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Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

Ten years? Really?

In 2001 my work life was all about Conversant, my personal life was all about Corinne, Shane, and a house full of cats and birds.

I don't remember much about 2002, except that I reconnected with Steve Davis, someone I've known practically since I was a baby. We've always had our faith in common, and found that now we also have our bikes.

Two years later Shane was gone. That's all that year (2004) was about. Nothing else mattered. Hanging on to Corinne, propping her up, making sure she understood how much I love her and need her still, and trying to help her cope with a pain that defies belief.

2005 was a pretty big year. It included the release of Firefox Hacks (my first time in print!), tutoring the Pride kids (Avonlee and Ethan) in math, the PMC and its software auctions, the main author of Firefox Hacks (Nigel McFarlane) committed suicide, Corinne and I met the crew of the Atlantia, Jed moved in with us, I made friends with Jimmy Lehn (morning DJ at a local radio station), and we celebrated Thanksgiving at the Westerly WARM shelter. Finally, 2005 was the year I first started playing with Prototype. (Wow, i can't believe it was that long ago.)

In 2006 I met Greg Pierce years after he had worked for me at Macrobyte, my friend Darren and his wife Angi brought home their adoptees from Nepal, I wrote the "custom events" code for JavaScript that is *still* being used on Apple's web pages, attended the first Rails Conf, and I finally got to meet and begin forming a friendship with Rich Siegel and started working on language modules for his company's main software product, BBEdit. Jed left us, and headed for British Columbia and the woman he would eventually marry. Finally, we met Mike and Shannon late in the year.

2007 was unreal. If not for the pictures, most of it would be forgotten. I helped man the booth for Bare Bones at MacWorld Expo. Mike and Shannon moved in with us. Lauren was born! Mike and Shannon went away for a while. We did our best with Lauren and truly, completely fell in love with her. Visited her parents a lot. Finally met Jim Roepcke and Sean McMains at the second RailsConf (while Corinne stayed home with lauren). Jed married Alycia (and I got to attend, way out there in B.C., while Corinne AGAIN stayed home with Lauren), my grandfather turned eighty, Jed and Alycia came out for a visit (and haven't been back since), Corinne and I celebrated our tenth anniversary, and my sister and brother-in-law had their third daughter.

Shannon came hom again in January of '08. Lauren started walking and talking, and turned one. We got news (on the day Shannon came hom) that the house was being sold so we'd have to move (after ten years). Corinne, Ellyn and Lauren went to FL (Lauren's first plane ride). Richie (Shannon's eldest) came to live with us. My parents came to live with us, for a few months. I went to FL in October with Ellyn and the grandparents to pack them up and move them to Ellyn's house. The year ended with a terrible sprained ankle and a move from Mystic to Westerly.

In January of '09, Mike came home and the family was all back together. Unfortunately, in June they all left again. The relationship slowly thawed, but then in September they disappeared to North Carolina without warning and we thought they (especially Lauren) were gone forever. We got a ten day visit with Lauren in October, but taking her home was the second most difficult and painful thing I've ever done.

2010 started out with a brief visit from the Deanes, but after that the contact (via Skype or telephone) dwindled to nothing within a few months. I entered a serious depression (my first), which I tried to fill or bury with World of Warcraft. In March a rainstorm tried to wipe RI off the map, and in May I was brutally attacked by some blood clots that came from nowhere and landed in my left lung (killing part of it). In June, the Deanes moved back to the area, and we got regular visits with Lauren again. It took her a few minutes to remember us, but once she did it was like we were never apart.

As I write this, Lauren and Corinne are sleeping in my bed, above my office, just a few feet right over my head. I don't know what changes are coming our way next, but right now we have joy and I'm taking nothing for granted.

Happy New Year, everybody.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

2009 PMC Fundraising is Complete

I posted about this on the project's news page, but I should mention it here, too: my goal was $10,000, but we (not I) raised closer to $22,000. Follow that link for details, including some cool stats about the bundles and the project.

Friday, September 11, 2009

PMC Fundraising: Winding Down

My PMC fundraising efforts are winding down for the year. We've raised almost $18,000!

That all adds up to 17,751.76.

We've delivered 228 bundles so far, and still have another 28 somewhere in the pipeline (either waiting for payment or we're waiting for registration codes).

(I keep saying "we" because Corinne and Cindy are still helping me.)

We're going to keep accepting offers for a few more days.

On the technology side, I'll mention that this morning I totally rewrote the code which decides if a bundle will be accepted. In the process I made it fairer, and lowered the price points at which an offer will be accepted.

