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DaedTech Digest: The Time Our Slow Travel Lifestyle Broke US Customs

If you follow the DaedTech digst/slow-travel chronicles, you’ve probably noticed a theme.  I answer questions about slow travel and I offer general snippets into our life and what it’s like.

Usually, this probably makes it seem glamorous, or at least interesting.  We go cool places and do cool things.  But there are also aspects of it that can be weird, awkward, tiring, or even altogether negative.  I probably don’t talk about that enough, so let’s change that today with a little story.

A Day Trip to Montreal

We’re spending a month in a town called Newport, Vermont.  If you follow that maps link, you can see that we’re close enough to Canada that we could walk.  Seriously.  It’d be a pretty decent hike, but if we bundled up and made a day of it, we could walk to Canada.

So, naturally, we decided while we were here to visit Canada.  But, walking across the border wasn’t exactly what we had in mind.  So we headed to Montreal, a 2 hour drive, for a long day trip.  And we had a great time the whole day, from morning to late at night when we were driving home after midnight.

At least, we had a great time until we arrived at the US-Canada border and had to go through TSA, driving edition, at the border.

Usually, Border Crossing is a Non-Event For Me

Let me say at this point that I don’t know for sure why the customs guy treated us like we were smuggling black market textiles or whatever.  But I think it happened because our slow travel lifestyle blew his mental stack, which flipped him over into suspicious mode.

Now, I’m not exactly a cross-border commuter.  But I’ve driven across both US land borders enough to have a sense of how it goes for me, normally.  It ranges somewhere between “two halfhearted questions about where I went and why” to “wave indicating not to bother rolling down the window.”

I should say a couple of things at this point.

  1. I realize that there is a lot of “Caucasian male driving a Grand Cherokee” privilege baked into this being my normal experience.
  2. I’m not complaining about the experience I’m about to relate — just musing about why it was different.

And it was certainly different.

At about 1 AM, at the border crossing to Derby Line, Vermont, let’s just say that there isn’t a steady stream of traffic.  In fact, of the 20 minutes or so we spent being grilled by the border guy, the only other car that pulled up was right at the end (and might have been responsible for the merciful end to this bit of geographic bureaucracy).

So it’s a quiet scene.  An out of the way two lane highway giving way to 3 customs-toll-booth things only.

Fear and Loathing at the Border

At first, it seemed mostly unremarkable.  He asked that we roll down the back window, but it was the standard “where did you go and for how long?”

But then things got weird.

I quickly felt like I was in a procedural crime drama, and he was playing the part of Detective Goren.  I realized that he was asking syncopated questions to try to poke holes in my story.  He must have been a Criminal Intent fan also.

“Why did you go to Montreal?”

“Take out your car registration, please.”

“Where did you eat dinner in Montreal?”

“What’s the name of your street at home?”

“Turn off the car, please.”

“What’s the name of your business?”

“What did you say was the reason for going to Montreal?”

“Show me the confirmation for your AirBNB.”

It went on like this for 20 minutes while he popped our back hatch, searched the spare tire compartment, and alternated between three streams of interrogation.  I was on the tired side of 4 hours of roundtrip driving and a full day of walking around and exploring a city.  So I was not at the top of my game, and had a great deal of trouble by the end not making exasperated wisecracks about whether he wanted me to put my liquids in a separate plastic bag.

Why Did This Happen?  I Have a Guess

So, what gives?  As I said, I don’t know for sure.  It could be that he has a randomizer in his booth that alternates between “wave ’em through” and “do your best Porfiry immitation.”

But I think it was my answers to the initial stock questions.

We live in Michigan, theoretically.  And yet, here we were crossing the Canadian border in some remote location in Vermont.  We’d crossed from there for only a day trip, and told him that we were staying in Newport which is, apparently, a tiny town that attracts few visitors.  (The border agent even asked us dubiously, “what made you pick Newport” with a familiarity-breeds-contempt sneer for his surroundings.)

When he asked if were were in Newport for vacation, we exchanged a look and said, “sort of.”  When he asked how long we were there, and we told him a month, he scowled.  And then the syncopated interrogation began.

So, in the end, I think we found ourselves subjected to a protracted grilling and search because our life did not compute to this guy.  This happens in plenty of other contexts.  Heck, it takes this entire blog to explain how our life works.  But it doesn’t all that frequently happen in a context where someone has the ability to turn their own lack of understanding into a mildly threatening problem for us.

Live and learn, I suppose.  Not all slow travel stories are fun or glamorous.  But was it worth it?  It sure was.  Check out this view of Montreal from Mount Royal.

Picks

Usually these posts are fun and upbeat, but this one was a little different.  So let’s pick the positive energy back up with some picks.

