DaedTech

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DaedTech Digest: Fear and Loathing at the Ben & Jerry’s Factory

We’ve had a good run in Northern Vermont (and a little in Canada), but we’re going to be wrapping up soon and heading back to Michigan.  (Well, actually, to Chicago-land, but that’s a different and sort of boring story.)  So we’re trying to sneak in all of the site-seeing while we can.

This led us, last weekend, to put on our best tourist hats.  And, if you’re a tourist in northern Vermont, especially on a day with rain in the forecast, you kind of have to tour the Ben & Jerry’s factory.  We looked on the site, thought it seemed fun, and noticed they took no reservations.  So we headed out for a 40 minute drive there to watch them make ice cream and then eat it.

Bedlam at the Ice Cream Factory Led to an Accidentally Awesome Day

It was a solid plan, but it all went terribly wrong.  I’m an introvert that prefers a massive bubble of personal space, and who doesn’t much care for touching strangers or being touched by them.  I loathe dense crowds.

We walked into the Ben & Jerry’s plant, and it appeared that the entire population of Vermont was in the lobby. There was yelling, jostling, pushing and crowding.  The air had to be 10 degrees warmer than anyone would have selected on a thermostat.  It was like elbowing through the crowd at the Louvre straining to catch a glimpse of the Mona Lisa, but instead of the Mona Lisa, there was Funky Monkey.  Someone almost knocked Amanda over trying to get to the ticketing window.

And so, with no ill will toward Ben or Jerry, we bid a hasty retreat.

When Life Gives You Lemons, Leave them at Ben & Jerry’s and Let Them Make Lemon Ice Cream

This was a pretty big bummer because we found ourselves with no plans for the day at about noon.  But it actually worked out great.  We meandered over in our car to nearby Montpelier, where we discovered a mountain/forest preserve in the middle of the town.  We spent about 2 hours hiking around, and then decided to drive to Peacham, Vermont because it had a good view, or so Yelp or something said.

Peacham did have a good view.  Spectacular, in fact.  But there was really nothing there and nowhere to park, so we drove through it and just kept driving.  We found ourselves in a town called Littleton, right across the New Hampshire border.

Littleton was a really scenic town with a long river walk, shops and restaurants stretching out a long ways, and even a brewery restaurant and tasting house overlooking the river.  We passed delighted hours at a place neither of us had ever heard of that morning.

The moral of the story?  One of the beautiful things about slow travel is that it lets you turn busted tourist plans into unstructured days where you discover views like this one.

Picks

  • This week, I purchased a LinkedIn premium subscription (er, well, Hit Subscribe did).  I’m not exactly throwing it an endorsement, but it is interesting.  I think it sort of escalates anything you share as a priority, and it gives you a lot of extra data about companies and people and whatnot.  It’s free for a month, so, if you’re curious, you can always satisfy that curiosity.
  • I’m going to throw a nod to Amazon’s KDP interface for publishers of books.  Historically, one of my biggest gripes was how disjoint the metrics tracking experience is for publishers, but Amazon has been taking noticeable steps to improve this.
  • If you want Alexa on your Windows desktop, you can do it.  It’s not as easy as it seems like it should be, but you can make it happen nonetheless.

The Digest

  • Here’s another Hit Subscribe Facebook live video, in which we describe what it’s like to write for Hit Subscribe.
  • We’d been a little remiss in publishing new episodes of the Freelancers show, but we remedy that this week.  Here’s one where we talk about what to do when your clients are wrong about something that they want your help with.
  • On the new Make Me a Programmer Blog, I weigh in about why I think title differences like “software engineer” and “software developer” have no actual impact on what the jobs entail.

As always, have yourselves an excellent weekend.

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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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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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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.

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DaedTech Digest: Packing Edition and What We Take

As I mentioned in a recent digest post, we’re heading to Vermont in a few days, where we’ll stay for a month.  Since mentioning that, we’ve gotten questions about leaving our house unoccupied and about what packing is like.  Since I answered the former last week, I’ll answer the latter this week.

What Does One Pack for a Month?  Necessities

I’m going to try to resist the impulse to turn this post into my packing list.  Instead, I will simply mention that I make a packing list.  I use Trello for the packing list, and tend to reuse the same one each time we vagabond.  So, protip, I guess.

But, in terms of what we take, let me lay it out in broad strokes.  Amanda and I each pack a large duffel’s worth of clothing, representing about 10 days to 2 weeks’ worth of clothes.

This can be surprisingly lightweight or a little bulky, depending on the weather.  Not so much cold vs. warm, but how variable.  For instance, we’re going to Vermont for October, which means that we might encounter anything from t-shirt weather to frost and snow.  This means we need to pack more stuff.  If we were just going to, say, the Equator or to Alaska, we could bank on one kind of weather and pack more lightly.

From there, we pack certain necessities.  This includes our cats and their stuff.  It also includes my fairly meaty computer setup.  That actually speaks for most of the cargo space in our Jeep, with the rest going on top.

And Then, the Other Stuff

Work, animals and clothing is the core of our packing efforts.  But we also bring some things we could live without.  I always haul around a bag of electronics, which includes a few Alexa devices, a cordless phone, power strips, and other stuff I tend to like having.  Amanda brings a small suitcase thing full of makeups and nail polishes and such.

After that, the other main thing that we bring is some foldable, economical furniture.  This includes a folding chair and a folding table, in case the place we’re going doesn’t have a serious desktop setup. (We’ve learned from experience after buying these things upon arrival, when the AirBNB doesn’t have a desk.)  We also, space-permitting, will bring things like little bedside fans or humidifiers/dehumidifiers.  Again, things we’ve purchased after arrival and learned to take with.

And, speaking of buying things after arrival, I’ll close with this note.  You’ll always buy some stuff after arrival.  Assume that you’ll spend a couple hundred dollars when you get onsite, buying fans, cheap tables, coffee makers, or other things that aren’t there and that you realize that you need only after seeing they aren’t there.

And that’s packing.

Picks

  • This is kind of a weird one, but I want to throw a nod to Quest Diagnostics.  Following a routine physical, I had to go for routine blood tests, and that experience can be anything but routine.  But with Quest, I made an appointment online, showed up a little early, and they had me in and out in 5 minutes or so.  Remarkably efficient.
  • This past weekend, my old Fitbit dipped to an unacceptable battery life after a respectable 2.5 years.  So we went out looking for one during the middle of our Hit Subscribe outing in Chicago.  At a Target, at like 9 PM on a Saturday, we found a Fitbit Flex 2 on clearance for $29.99.  It’s lightweight, holds a good charge, and has been making me pretty happy so far.
  • Speaking of Hit Subscribe, I can’t help but do a slight bit of homer bragging.  We’ve been growing and bringing on more people and we now have our first employee that isn’t me or Amanda.

The Digest

I’m kind of light on written things of late.  I’ve done a few, but clients have yet to publish them, and I’ve been doing more video and audio content, lately.  So, in that vein, I’ll offer some new media for the digest, all of which are videos.

  • First, here’s a Youtube video on the Hit Subscribe channel where I describe topic planning for clients.
  • Amanda and I have also been doing Facebook Live videos about running a remote business.  Here’s the first one we ever did, a couple of months ago in Durango, CO.
  • And here’s the second Facebook Live (pardon the wind).

And, as always, have a great weekend, folks!