Just got my Arduino

I know, I’m a bit late to the game, but I have busy doing other stuff … so I was very excited to get an Arduino Uno for my birthday!

Being the typical impatient person, I couldn’t be bothered to read any instructions or anything, and just went to the Arduino software page and grabbed the main Mac code (v. 1.0.5). When I unzipped it and started it, though, I got a message that it was damaged. Downloaded it again, unzipped it, damaged. Hmmm. Read some of the stuff on the page – yep, looked like the latest stable version. Went a little further on the page and grabbed the latest Beta; whoo hoo! Success.

Plugged it in, saw the blinking lights I was supposed to expect, and did the first/easiest/most visible change – changing the speed of the blink. Edited, compiled, uploaded – no. Port not found. COM1. OK, yeah, that makes sense – changed the port to USB and I was golden! Lights blinking as they should.

So, now that I have it set up … what next? I haven’t programmed a micro controller since the Redhead and I were working on making a GPS receiver he could attach to his camera. (And that didn’t get too far, since we were planning it as a part of getting our paper accepted to Embedded World, but the company shut us down and refused to sign off on it, which meant we also wouldn’t have the “support” we were hoping for.) Finding a need to fill is always the Redhead’s field, I am more of an implementor.

But let’s see if I can’t get some creative juices flowing. How about a motion-detector/shutter-release triggered by hummingbirds in the garden? Or some kind of sensor that would send me an SMS when something happens – I just have to decide what I care enough about to be informed of!

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I could be in class right now…

I don’t think I’ve blogged much about my job search. It is something I have been of two minds about, because on the one hand I think the experience has been interesting, but since I don’t know if I have learned anything from it, I am not sure that it would make for a meaningful post. I don’t want to come off sounding pathetic and unhirable, since this platform is a combination of sharing my technical discoveries and accomplishments and a personal forum/sharing space for distant friends and family.
But this is topical, and maybe it will also transition into other long-overdue stories I will get around to sharing.
In general, I feel like I am caught in a weird place. I have a software degree, but apparently, based on the hundreds of programming jobs I have (to-no-avail) applied for, no one wants to hire me as a programmer. Even though that is something I think I am very good at: I captained a team of freshmen to a fabulous result at the regional ACM programming competition! I thought that was because I was an awesome programmer, but due to some feedback I got on my resume and job search prospects recently*, maybe I should credit it more to me being a great captain? I feel like a jack-of-all-trades, which I thought would make it easier to get a job, but every job seems to be overly specific, like

“3+ years of experience in product management with direct experience in I/O virtualization”

(Is it unfair to call that overly specific? I wouldn’t mind if the requirement were

“3+ years of operations support with direct experience in MES administration”

(It was actually oddly hard to write a requirement there that I don’t think I have seen, which is kind of part two of my frustration: when I do find something that is either vague-enough or coincidentally completely appropriately specific, such as:

“Basic Qualifications
Bachelor degree in Business, Engineering or a Supply Chain/Operations discipline.
5+ years of experience in supply chain, logistics or inventory management.
5+ years of experience managing cross-functional projects and programs with tight deadlines.

Preferred Qualifications
Advanced degrees in Operations Management, Mathematics/Engineering, or an MBA with a quantitative focus.
Proven ability to influence others, facilitate agreement among stakeholders with different interests.
Excellent written and verbal communication skills, building relationships.
Technical aptitude and familiarity with the design and utilization of complex systems.
Proven track record of complex and creative problem solving and the desire to create and build new processes.
Advanced knowledge of SQL, Excel, and Access is a plus.”

which I totally have, right? But does that company call me or acknowledge my application? No!)

So anyway, lately I have been going through a phase of anything-would-be-better-than-nothing, and I started looking at restaurant/barista/bartending positions. But places either aren’t hiring or also want to call “3 references who have worked with me in the past 5 years”, which is kind of awkward, because a) most people I worked with in the last 3 years don’t speak English and b) do I really want my references to get calls from someone who asks them if they think I would be good at waitressing?

But I digress (as usual). I had been checking out Craigslist for the last couple days, and coinciding with the latest economic figures saying that car sales are up, ads appeared for several car dealers saying that they were hiring sales staff. I had a little internal debate about whether or not this was a good thing and stalled on the actually getting dressed and going out and doing it, started to fill out one on-line application but because it asked for beginning and ending salary for every job ever and 5 non-employer/non-family references (plus SSN and driver’s license number, which I am not about to write into a random webpage), I bailed out, but one of the ads said “Mon and Tues 10 – 4; email to make an appt or walk in.” I emailed and got no answer, but on Tuesday I decided to walk in.

