On Versioning Things

Here are a couple mechanisms that I use to version things.  When I say “things,” I basically mean software and documents.

Versioning Software Components

When I version software components I use Semantic Versioning.  Hopefully you’ve heard of this and if you haven’t, you should go read it right now. Semantic Versioning, also known as “SemVer,” lays out what the major, minor and patch version numbers mean in an x.y.z style version number.

As the name implies, this is the go-to choice when you need to give a version not only a unique identifier, but an identifier which contains a lot of semantic data about its relation to other versions of the thing in question.

(A side note: If you use SemVer, when you release your first version, please bite the bullet and start with version 1.0.0.  Resist the temptation to start at 0.0.1 unless you’ve got a really good reason to do so.  Nine times out of ten you don’t!)

Versioning Documents

When versioning documents, I don’t need a versioning mechanism with (much) semantic meaning.  So, I use a simpler convention.

I also stared doing this because I would find that people would always try to infer meaning from an x.y.z style version number–even in the absence of a formal definition of the digits.  And anyway, in cases like these I just need a convention which clearly identifies the uniqueness and ordering of versions.

Many years ago I adopted the convention of using revision letters in this situation.  I think I saw this being used on hardware documentation early in my career.  The full convention I uses is “Rev A,” followed by “Rev B” and so on.  I usually don’t get past “C.”  Pretty self-explanatory!

Examples of this would include something like “Hiring Plan 2H2013 — Rev A” or “Budget — Rev C.”

I hope you found that useful!

Tracy Hoy Clark Sold My Condo

I want to take  a few words to recount my recent and very positive experience selling my condo with Tracy Hoy Clark of Chobee Hoy Associates Real Estate in Brookline Village.  I retained Tracy after my condo had languished on the market for 10 months with two other realtors.  Five days later I had an offer which exceeded my expectations.

Tracy quickly came up with a pricing strategy and marketing approach to salvage my disaster of a sale.  She’s very knowledgeable about the area and the market.

At all times she was to the point and made things happen.  She just handled it.  Most of our communication was by text (and some email) which I appreciated.  (I’m not sure if this is always her preferred way to communicate, or if she just listend to what I said to her when we first met.  Either way, yay.)

One place where Chobee Hoy need to up their game is on their website contact form.  I initially tried to get in touch this way and it took a day for someone to get back to me. (Compare this with their Brookline Village competitor who got back to me in 10 minutes.)  However, after that small bump, we were off and running.

Your mileage may vary, but consider me one very happy customer.  If you’re in Brookline Village, Coolidge Corner, Washington Square or anywhere else in Brookline looking for a realtor, I don’t know how you’re going to do better.

Working From The C3

I’ve taken up residence at the Cambridge Coworking Center (a.k.a C3) which resides within the Cambridge Innovation Center in Kendall Square.  Below are my thoughts after working there for a little over a month as well as some thoughts about working from home vs. not as a single entrepreneur.

First, some background.  I’ve been pursuing a project for the last few months and had been working out of my home.  The benefits of working out of the house were: affordability, close proximity, quiet and comfort.  What’s not to love!?

Plenty, it turns out!

Working From Home

The location isn’t great after all (well, for a web or software company.)  I live in Brookline.  I’m at a stage where I’m attending a lot of events and out meeting people, usually in Kendall Square or a couple of the usual locations.  So, I was spending a lot of time traveling between those places and my house.  And, frankly, sometimes on cold and dark January nights, that trip kept me from getting out to as many events as I should have.

Home can be distracting.  I’m a pretty disciplined guy and I can work intently for long periods of time on my own, but boy, did I find the house distracting after a while!  Doing laundry, emptying the dishwasher would all become more pressing as I wrestled with a tough problem.  And I felt as more time went by, this was getting worse.

Home can be isolating, and this is what really put me over the top.  Even though I was getting out, I was really by myself for hours and hours and somedays days at a time.  I was getting into a negative feedback loop of sorts where the less contact I had with people, the less contact I sought.  This is exactly not what I needed to be doing as I developed my project.

Working From the C3

I decided to fix the problem.  I’d attended many events at the CIC and had heard about the C3 and frankly I have a real bias towards Kendall Square.  The price was right, and so after a quick tour, I became a resident at C3.  After a month, I have to say that I’m a happy camper.