  • You can’t go to Montreal without having some poutine, which we did.  At a restaurant dedicated to it, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
  • The next day, we wandered down to Burlington, Vermont, where the University of Vermont is.  We ate at a restuarant called Shanty on the Shore, overlooking Lake Champlain.  Lobster rolls and lobster made for a pretty New England-tastic dinner.
  • And, finally, I need to do something internet related, I suppose.  Someone in the Hit Subscribe Slack pointed out Gif Keyboard as a better alternative to Giphy.

The Digest

And, finally, the digest.

  • Here’s another video in our Facebook live series.  This one features a basic and a more advanced description of Hit Subscribe’s business model.
  • This week, we helped Sonatype live blog sessions from All Day DevOps.  Scroll through and you’ll find 4 of them from me, where I listen to the talks, synthesize, and summarize the messages as I understood them.
  • And, finally, I continued to solider on with our site for people to learn about the programming profession.  This is one about the education (or lack thereof) you need to become a programmer.

With that, as always, have yourselves a great weekend.

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Good Companies Don’t Ask You to Share. They Make You Want To

“So please, go ahead and share this with your social networks.”

I imagine that your company says stuff like this to you all the time.  So frequently, in fact, that you’re probably sorta numb to it.

  • Hey, we’re hiring!
  • Our company was just nominated for Who’s Who in American High School Students Companies!
  • We’ve got a new product release coming up!
  • Steve is talking at a networking event!

“So please, go ahead and share this with your social networks.”

It’s an Innocuous Request… And It’s Also Okay If This Rubs You Wrong

I can remember the first time I heard this.  Before, I’d spent the first part of my career working in companies that manufactured products, with software as only part of the equation.  Because of the developers’ relative anonymity and the relative newness of social networks, I never encountered any request like this.  It simply wouldn’t have come up.

But this particular year found me working at a shop selling app dev (and calling this “consulting”).  With the people as their product (or at least the people’s labor), the individual contributor software developers had more of a prominent role.  And so the request came.

“So please, go ahead and share this with your social networks.”

I don’t remember what it was that we were supposed to share or tweet or whatever the verb for that on LinkedIn is.  The company may have been asking for help with recruiting, marketing, sales, or something else.  It doesn’t matter.

For our purposes here, what matters to me is that this rubbed me the wrong way.

I didn’t really know why at the time, and it’s taken me years to start to understand why.  I wasn’t embarrassed to work there or anything.  It was… a place that gave me money in exchange for labor. And that’s a thing that most people do.  The request wasn’t onerous and it didn’t compromise my morals and ethics in any way.  Even the fact that it was a request to do something of value for free occurred to me, but didn’t bother me.

Still, though.  I didn’t like the request and didn’t do it.

Years later, this request is probably much more common.  For the rest of the post, I’m going to expand on why this might rub you wrong, why that’s okay, and what should happen instead.

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DaedTech Digest: Exploring the Northeast

As with last week’s slow travel chronicle, I’m going to continue with a temporary break from answering reader questions.  (Though by all means, keep firing away with them.  I’ll get back to answering in due time — I just think it’s probably interesting to chronicle as I go, for those interested in this lifestyle).

The Vermont Countryside

Last Sunday, we found ourselves picking our way through underbrush, scrambling up a mountainside on rocks here and there and stepping over roots.  It was muddy, dreary, and generally damp, but the rain held off.

If you want a feel for it, look at the picture below.  We made an afternoon of hiking along Lake Willoughby, with a view of Mt. Pisgah, in Northern Vermont.  In this picture, we were looking out at the lake.  Our hike would take us through those trees and the bottom of the cliff faces on the left hand side.

This has been somewhat emblematic of our time here so far.  Dreary, chilly, incredibly scenic, and lots of natural sightseeing.

The day before, we hiked a bit by Jay Peak, and then just drove around the area, looking at the leaves changing over the scenic, rolling hills and small mountains.  But even on non-weekends, we’ve been making a point to take walks along nearby Lake Memphremagog or else to do short drives.

We’re getting our money’s worth with this excursion, peepling all the leaves there are to peep.

It’s Sightseeing… And Lots of Work

But apart from occasional snatches of tourism, we’ve been working a lot as our business grows in size and scope.  We’ve got a nice, spacious house that’s well appointed, and we’re set up to run the business.  So we do.

We’ve eaten a lot of utilitarian meals and spent a lot of weekdays working from the time we wake up until we go to sleep.  Logistics and errands bring us into town, and we’ve dined out a couple of times.  But mostly, we’re having the sort of weeks you’d have while busy at the office.

No television, no social life or plans, no movie nights, and no casual hobbies.  Such is this stint of slow travel.  We’re either working, or we’re exploring Vermont.

I won’t complain…

Picks

  • I’m using Hubspot for a CRM, and it’s been pretty great for a free service.  Oh, yeah, it’s completely free.  So if you have a CRM that needs to grow beyond a spreadsheet, I’d give it a look.
  • I have an Amazon prime membership, and I’ve been listening to Amazon music or Prime music or whatever it’s called this week.  I’ve been pleased with the selection.

