Ricardo Sanchez
Coder, Photographer, Youtuber, Blogger

Notes

Use your time wisely, it is a finite resource

Everybody talks about productivity and optimization these days. The get things done (GTD) popularity has been around since I can remember and most of us are still suffering of constant distractions that affect our productivity and concentration to perform our professional or personal tasks effectively. Also, there are many tools these days that claim they can help you by organizing your email, helping with to-do lists, notes, etc… Some of those tools can be helpful but they require commitment and some of them have a learning curve, and so these GTD apps and tools just become part of the daily distractions.

I recently read a study in the journal Personal and Ubiquitous Computing that showed that most people have developed a habit of checking their smartphones multiple times a day without having a real need to do it. Continue Reading

How to build a software product in your spare time

I have been writing code professionally since the early days of .NET although I remember doing lots of classic ASP as well. As a student, I did some C++, BASIC and even some Pascal but not enough to be good at it. I consider myself a great decent developer and very enthusiastic about coming up with ideas to use new frameworks and platforms to design and build new software products. It is my idea of fun and have been doing it for quite some time now. Sometimes with the idea and ambition of building companies around my product ideas.

My guess is that most software developers enjoy testing new technologies and some even do it in their spare time, outside of work and probably late at night (it’s the best time to code, especially if you have children!). However, one thing that I get asked often is where do I get the time to think about products and more specifically where do I find the time to do it. You see, to me is not about building the next killer app or anything like it, it is about thinking of how I could use that cool new JavaScript framework, experimenting with a new platform or perhaps some mobile app that will finally get me into mobile development… and it all sounds good until you start finding excuses and convince yourself that you just don’t have the time to do it. If you are in my age group you will likely find excuses involving the kids, the wife, the house chores, the full-time job, etc… and if you are much younger than me then your excuses are going to be the friends, games, parties, or even a job or school.

Excuses are evil, they offer an easy and sometimes pleasant way to avoid doing something new. I hope some of the tips provided below can help you avoid excuses and get you motivated to build a new app or try out some cool new framework.

Originating ideas

Believe it or not, coming up with ideas might be challenging sometimes, one thing I find very useful is to just take a moment, walk, and think of the things I do on a daily basis that I could do better. This task will take you probably a few minutes and you’ll be surprised with the number of ideas you will originate. Some examples of things I have built doing this are, a translation app, a spam blocker, a profile finder and a useful contact merge tool, etc… all of these were created based on this procedure.

Another great way is to ask people around you, or better yet, observe them and find out what things they struggle with while doing their work, using the computer, etc… For example, years ago while at a customer’s site I saw how some people were doing data entry on their computers and getting the information from a piece of paper, after that they scanned the piece of paper and then named it manually… one page at a time, yikes! From this came the idea of creating an application that would allow people to scan all documents at once, then display the scanned pages on the screen along with the data entry fields right next to the image so they could then do the data entry and indexing needed, reducing the task to just a few steps, much quicker and the data entry more accurate. This eventually became a product for a company. Just look around you and think… how can I do this better, how can I reduce the number of steps and if you are brave enough go out and ask people these same questions and you’ll get plenty of ideas!

Designing your product

You have an idea, now what? it is really easy as software developers to just start writing code, this is both fun and common but if you start your application from scratch then it will take you more time, especially if you are using a new framework, etc… The assumption is that you are trying to build this in your spare time at 2 AM in the morning, so you need to plan and optimize for it. The advice here is not to write any code just yet, instead search for open source projects that are using the technology or framework you want to try, download it and build on top of it. It is not cheating, it is a great way to get started and building on top of an existing open source application or software sample will get you ahead and save you a lot of time. Remember, the goal is to build something fast and useful.

Forget about adding any features, focus on the one thing you are trying to solve and nothing else… do not worry about the look or adding extra functionality, first, make sure what you build achieves what you are going after and then you can iterate and add features and improve the look and feel of it.

Finding the time to do it

This is by far the main reason people will never do something they say they want to do. The lack of time according to most is the reason a new language is not learned, a book is not read, a class is not taken and an app is not built! Time is a very valuable thing that we all protect because none of us seem to have enough of it. Let me tell you this, that is bull-crap. the idea of not enough time is overrated, we use it as an excuse to not do the things we need to be doing or worse, to avoid learning or doing something new. Also, I am against working super long hours, it is not healthy and not even productive, instead try to prioritize your tasks, and eliminate or avoid your time-wasters. All of us have a bag full of those.

I used to watch TV every evening, but haven’t had cable for about 5 years now and do not miss it. Yes, I do watch some shows but when I do it is usually using Netflix or Hulu and is usually playing in the background as I am writing or coding. The time I used to spend in front of the TV I now use to write blog postsbuild software, and organize meetups. I know many of you might say you lack the time to do any of this but I disagree, there are way too many hours in the day, spending just 2 hours every day to write that mobile app you’ve been thinking about for a while is very feasible. Above I mentioned I usually write software late at night, that is when my kids are in bed and the house is quiet – it is the perfect time! I don’t spend more than a few hours but sometimes I will spend more time learning about email marketing, writing blog posts, finding useful things on Twitter, etc… it is my hobby and I don’t see any of that as a task, it is enjoyable for me. At the same time, I help around the house, wash dishes, take the kids to school, to swimming lessons, etc. There is enough time to spend with the family since luckily I don’t have to travel much, having a balanced life is not only possible but very real, it is all about spending time on the things that really matter and avoiding the things that are neither useful nor productive.