It's all based on percentages. First it divides your offer by the total retail value of your bundle to get the bundle's "offer percentage." So if you offer $50 for a bundle that's worth $100, the bundle's offer percentage is 50%. Then it figures out the minimum percentage we'll accept for that bundle, based on the following rules:

  1. There's a minimum offer percentage, let's call it min_pct. Any offer below that is rejected.

  2. There's a maximum offer percentage (max_pct). Anything at or above it is accepted.

  3. Small bundles (where the retail is at or below a certain threshold, min_ttl) must be at or above max_pct.

  4. Large offers (retail above a certain threshold, max_ttl) must be at or above min_pct.

  5. For bundles whose retail value is between min_ttl and max_ttl, it figures out what percentage to accept. It's a sliding scale based on where the bundle's retail value falls in the range between min_ttl and max_ttl.

  6. There's one last complication: if the bundle included any "rare" apps, then the required percentage is raised by a certain amount. An app is rare if there is only one left.

Follow all that? Hey, even if nobody else cares, at lest this will serve as a good refresher on the math in that code, the next time I need to update it.

Now go build yourself a bundle before we shut it down for the year! Most of the titles have not sold out.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Mac and iPhone Application Bundles for the PMC

I'm raising money for the PMC again this year (duh), and doing it the same way as last year (and the year before, and two years before that). What method is that? I ask lots of developers (companies and individuals) to donate copies of their Mac apps (and iPhone, this year), and then I sell them in bundles.

Some developers donate five copies, some one hundred. Some tell me I can have as many as I want.

I don't really sell them, either. I give them away as thank you gifts in exchange for making donations to the PMC via my fundraising account. The “buyer” builds their own bundle out of the big list of available software, then sends me an email to tell me about it, including how much they'd like to pay.

The project is a huge amount of work. Everybody gets a response, even those offers that are turned down for being too low. An accepted offer involves LOTS of email:

  1. in: initial offer
  2. out: your offer is accepted, please make donation
  3. in: donation receipt as proof of payment
  4. in: “What’s taking so long?”
  5. out: acknowledgement of receipt, “please be patient”
  6. out: one registration request for every app in the bundle, sent to the donors
  7. in: one app registration per app in the bundle
  8. out: “Thank you for your donation, you can download your software here…”

(That's just the simple ones. Some bundles have twice as many messages, due to questions or problems.)

Between sending out all those messages, there's a database that needs to be maintained to keep track of everything. Apps are reserved for a “buyer” so that we don't agree to a bundle and then run out before we can fulfill it. Registration codes have to be copied into the database when they come back from the developers/donors. The buyer’s contact info needs to be entered before we ask the app donors for registrations.

It's a lot of work. I used to do it all myself. I put the project off this year because I absolutely dreaded doing it all again.

To my rescue came Corinne Dillingham (my wife) and Cindy Compton: both have volunteered many hours on this project to help me deal with all this email, via a shared gMail account.

Corinne's helping me because she loves me and knows this is important to me. Cindy's helping because she's been bitten by cancer herself, and is still fighting it... she bought a bundle last year, and this year she's in the trenches with us.

Unfortunately the project has one major flaw: it's far too much work! I keep streamlining the process, but no matter how smooth I make it, it's all still being done manually. Three people can't possibly keep up with dozens or hundreds of people making offers all at once. We fall behind. We run out of apps but the bundle builder still lists them as available because we don't even know we're out yet, as they are "taken" by email which is still in the queue. So, we keep getting more offers for apps that have sold out.

Clearly, I'm doing it wrong.

The donors have been very generous in covering our oversells. (Thanks guys and gals!) Still...

This is the last year I'm doing it like this. Let me say that again: this is the last year I'm doing it all this way.

This is clearly a great way to raise money for the PMC. Last year I raised over $14,000, and most of the work was done in just a couple of weeks. This year looks pretty good too. It's just too much work!

That doesn't mean I'm quitting. It just means that I need to finish my "PMC app" (the database app we use behind the scenes) and make it a full web-app, like a storefront, and fully automate the process.

If I don't have it working (at least crudely) by the time PMC signup opens in January, then I'm not signing up.

There, I said it. It's scary, but true. I've just given myself a deadline.

I'll have more to say about this. I know how I want the app to behave, how it should work. I just need to make it happen, and still get paying work done in the process.

Wish me luck! I don't want to give up the PMC, but there's just no way I'm doing it like this again next year. I'm quite pleased with how this has grown and improved over the years, but it's time for it to move up to another level or be allowed to die.

In the meantime, though, go buy a Mac or iPhone software bundle! We'll continue accepting bundles for at least another week or two.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

PMC Fundraising : Interview on Your Mac Life

Yesterday, Shawn King of Your Mac Life (a popular internet radio show) interviewed me for almost 30 minutes about the PMC Software project. It was taped earlier in the day, but he played the whole thing during the show.

Give it a listen, here or download the MP3 file:

The archive of the full show is here.

I managed to talk a little about my work, Bare Bones, various donors, why I'm raising money even though I'm not actually riding in the PMC this year, and lots of other things.

Other than how often I say “um,” I'm pretty happy with it.

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