The facility itself is great.  You get a non-dedicated place to sit, to put your laptop, a power outlet and a wireless network connection.  So, pretty much everything you need! The furniture and the building itself are the nicest I’ve experienced in my career at startup and early stage companies (where the furniture is always second hand and crappy and the roof always leaks.)

There are “phone booth” rooms where you can take or make a calls, conference rooms, as well as printers and copiers.  And there’s food and drink: apples, bananas, pears, chips, cereal, nuts, yogurt, ice cream, soda, coffee, espresso, and I’ve forgotten a bunch of other stuff.  Nothing is metered which is zero-hassle and thus awesome.

There are other people there.  I find being around smart, hard working and energetic people motivating.  Seeing other people passionately executing on their projects challenges me to to the same.

It should be said though, that the C3 is not a clubhouse.  And while many people seem to know each other well, it’s clear that this is a product of time and people getting to know each other.  (I bring this up because coworking spaces have often been portrayed to me as places where everyone is working shoulder to shoulder, and I find that this, unsurprisingly, isn’t the case.  People to whom I’ve spoken at other Boston/Cambridge coworking spaces have recounted similar experiences to me.  I’d be interested to hear others’ experiences.)

The location is choice.  I get an electric buzz just from working in Kendall.  The C3 itself is steps away from the Kendall/MIT Red Line stop.  The C3 in turn, is steps away from the places where Boston web community startups and startup events happen: CIC (in the same building,) NERD, Dogpatch, or Voltage.  Getting to Central Square or over to MassChallenge (or #WhiskeyFriday) is just a short Red Line trip away.  Plus, I get to see my good friends who work in Kendall more often.

In Closing

It’s been a very positive experience so far.  I’m having more fun and I’m getting more done.  I think the cost of the space ($250/month) is made up for in increased productivity, increased sanity, and reduced travel times!

Seven Days with 99designs

Someone recently said to me regarding creating an identity (a.k.a. logo) for a startup “[if] you need a logo real bad, that’s just how you’ll get it.”  So, it was with interest I followed a friend’s recent experience using 99designs to source a logo.

99designs is a web site based in Australia where a community of designers compete to create a designs (e.g. logo, WordPress template) for you.  You submit a design brief and offer a prize.  They submit entries.  After a number of days, you pick a winner and award a prize.

Anyway, this person’s experience is recounted here for your enjoyment and edification.

Day 1

Taking the leap and giving 99designs a try to see if I can source a logo.  I’ve carefully crafted the design brief and tried to keep it implementation-free so designers will be able to exercise their creativity and delight with the unexpected.  I’ve added $100US to the base prize in hopes this will attract higher quality designs.

The first design is submitted within hours.  This is exciting!  I provide a message of thanks to the designer, consider it and provide some thoughtful feedback.

Day 2

Overnight, lots of pointy people have appeared.  I didn’t ask for pointy people, so I don’t know why so many of them are being submitted.  Single pointy people, pointy people couples and teams of pointy people.

The rate of submissions is increasing.

For the first time, I eliminate all of a designer’s submissions.  I’m informed that they’ve in turn “withdrawn all of their designs.”  A brief moment of remorse.

Day 3

Up to 40 designs this morning.  It is getting difficult to keep up in any meaningful way.  It simply takes too much time to provide thoughtful feedback when people keep throwing three or four (bad) designs against the wall at a time.  So much for this being a background task!

I’ve been asked by 99designs to guarantee that I will choose a winner and award the prize.  Wanting to maintain the health of my contest, I wait a few hours and then do as advised.

All hell breaks loose!

Pointy people galore.

Day 4

It’s getting really ugly in here.  In the comments there are now allegations that people are using clip art!

More seriously, there are allegations of plagiarism!  The guy in Indonesia is claiming the guy in the Philippines has stolen his design.  He offers as proof links to other contests where he’s submitted the same design!  (Hey, thanks for reading my design brief.)  There are demands that designs are withdrawn and threats of escalation.

I update the design brief to forbid any more pointy people and kumbaya groups.  I begin eliminating these with malice.