There is also plenty of time while at work… and I am not suggesting you work in your personal projects during work hours but at times such as lunch. Yep, I love going to lunch with my co-workers but that does not mean I have to do it every day. At least twice a week I spent my lunch time eating a sandwich or cheap sushi and coding away (my own app), writing a blog post, or doing some marketing for some of my projects using email and social networks.

Are you in a different situation where you still cannot find the time to do this? if the answer is Yes then chances are you are not really motivated to do it… excuses are easy to come up with, and I am sure the next time you are watching a TV show, a movie or a game you’ll remember this and think… I guess I do have time if I really wanted to. Do not get me wrong… I love watching some TV shows and movies… maybe too much, but still find the time to do what I like which is developing software apps, sites and writing blog posts like this.

Finally, if you are lucky and use public transportation for your work commute… then use that time to do this, and perhaps, even more, things such as finish reading that book, learning that new language, etc…

Do you have any tips or ideas to add to the above post? please share them with everyone in the comments.

We have launched foreverbit!

We have great and exciting news to share with you regarding one of the products we have been working hard for the past few months to get the beta version out. The name of this product is foreverbit and it is a web application to save notes, lists, journal entries and the like in the cloud. The cloud is just a fancy name the technology industry uses to describe software that runs online, where users don’t need to download or install anything in their computers and since the application runs in the browser, it is accessible from any computer or mobile device.

Foreverbit is a solution for people wanting to save notes or anything that they wish to remember when in the road, while browsing, at school, etc… Write notes and remember your thoughts is the goal of foreverbit. There are other solutions out there that offer similar solutions, what we are trying to accomplish with foreverbit is to have a simple product that it is easy to use and very useful at the same time. Foreverbit has two primary functions, to let you write notes and to view them from any device and from anywhere at any time. You can write and view your notes from a Mac, a PC, an iPad, a windows tablet, your phone, etc… We hope you give foreverbit a try and please let us know how we can improve it so it works for you.

We are here to help.

Sign up for a foreverbit beta account today
Follow foreverbit on Twitter
Get our newsletter

Switching to Windows Azure

The annoying sound of the alarm clock crying for attention at 5:00am in the morning woke me up. Everybody in my house was still sleeping, after all it is summer and it was just 5 in the morning! For a moment I thought about going back to sleep and forget about the reason I setup the alarm at such an early time, especially after going to bed around 3am, just a few hours earlier.

About 30 minutes later I was outside and in my car, and I started to drive on IH35, heading north, I was on my way to Dallas to attend a Microsoft Azure Summit. For a while I have been thinking about using Azure for my software startup but have been avoiding it since other cloud solutions offered by Amazon and Rackspace have been sufficient to host a few web applications and image files. The reason I have been avoiding Azure is because the first time I tried it, almost two years ago, I was disappointed with it for various reasons, the product didn’t seem to be ready, it lacked many basic features and there was not enough documentation. I have been using Amazon S3 for file storage and Rackspace’s Cloud Servers for my web servers and database. Continue Reading

My Facebook feed is starting to look like my inbox back in the late 90s…

Remember back in the day when everyone started to get into email and sharing messages and photographs was the main reason to use email? It was a new way of communication and sharing personal information and pictures was a cool and painful thing to do. It was painful because images took a while to download with the modems we used to receive these email messages.

Today, most of my Facebook “friends” are family members and close friends, I don’t follow or “friend” people I don’t know personally. For a while, Facebook has been a great source to reconnect with old friends and distant family members. We’ll share photos, messages, comments, etc… However, in the past few months it seems as if most of my Facebook contacts have been attracted or pulled into those non-useful messages that ask you to “like” an image featuring a handicapped person, or a hungry kid, etc…

The “Like This” Chain Status

This is so much like those old “chain mail” campaigns that always have something somewhere telling you to email this or else! This is very unfortunate and expected at the same time, my Facebook feed has reached the point where it looks a lot like my Hotmail account when most of my family and friends started using email and sharing the same things I see in Facebook now like jokes, “funny” photographs they find in the interwebs, “chain mail” like status updates, invitations to play stupid games, etc…

Facebook latest updates are not helping with this, the way the default sort works helps these junk messages to show up on top of my feed as they are the ones with the most comments and likes making them the “top stories” making my Facebook feed unreadable and full of junk information. Yes you can change the sort of your feed, and you can block certain type if updates and invitations, and even some friends that keep on pushing the junk content… and after a while you might even create a new Facebook account where you only connect with really close friends and family in order to avoid the junk information… just like we did with email years and years ago, but I refuse to believe Facebook has become the email of the 90s, and I don’t want to end up having multiple Facebook accounts.

