2016-07-25 01:53:08 | 2016-07-24 | $2.165 | 2016 | 7 | 24 |
| 2 | 2016-07-25 09:46:16 | 2016-07-25 | $2.161 | 2016 | 7 | 25 |
| 7 | 2016-07-26 11:11:50 | 2016-07-26 | $2.154 | 2016 | 7 | 26 |
| 8 | 2016-07-27 06:00:16 | 2016-07-27 | $2.154 | 2016 | 7 | 27 |
| 9 | 2016-07-28 06:00:22 | 2016-07-28 | $2.148 | 2016 | 7 | 28 |
| 10 | 2016-07-29 06:00:21 | 2016-07-29 | $2.142 | 2016 | 7 | 29 |
| 11 | 2016-07-30 06:00:22 | 2016-07-30 | $2.139 | 2016 | 7 | 30 |
| 12 | 2016-07-31 09:30:22 | 2016-07-31 | $2.135 | 2016 | 7 | 31 |
| 13 | 2016-08-01 09:30:22 | 2016-08-01 | $2.132 | 2016 | 8 | 1 |
| 14 | 2016-08-02 09:30:23 | 2016-08-02 | $2.126 | 2016 | 8 | 2 |
| 15 | 2016-08-03 09:30:23 | 2016-08-03 | $2.120 | 2016 | 8 | 3 |
| 16 | 2016-08-04 09:30:23 | 2016-08-04 | $2.116 | 2016 | 8 | 4 |
| 17 | 2016-08-05 09:30:23 | 2016-08-05 | $2.120 | 2016 | 8 | 5 |
| 18 | 2016-08-06 09:30:23 | 2016-08-06 | $2.124 | 2016 | 8 | 6 |
| 19 | 2016-08-07 09:30:24 | 2016-08-07 | $2.123 | 2016 | 8 | 7 |
| 20 | 2016-08-08 09:30:23 | 2016-08-08 | $2.123 | 2016 | 8 | 8 |
| 21 | 2016-08-09 09:30:24 | 2016-08-09 | $2.124 | 2016 | 8 | 9 |
| 22 | 2016-08-10 09:30:24 | 2016-08-10 | $2.127 | 2016 | 8 | 10 |
| 23 | 2016-08-11 09:30:25 | 2016-08-11 | $2.130 | 2016 | 8 | 11 |
| 24 | 2016-08-12 09:30:25 | 2016-08-12 | $2.129 | 2016 | 8 | 12 |
| 25 | 2016-08-13 09:30:21 | 2016-08-13 | $2.127 | 2016 | 8 | 13 |
| 26 | 2016-08-14 09:30:26 | 2016-08-14 | $2.125 | 2016 | 8 | 14 |
| 27 | 2016-08-15 09:30:26 | 2016-08-15 | $2.124 | 2016 | 8 | 15 |
| 28 | 2016-08-16 09:30:26 | 2016-08-16 | $2.125 | 2016 | 8 | 16 |
| 29 | 2016-08-17 09:30:27 | 2016-08-17 | $2.132 | 2016 | 8 | 17 |
| 30 | 2016-08-18 09:30:26 | 2016-08-18 | $2.135 | 2016 | 8 | 18 |
| 31 | 2016-08-19 09:30:27 | 2016-08-19 | $2.141 | 2016 | 8 | 19 |
| 32 | 2016-08-20 09:30:23 | 2016-08-20 | $2.152 | 2016 | 8 | 20 |
| 33 | 2016-08-21 09:30:28 | 2016-08-21 | $2.158 | 2016 | 8 | 21 |
+—-+———————+————+——–+——+——-+——+

The Lean Startup

Angular versus ReactLinux versus WindowsJava versus Python?

WHO CARES?!?!?

The important technical question is whether or not your software is something people are willing to pay for.  If no one is buying your software product, then your Technology Stack is irrelevant.  People don’t typically buy a software product because it’s written in C++ or NodeJS.  People buy software products because it solves a problem, whether that problem is boredom, financial, security or something else.  This is one reason why I really enjoyed reading Eric Ries’ book, ‘The Lean Startup’.

This book is packed with wisdom focused on how to discover the value of your entrepreneurial software idea through ‘Build, Measure and Learn’ iterative development cycles.  Eric’s Lean Startup ideas borrow heavily from the Japanese product development processes at Toyota and beyond.