Strangely, the application I was asked to fill out when I got there was the same as the one I had half-completed on-line, although this was a different dealer, and when I went in to see the interviewer, it was the strangest interview I had ever been through – all “word association” and time machines and other oddness. Then he said he needed 2 minutes to think about whether he thought I would work out and during that time I should write a paragraph – not a novel – on why I should get the job. I had one sentence done when he came back (which is probably why it takes me literally hours to write these posts! (Ok, that might be more due to the fact that I get distracted by emails and lunch and loads of laundry)), and he said that in spite of me being “goofy” (is that why I don’t get hired as a programmer? and no engineering firm can bring themselves to name that as the reason?), he thought I could do the job. And that by-the-way, he is actually not associated with the dealer, but a contractor hired to screen and train, and can I commit the next three days from 9:30 to 6, and be open to reinvent myself, and park in a different place tomorrow, and bring 2 pens, a notebook and a packed lunch because we would be too busy to take a break, and (in spite of the ad saying “Paid-while-you-learn training”**) there would be a fully refundable cost for this training, but when I asked him to clarify he said “I’ll go over that tomorrow for everyone all together. Goodbye.”

So, I got in my car. I was excited, but the last-minute rushed comment just wasn’t sitting right. And one of his questions at the interview had been “If you could change one decision you made, what would it be?” and I answered “Nothing; no regrets.” But now, in the peace and quiet of the car, I remembered there were times, when I had been pressured on the spot to agree to something and wasn’t allowed the chance to stop and think it over, and forever afterward was convinced that I had been ripped off (even if it was only for $5). And it really just wasn’t sitting right. So, I came home, thinking about who I knew who would be available and that I could run this by and decided that google was my friend.

Google returned a fair number of opinions: There are some reports from people (with generally atrocious spelling and grammar) thinking they were hoodwinked, some rebuttals from the company insisting it is very fair and valuable, plus some “more neutral” reports of people who actually attended and got the details of the price and refund policies and training content.

For a while I considered going anyway, checking out what they had to say and then making the decision, but I was afraid I would get caught up in the excitement of the hard sell and if I go in knowing I am going to leave halfway through, what is really the point of going anyway? And if I had gone, there wouldn’t have been time to write this post!

*Not from anyone I interviewed with, of course. I am lucky if I can get them to say as much as “I’m sorry; you’re not what we are looking for.” Actual useful feedback is completely missing.

**Not actually the text of the ad I saw, because that one is no longer posted. Because it is over? Maybe, or because after talking to them and hearing their sales talk a person could actually flag it as being incorrect? (And Craigslist does always post a warning about not accepting jobs that require you to pay!)

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My first hackathon!

Just got back from my first hackathon, held at the Sacramento Hacker Lab and organized for International Open Data Day. It was exciting to be around so many intelligent and inspired people. All the people I met when I first walked in had the same story “Don’t know what to expect;” “Read about it and thought I would join in;” “Not sure if I have any useful skills.”

Ash from the Hacker Lab told us about the goals for the day, we went around the room and introduced ourselves, then a couple people stood up and said they had some ideas for things we could (or should be able to) do. One that caught my attention was Ron’s idea regarding knowledge that an acquaintance had been arrested for a fairly major violation but due to family money and influence was let off the hook. We wondered if we could use social networks to link defendants or lawyers to judges or use other public data (neighbourhoods of residence, ownership, etc) to show affluence, then check dismissal rates or (statistically relevant) shorter-than-average sentences to causally prove impropriety or bias. We also talked about the fact that judges are elected, but how little information a voter typically has to use to make a decision for or against an individual. Aggregate data could also show if a specific judge was stricter or more lenient, or tended to sentence certain demographics to shorter or longer sentences.

But before we could prove anything, we needed data to analyse. Ken and I found public court records, but it turned out we couldn’t download the entire data set. By entering common names into the search field I was, however, able to see sample records and figure out what format the data came in. Ken had to leave early, but I continued to search for other data while Ron wrote a program to bring the data into the form we needed, while Hailey started on the pitch, because it was clear we wouldn’t be able to finish the project on that day. Our idea had already morphed (sorry, pivoted) several times during the day, but during the writing of the pitch and justification it changed a few more times.

In the end, we presented, promised each other we were still interested and would keep working on it at the next Hackathon in June.

So, how do I feel about it now? The energy was very contagious and I believed in it, but once I got home it all seemed so remote and unproductive. I don’t know if we just tackled an “impossible” project (given the lack of accessible data) or what, but I guess I am not yet sold on the Hackathon concept. What do you think – have you participated in a hackathon? Did you accomplish something?

Here is the coverage in the press! Sacramento Press covers Sacramento’s first civic hackathon.

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Budding Irish Entrepreneurs take heed!

Just got this announcement from Fiona at NDRC –

I hope you are all well; I am delighted to invite you to the next Open Mic Idea Jam taking place on the Tuesday, 5th of March in The Stags Head, Dame Lane, Dublin 2 at 7pm.

I hope you can be there to pitch your own startup idea in 3 minutes to a friendly and knowledgeable audience or to just observe.

Free food and minerals and a great night guaranteed of course, it is a great opportunity to get us all together and they are always such fun. Bring your friends as well.

