The Brilliance of Simplicity

I have always admired businesses who thrive on a simple concept/idea. I believe that if you do one thing really well you can make a good living doing exactly that. I have recently come across a couple of products in this category that I just had to blog about.

The first product is something I found via Shark Tank and while it is extremely simple it has proved to be quite valuable. The product is called Drop Stop and it is simply a neoprene casing filled with hypoallergenic polyester fiberfill. It "installs" quickly and easily by sliding the opening over your seat belt catch and pushing the Drop Stop down between the seat and the center console. Once installed you can no longer drop your cell phone, money, parking ramp ticket, etc between your seat and center console. Again, this sounds so simple it is almost silly but think about how distracting and dangerous it can be if you drop something that you need and have to try and dig for it while driving, not a good scenario. After getting two of them for my wife and myself, I went and got them for my parents as well. After only a few months we have all had experiences where the Drop Stop "caught" something that would have otherwise fallen into the horrible oblivion known as that space between the seat and center console.

The next product which has been a real game changer for me is something known as Kinesiology Tape. More specifically I have been using a brand called KT Tape which is available on Amazon, CVS, Target, and many other retailers. The short version of what it does goes like this: by taping problematic muscles/areas you are effectively lifting the layer of skin and attached tissue covering the muscle so that blood and other fluids can move more freely in and around that area which helps to increase mobility. By just having the tape in place over the affected muscle you are also "tricking" the muscle into thinking that it is being better supported which in turn causes the muscle to relax. I have two herniated discs in my neck (C5-6, C6-7) so really everything from playing sports to doing long coding sprints bothers my shoulders/neck. I have been taping religiously now for a couple weeks and have noticed a huge improvement while doing anything athletic as well as standing/sitting for long periods. The tape generally stays on for about 2-3 days (even with showering) so you can really "stretch" (get it?) your dollar. I recommend buying the uncut strips because they are quite a bit cheaper and often times it's nice to be able to customize the length of each strip.

So at their core what do we have here? A neoprene casing filled with polyester and some fancy tape. While neither of those things sound particularly brilliant, the way that they are marketed/used are exactly that, brilliant. I am a tech guy and I love complex, (sometimes) over engineered things as much as the next geek but some of the best things in life are the most simplistic.

Successful Consulting

Working a full-time job and being a consultant definitely has its challenges but also provides a lot of great opportunities. These opportunities include the obvious which is making more money (always a good thing) but also to grow, learn and do things how you want them done which isn't always possible when working for someone else. In this article I talk a little bit about my role as a consultant, some tools that I use and the approches I take to maintain a good balance between work, life, family and fun.

8/21/2011 - Sunday Coding Session
Sunday Coding Session

I am (and have been for the last 5 years) a software engineer and database administrator for the Nevada System of Higher Education. It's a fairly demanding job with a lot of responsibility but having a heavy workload and a lot of things that I am responsible for is a big part of why I enjoy it. Generally I spend about 45 hours a week in the office and do some additional work after hours but I try to keep that in check and not let it get out of control. As far as consulting goes I have a monthly commitment to The Nevada Museum of Art where I work as a software/database engineer and typically I also have about 1-3 other projects going on that I poke away at in my spare time.

Tools that I use to keep everything going smoothly:

  • Evernote - I use Evernote for all of my note taking. Whenever a client calls and has ideas or suggestions I log them in Evernote. This product syncs across all of my devices (computers, phones, tablets, etc) and is really the best of its kind.
  • Freshbooks - I use this for all my invoicing/bookkeeping and I have absolutely no complaints. It's a very slick system and takes care of a lot of the tedious grunt work related to invoicing.
  • Google Calendar - Staying organized is key. With Google Calendar and its alert system I can make plans/appointments months out and have the system notify me weeks, days, hours or even minutes before a specific event/task needs to occur. If these alerts are set up properly it is very easy to stay on top of everything you have going on.
  • iPhone - All alerts are sent to my iPhone (as well as my email) and I can access Freshbooks, Google Calendar and Pivotal Tracker right from my phone so that I can always stay updated and provide feedback while I am on the go. There are other mobile devices that would enable me to do this but nothing does it better than the iPhone.
  • Pivotal Tracker - PT is a terrific online project management system that works very well with a small or large group of contributors. We use it to track all bugs, feature requests, etc and it works very well. The interface is slick and it has just about every feature you would want from a system like this.

In order to maintain a healthy balance I think it is essential to block out specific times for getting work done and specific times for having fun. Obviously things can come up which need to be addressed immediately but for the most part sticking to these schedules and making time for family is the best thing you can do. I love what I do and could probably sit around and write code all day every day but when it's all said and done nothing beats spending time with my family. Keeping a good balance will help prevent burnout and ensure that you aren't letting your priorities get out of sync.

The World In Links [8/22-8/28/2011] -- Business, Nodejs, PHP, Photography

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Nodejs: ldapjs is a pure JavaScript framework for implementing LDAP clients/servers in Nodejs.

Photography: 6 fun things to do with your Instagram photos.

Startup: Steps to take when launching a startup from the perspective of a lawyer.

Tutorial: A step-by-step tutorial on creating an advanced Twitter widget with jQuery and PHP.