I still have my Hotmail account and I cannot remember the last time I checked it. I know many of my family members and friends keep sending me online jokes, images and chain messages to that account, I am OK with that, I don’t use it anymore, it has become my catch-all junk email account.

Below is an example of the content I am talking about, notice the number of likes and shares…

What to do?

I guess Facebook could do something to help us better filter our feed or even better block those annoying updates that show up on your feed when one of your friends falls for it and click “Like” on even worst, decides to share it publicly. I mentioned above that this behavior and contamination of Facebook is expected, as it is with any network or service that reaches a point where the network effect is so powerful that eventually someone starts to abuse it in this manner. Facebook and all of its users will have a hard time eliminating these type of messages, first because Facebook’s success relies on people liking and sharing content and secondly because most of its users actually enjoy reading, viewing and sharing junk information, unfortunately.

This is a serious problem that is affecting many people who want to use FB to really connect with friends and share things that they care about, and not spend time cleaning and avoiding all these chain statuses which many people seem to enjoy liking and sharing. To see more examples and comments about these FB chain statuses, look at this Tumblr page, showing all messages regarding FB chain statuses.

For now we should just sit and wait to see what happens, in the meantime I am once again looking for a service that can offer image hosting and sharing, and that is easy to use so that my non-technical inclined friends and family members can once again share photos about our family events, kids, vacations, etc… in a platform that will allow us to control the privacy and sharing of our personal media, without bombarding us with ads and other junk content.

Peace out.

You are not a robot

As babies, we learn everything by getting to know our surroundings. We listen, we touch, we taste, we smell and we watch. Then we start pushing ourselves to try out something new every minute, every hour and every day. We are restless and never stop, we keep trying over and over again. Our nature is to be curious and imaginative, and at the same time we are very sensitive. As babies we cry, we are loud, we laugh and we get mad… and as adults we are always trying hard to hide these feelings, as if it was a bad thing.

As we grow, we distract ourselves from our surroundings with the so-called entertainment industry, we spent endless hours watching TV, sports, movies, social networks, etc… without paying attention to our surroundings and all the incredible things about it. And do not get me wrong, it is OK to do all these things as long as you also spent time to look around, meet real people, reading, writing and trying out new things.

It is human nature to be curious and creative, and yet we as a society always find ways to make sure we teach our kids not to try new things in the name of good behavior and uniformity, this is wrong. We teach our kids that using a pen with colorful ink at school is wrong, we teach our kids that drawing an elephant with the unnatural shape and using different colors is wrong… and yet we ask ourselves why creativity and innovation is so hard to find these days… I wonder why.

As kids we try hard to learn what we want, we don’t see anything as impossible, our mind is full of adventure and our imagination is at a maximum at all times… until we start going to school and between some teachers and parents we start to hear that all those things we think and believe in are not possible, we hear that to be a good person we need to be reasonable, that we need to think realistically and put our feet on the floor, we are told we need to be realistic… why?!

A while ago one of my sons who is now 10 years old came to me with a Lego car he had built using pieces from different Lego models including a brand new set I had bought for him just hours ago… my first reaction was to get upset because he had not followed the instructions in the Lego manual, I remember  telling him that what he did was not right. How could he have mixed all these pieces to create something that was not in a Lego manual? I was completely blind to the fact that my son was doing what kids do, using his imagination to create something, without following any rules or instructions, just creating something that he liked. He was being creative. I soon realized my mistake, apologized and suggested him to continue building this car anyway he wanted, I told him how much I liked the idea of him creating something with Legos that did not look nothing like the models from which these pieces came from. He smiled.

In most schools our kids are taught to follow directions and to memorize things… they get used to an environment where uniformity is the rule and any sign of creativity is usually seemed as disruptive and it is discouraged rapidly.

That needs to change.

While at home, let kids use their imagination, let them be creative and try not to formalize the way they learn or interact, it is not easy but it is worth trying to offer them a better chance at not loosing their creativity and imagination as they transition into adulthood.

This is something you can also try achieving at work, everybody talks about innovation and creativity, and at the same time most companies don’t have an open mind about new services, products or internal procedures… innovation is something that can only be achieved by taking some risks and accepting change. It is very discouraging to work in environments where everything and everybody looks and acts in the same way or very similar. A place where showing personality and individualism is not allowed or it is discouraged by Human Resources departments usually in the name of wanting to have a “professional” environment.

Be different, be creative, be you. You are not a Robot.

Innovation

It is an overused word and very often, not recognized for what it is or what it means but instead what people want to believe it means.

Innovation is not something you teach or buy; innovation is not something a consultant will find for you or much less help you create it. You cannot capture it.

Innovation is a way of life for some people; it is the way some people see the world and the way they think and do things, from picking up groceries to creating a company.

When real innovation shows, most of us don’t even know it because we are so focused on what we always do.

Innovation is often attacked by people because people often reject change and it is commonly described as a bad idea or even as something foolish.

Innovation is all around us and if you are lucky enough to notice it, do not turn your back to it, be curious, be willing to accept it and who knows you may end up being part of it, you could just become an innovator.

Cheers!

Ricardo.