I remove the word “Web 2.0″ from the title of my design contest.  At one point, I thought this would attract energetic design, but apparently in the other hemisphere this roughly translates to “pointy people.”

Designs are coming in faster than I can review them. I tell people to stop spamming me
with designs. Ask them to spend a few minutes reviewing the brief instead of creating that 10th extra design.  Nobody listens.

I can’t take three more days of this.

Day 5

Another deluge overnight.  Ugh.

People have been addressing me as “CH” for days.  I only now realize this means “contest holder.”  People keep asking in broken English “Hey, CH, you like my design?” in a way that reminds me of kids in post-war Europe saying “Hey Joe, baseball!”  Charming.

I’ve eliminated 50 designs today without any feedback or even a thank you. I’ve become a numbed brute.

All signs of decorum are long gone.  The center cannot hold.

Day 6

My preferred design has disappeared.  What!?

I reach out to the designer and it turns out that he’s been banned because of the allegations by the Indonesian guy a few days ago.  Super.  He contacts me via his girlfriend’s account and gives me his email address.

That’s great, but I’ve got to award the prize to someone who is still in the contest.  And this communication is probably in violation of the terms of use.

I’m at a loss.  After the money and the substantial amount of time I’ve invested, I can’t believe I’m not even going to get my preferred derivative design!  I should have just bought Illustrator and made my own logo.  It would have been cheaper, faster and less hassle.  (Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration.)

I write 99designs telling them I want my design back.  It’s early Sunday in Sydney.  I do not know if I will hear from them before my contest ends.

Day 7

The last day.

I’ve stayed away most of the previous day after the plaigerism debacle.  Just the occasional visit to summarily dispatch a handful of designers.

I awake to another 40 designs, more allegations of plagiarism and no word from 99designs.  It’s late Sunday night in Sydney  and I’m on the East Coast of the United States.  I’ll either have to pay to extend the contest, or just choose another design.

I prepare to abandon the kid in the Philippines in favor of the kid in Serbia who has recently appeared on the scene.  I ignore everyone else and work through a few iterations with him.  He points out some interesting things he’s done with fonts in the logotype.   I decide it’s good enough and declare him the winner.

We quickly work through the handoff process.  A couple of questions back and forth.  I get my design files and he gets his money.

Four-hundred and ten designs and 7 days later, it is over.

More Gushing Over the MassTLC unConference

Last Thursday, I somehow found myself at the MassTLC Innovation 2010 unConference.  It’s two days later and my reaction is still “Wow” (well, actually “Kakow!”)  This was the single best professional event I’ve ever attended and that was the prevailing opinion of the other attendees with whom I chatted.

Me listening to Jeff Taylor preside over a session on branding. (Dan Bricklin)

In the course of a day I was able to talk with entrepreneurs, executives, venture capitalists, financial professionals, online media, the traditional press, and just lots of smart and interesting people.  The vibe was casual and supportive.  Every session introduced an idea that changed the way I think or what I’m doing.

Check out that photo!  It’s a picture of me sitting about five feet away from freakin’ Jeff Taylor (Founder of Monster) leading a session on branding!  The photo is taken by freakin’ Dan Bricklin (co-creator of VisiCalc!)  (You can see more of Dan’s photos of the event here.)

Thanks to Bill Warner and all of the other fine folks who gave their time, attention and knowledge.  See you in 2011!

Note to Self: Smile and Be Nice

I had lunch at Chik-fil-A yesterday.  I didn’t meant to.

Here’s the story: I’m at the Burlington Mall running errands and needed to grab lunch quickly.  So, off to the food court to get a meal at one of the handful of establishments there.  I’m pretty ambivalent about each but end up in line at Chik-fil-A.

While waiting (briefly) in line, I realized I ended up there not because the food was any tastier, healthier or cheaper, but because they’re friendly, courteous and efficient.  And they seem genuinely happy to see me!

This is something I should remember.

My First Appearance on the Internet

I thought I’d kick off my latest contribution to the Internet by trying to dig up my earliest.   Near as I can tell, it’s a post to the alt.angst Usenet newsgroup (now subsumed by Google Groups) in a post entitled “Ignore This” dated July 26, 1993.

Here follows the post in its entirety.

It just won’t finish itself…


I have no idea to what it was that wouldn’t finish!