Here are some things I took away from this book and the Lean Startup Movement in general:

  • Everyone can and should be an entrepreneur.  It’s ok to be an entrepreneur inside of a well-established organization; in fact, it’s beneficial.
  • Lack of innovation is death in business.  [I want to read ‘The Innovator’s Dilemma‘ in reference to this point.]
  • Build, Measure, Learn feedback cycles should be used to collect data from your target market.  Ask the hard questions of how you are doing from your customers.
  • If your product fails to grow, consider the concept of a ‘Pivot‘ to find greater acceptance and use of your product.
  • Four key questions to keep asking:
    • Do consumers recognize that they have the problem you are trying to solve?
    • If there was a solution, would they buy it?
    • Would they buy it from us?
    • Can we build a solution for that problem?
  • Genchi Gembutsu – Go see for yourself.  Trust but verify.
  • Build your MVP quickly to see if you are heading in the right direction.
  • Experiment.  A/B Testing.  Customer testing.  Collect Data.
  • Taiichi Ohno and the Five Why’s
    • At the root of every seemingly technical problem is a human mistake.
    • Five Whys helps to get to the root of the technical problem.
  • Time to Build not important.  Time to Measure not important. Time to Learn not important.  What’s important is the time it takes to get through the whole process.

“Our society needs the creativity and vision of entrepreneurs more than ever.  In fact, it is precisely because these are such precious resources that we cannot afford to waste them.” Eric Ries, ‘The Lean Startup’, pg. 278

 

 

 

Dreaming Big Dreams Is Hard

“You can do anything you put your mind to.” — Pat Caple

It’s hard to believe it’s August 2016 already.  It’s hard to believe that I’ve been living in a strange house in Silver Spring, Maryland, for the last month-and-a-half, since renting my house was the only way to cost-effectively set off on our ocean rowing adventure.  It’s hard to believe that my girlfriend, Cindy, and I planned to be completing a row across the North Atlantic Ocean about this time…somewhere in Ireland.  It’s hard to believe we failed to accomplish this, and failed in such a big way.  Our row only lasted three days and two nights at sea.  Epic fail.  You can read more about our plans to row across the North Atlantic this summer on our website.

I’ve had more epic failures in my life than successes.  Successes seem really hard to come by.  Is Michael Phelps human?  Am I a sub-human?  I wanted to be an Olympic Sculler in the 1996 Olympics.  While attending Graduate School in Germany in the early 1990’s, I decided to take a long weekend to see the rowing events in the Barcelona ’92 Games.  I totally missed the rowing events, but was able to see some of the Basketball and Waterpolo events.  I was smitten with the idea of being in the Olympics one day.  I bought an Atlanta Braves Ball Cap in the Atlanta Airport on my way home from Stuttgart Germany, where I had just completed Grad School in 1992, as I came back to the United States to pursue my Atlanta ’96 Olympic Dreams.  I moved to Virginia and found my way down to the Occoquan River where the National Sculling Team trained.  I found Igor Grinko, the National Team Sculling Coach, and I asked him what I needed to do to make the team.  He said: ‘row…alot’.  I did a 2k erg test for him.  He said his women rowed faster than me.  But I didn’t quit…at least not for another two years or so.  My son was born in 1997, and that is when I decided to quit.  Ok, so my son off-set my Olympic Dream failure quite handsomely…and then my two daughters.

Looking back, I have realized that alot of my biggest dreams, and failures, have been centered around the sport of rowing.  Maybe that’s because I love the sport and camaraderie so much.  I listen to the Olympics taking place in Rio on the TV, but I can’t watch.  It reminds me too much of broken dreams.  I wish I was competing in the 4x sculling competition in Rio this year, or arriving in Dingle, Ireland, as one of the first American Pairs Boat Crew to ever row across the North Atlantic.  Damn dreams…Maybe I need to have more children to help offset this failure.

The athletes you are watching on TV now, who are competing in the Rio Olympics, have already achieved an amazing feat, regardless of whether they win a medal in the games.  It’s just an amazing accomplishment to even make the Olympic Team and to win the privilege to compete at that level.  Truly incredible!  These athletes have athletic powers well exceeding what might otherwise be attained from 10,000 hours of repetitive practice.

But forget sports.  I’m putting my mind to a new dream.  My new dream is to become Financially Free, Independently Wealthy, and to be able to ‘retire’ well before Social Security is *supposed* to kick in.  I may fail in achieving most (if not all) of my dreams, but I never want to be known as someone who quit dreaming because of failures, or never dared to dream big dreams in the first place.  Plus, this dream has nothing to do with rowing or sports, so maybe now I have a chance of reaching it.

Now, who’s got my money?