Register here

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Phone Phishing

I guess the phone number I got wasn’t out of service that long, because I get a lot of wrong numbers with the occasional telemarketer mixed in. First thing I did when I moved to California was put the home and cell numbers on the “do not call” list, but it hasn’t been that successful – especially among less-legitimate companies who are also spoofing their caller id displays. Today was a good example – the call came from “NAME NOT FOUND” at 1-000-000-0000, and the man on the line actually referred to me as Mum (as in classic James Bond fashion “How are you this morning, Mum?”). He then went on to tell me that he was calling from “The Microsoft Server” in regards to issues with computers in my house. I assured him there were no Microsoft computers in my house, but he seemed a little unclear on the concept. “No computers, Mum?”
“Plenty of computers, we just have better sense than to run Microsoft on them.”
“But a computer at this phone number contacted the Microsoft Server -” “No it didn’t. Take me off your phone list.”
“Mum, could I speak to the main computer user in your household?”

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So, yesterday I ran into a guy who was involved in a decision-making process that affects me that isn’t supposed to be announced until Friday, and because this decision is the only thing we know that we have in common, before long I said, “So, what’s the decision, or can’t you say until Friday?” and he answered “The decision is “no”, but don’t tell anyone.”
Well, I don’t feel terribly bound to honor the “promise” not to pass it on if he couldn’t be bothered to keep it to himself, but on the other hand, I don’t have enough information to satisfy all the questions that I would be asked if I did pass the information on, so I did keep it to myself. But knowing affects my behavior, and so I will be relieved tomorrow when it becomes public!

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Check out today’s Irish Times!

Just wanted to share this article in the Irish Times about Swequity. I am on the Gotcha Ninjas team. Final Swequity pitches are tomorrow (visit that link to request a ticket if you want to attend) then Launchpad pitches on Tuesday!

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Come sail away…

TheRedhead and I took an intro to sailing class today at Fingal Sailing School !- I know what you’re thinking – sculling wasn’t enough? No! I live on an island for a reason! And I have always loved anything to do with water, so when I got a BOGO offer for sailing, I cajoled until TheRedhead acquiesced. It actually got really tight – I bought the deal on Grab One back in April, but kept looking for the “right” weekend, and suddenly panicked when I realized it was going to expire in four weeks and the classes were filling up (partly because everyone else realized the same thing), so we took any class they were offering on the only day we both still had relatively free. And it was a really good laugh.

They put us out in Laser Picos with very little information (“If you want to turn point the tiller towards the sail. And if the boom is swinging across, duck. And stay within the markers because it is really windy.”) being more or less the extent of the class part of it, but I think it went really well. I was the first in the class to fall in the water, as the instructor took us out quickly one-on-one to go over the controls, and TheRedhead and I capsized the boat once when a really strong gust caught us and we couldn’t lean fast or far enough to counteract the balance, but other than that (actually, only one capsize might have put us at the head of the class!) it was a good two hours of sailing about and coordinating our actions! As we are looking for a house to buy and considering the proximity to water (canals, lakes and seas all being options), I am also debating whether a kayak, canoe, scull or -now- sailboat will fit in our garage or barna shed!

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Swequity moves forward ….

Fabulous Fiona has written a really nice blog post about Swequity pitch day. I enjoyed reading it, as I was so wound up that day I wasn’t able to keep track of everything. Hope it gives you another perspective on it as well. Bonus! I am in all the pictures illustrating the article (well, in one it is just my hair, and yes, I do know that they are mostly group shots …) – I feel so famous. Unfortunately our project only has a passing mention, but things are going well and I am sure when they report on the outcome we will be the headliners!

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Start up excitement!

Yay! I got word back recently from NDRC that I was accepted into their Swequity Exchange program. Swequity is a 5-week lean start-up program where “idea owners” are matched up with “qualified voluntary teams” made up of an entrepreneur, finance, marketing, graphic design, and technical professionals. And I was chosen to be the technical professional on one team!

So it started off on June 20th with all the people (teams, idea owners, mentors) in one room for an intro and ice-breaker session, then the idea owners split off for pitch practice and the teams did a team building activity. Then they sent us home, and didn’t bring us back until the 5th. The idea owners made their pitches, then the teams got together to discuss what we were looking for, then we made a pitch (what we could offer, what share of the company we wanted for our efforts) to the idea owners we were interested in. If more than one implementation team was interested, the idea owner could try to get the teams to bid against each other for lower shares or just pick the team with the skills he/she thought were most valuable.

So, we have a project! I can’t of course jump straight in and start development, so it is cool that for the most part the whole team is involved in the whole process, whether it is developing/fleshing out the idea, wording our UVP (unique value proposition), etc. In fact, today, the idea owner, Tony, asked a team member if she wanted to present the “lean canvas” we had developed to the whole program, because he thought we should take turns to make sure we were all vested. She said “no” (not sure why), and so I was asked if I would. I said, “Sure, no problem.” Maybe that wasn’t convincing enough, because I was given the opportunity to back out, I insisted it was really ok.

I gave the presentation, and asked if there were comments or questions – the whole room just looked at me. I asked again, and suddenly there was an explosion of hands. We discussed for a while, and when I went back to my team to sit down, Tony said that I was in charge of all public speaking for the team from now on! @Inventorium even tweeted about me!

So for the next couple weeks we have weekly Friday meetings for workshops (so far some really great talks including Raomal Perera and next week Nicola Riordan) and great support from the NDRC/Inventorium staff. I will post more once I have more to report!

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