The Digest

Hey, whaddya know — I actually did some stuff this week.  For the second straight week!

  • Here’s a Hit Subscribe video from over the summer where Amanda and I (in a hammock) talk about how and why we founded the business.
  • For any of you who are fans of my codebase research series, here’s another one.  I looked at what codebase properties extension methods correlate with.  Do they make your code cleaner?  Not really…
  • Finally, on the Hit Subscribe experiment site, make me a programmer, I wrote a post answering some common questions about how non-programmers interact with a dev team.  This site’s target audience is non-programmers thinking of transitioning into the field, but I don’t imagine that precludes any of you savvy veterans from taking a look.

And with that, as always, have yourselves a good Friday and a good weekend.  And stay tuned next week for an account of our experience driving to Montreal.  (Probably.)

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How to Write Software: 5 Lessons Learned from Running Businesses

I used to write software for a living.  I did that for a lot of years, as a matter of fact. And, in doing so, I learned a lot about how to write software.

But I learned this from the perspective of, well, a wage software developer.  Today, I’d like to reflect on how my view has evolved over the last number of years.

Software as a Software Developer versus Software as a Business Owner

As longtime followers of this blog know, I’ve had a meandering career.  I started this blog as a software developer, new to moonlighting.  Eventually I moved into management and then started doing developer training activities.  From there, it was a number of years of consulting.  And finally, these days, I’m mostly running a business that is growing rapidly.

I say all this not to treat you to an unsolicited autobiography, but rather to set the scene and to help explain what I’ve been doing between my last full time software development gig and now.

These days, for Hit Subscribe, I’ve started writing software again.  I don’t do it full time, by any stretch.  But I am building a line of business app used directly by four of us and indirectly by something like 30 people.  So it’s not my primary living, but it’s not trivial either, in terms of importance or scope.

Dedicating some time to this has caused me to reflect on how my perspective has changed.  Don’t get me wrong.  I never stuck my head in the ground pretended “the business” didn’t exist or didn’t matter.  But then again, I never was the business, either.  It was never my money in play.

Now that it is, here are some musings.  And please bear in mind that I’m not teeing these up as lessons you learn.  They are simply how my perspective is different.

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DaedTech Digest: Notes from the Road in Vermont

It’s Friday, which means it’s time for yet another slow travel blog/digest post.  If you’d like to catch up on the category, you can read previous editions here.  I’ve mainly been answering questions people ask me about the slow travel lifestyle.  But, since we just packed up did a mini-move to Vermont, I figured I’d chronicle the experience in more live fashion.

On the Road: Heading to Vermont

As I’ve described in the past, we have a house on a lake in Michigan.  That feels to us like an idyllic spot, so we tend to stay there in the summer, almost slow-traveling at a property that we own.

So for us, there’s summer and then there’s 9 months of slow travel season.  And now, it’s slow travel season.

So last Saturday, we packed up for a month of travel, pulled all of the boats out of the lake, and got ready to go.  Sunday morning, we packed up the car, wrangled our cats. and hit the road.  Since the drive to Newport, Vermont takes around 15 hours, we split it into two days, stopping at a cat-friendly hotel in Rochester, New York.

Once you’re past Eastern Ohio, the whole drive along the southern coast of the Great Lakes becomes a pretty one.  The trip treated us to rocky countryside, leaves starting to change, rolling hills, and lots of woods and small towns.

Settling in for a Month of Slow Travel

And now, here we are, settled and resuming normal life.  Unpacking typically takes an evening, with complete settling in happening after a day.  With slow travel, there’s always the initial supply run as well.  This consists of groceries, whatever you’ve forgotten to pack (there’s always something), and stuff you discover you need.  For instance, I forgot to pack a keyboard and mouse, so I bought those at a local Walmart, along with a wifi range extneder because the router here is kind of iffy on one side of the house.

Once settled, we really try to absorb the local everything.  Amanda went out to a local grocer last night and got gourmet Vermont maple syrup, some kind of locally made steak/chicken rub, and even this maple-flavored sparkling water, which I admittedly view with some skepticism.

We’re on a lake, so, in spite of some rainy weather since arrival, I’ve made a point to jog along its shore and into the town.  We’ve gone for day and night walks, discovering a worryingly friendly skunk that lives underneath a neighbor’s house, and getting to know what shops and restaurants are nearby.  And, I took immediate and full advantage of the view I have for the next month while enjoying my morning coffee.

Picks

And with that, let’s do some picks.

  • Last week, Amanda found this app, GoodRX, which let her get a prescription for like half the price.  I can’t speak directly to it myself, but that sort of savings means it’s probably worth a look.
  • I’ve signed up for a trial of ahrefs, a keyword research and SEO tool, and I’ve found it to be extremely helpful in finding good post topics.

The Digest

And, hey, look at that, the internet has published some actual blog posts that I’ve written this week.

Happy Friday and, as always, have yourselves a good weekend.