Garden Progress

We have officially eaten food grown in our little garden — and it was good!

Early July progress (I need to get a picture now, things are much fuller):

Last week the harvest from those green beans gave us our side dish for dinner. And again — they were surprisingly good. The plants themselves seem to be losing leaves and color fast… I’m guessing pests are having at them?

Our strawberries aren’t very sweet, but this is the first year. I’m hoping a year establishing roots will give us a better crop in 2018.

There are surprises too. Last week I pushed aside the enormous carrot leaves and was startled to find a nearly full-grown pepper biding its time:

I’m already thinking about next year — both crops and aesthetics. We visited friends last weekend, and their small garden produces a solid crop and looks beautiful. I’m taking notes…

Garden Update: It’s All Happening

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I shouldn’t say how long this plan took, but it was all of January.

Thanks to a 65 degree Saturday in mid-February, things got underway! First up: the bed for strawberries. Off to Lowes for lumber.

To keep my costs down, I wanted to make a bed out of a single piece of wood. I settled on a 3×3 bed made from a 2x12x12 untreated southern yellow pine (standard lumber). Lowes will cut lumber for free, so I had them cut it into 4 pieces to fit the wood into the car. I also had them cut a 2×4 into 18″ lengths so I could secure the corners of the bed.

Total cost: $22.

Screwing things into wood is about as handy as I get. This project took a little over an hour to complete.

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I am curious to see if a 12″ board will pull away from the corners or split over time. If it does, well… lesson learned. But this was much faster than joining 6″ boards together.

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This bed will sit near the fence on the northern border of our property in the back yard, which gets the most sun. When I’m sure this is the right spot, I’ll flip the bed over and bury the 6″ of overflow to keep the bed from moving.

Then I’ll hope I can grow something worth eating…

In Search of Savings: Switching from AT&T to Ting

I’m always looking for ways to trim spending. Ten years ago we ditched cable for the savings, and we haven’t looked back.

Our newest target: the cell phone bill.

ting-social-logoA few months back Renate suggested we switch from AT&T to Ting. Several friends had switched and recommended it as well. After some research and planning, I switched us over in early January.

The results? Based on our current usage, we should save roughly $40 – $50 a month.

With Ting, you pay only for what you use each month. Make fewer calls, send fewer text messages, or use less data, and your bill goes down. Play around with their rates to see what you might spend.

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Ting’s pricing structure.

The process:

  • Make sure your phone is compatible if you want to bring it and your phone # with you. Otherwise you can just buy a Ting-compatible phone. (We brought our iPhones and numbers with us.)
  • Pay off any payment installment plan for the phone. Carriers won’t unlock phones that are under some type of contract. We still owed a few months to pay off our phones, so that required some up front $ — but our monthly savings will pay that back in a few months.
  • Wrap up your cellular service plan. We were on a month-to-month service plan with AT&T, so opting out was easy — we just left. Ting will also help buy you out of a multi-year contract.
  • Have your carrier unlock the phones, which can be done online at no charge. It may take a few days for the carrier to process the request.
  • In the meantime order a SIM card from Ting for your phone ($9);
  • When your phone is unlocked, activate the SIM card on Ting’s website, then put it in the phone (very easy);
  • adjust a few settings on your phone, and you’re done.

Ting makes it super easy to monitor your current usage, almost in real time. Both your online account and a phone app will show your current bill and usage. You’ll see when you’re approaching a new pricing tier. I love it.

 The only thing we’ve lost is visual voicemail on the iPhone, which… meh. Not a huge loss.

If you’re a heavy text / data user, you may be better off with a standard plan from one of the big carriers. If you want to save some money, this is the way to go. If you’re interested, my referral link gives you $25 towards Ting — and I’ll get some $ too 🙂

Have you found any pockets of savings in your budget? Let me know!

2017: Bumper Crop or Bust

At least once a year I spend an unreasonable amount of time romanticizing vegetable gardening and making my plans. “Everyone says homegrown vegetables taste delicious! Think of the money we’ll save not buying carrots!” I imagine the kids, faces smudged with sweat and mud, filling baskets with our yard’s bountiful yield without throwing dirt on one another or “accidentally” spraying anyone with the hose.

I’ve attempted container gardening twice. Let us not speak of the first try. The second time two baseball-sized watermelons inexplicably rotted on the vine. By late summer, however, our watering efforts had produced something “edible”: bitter cucumbers and flavorless carrots.

img_3883Bless our kids, they chomped down the resulting cucumber slices with gusto. I took one bite and threw mine away. Later I surrendered the remains of my carrot to my oldest daughter.

“Turns out you have to harvest the carrots late in the fall,” I read aloud to Renate from a gardening post. “For the best taste you should wait a frost or two.”

“Ah,” she replied, her tone suggesting she might not be all that interested as to when carrots should be harvested.

It’s going to be different this year. This year I’m PREPARED, and it’s only January. I have researched seed companies; I have identified the simplest plants to grow; I know my USDA Plant Hardiness Zone (6a); I have researched wood with which to build a raised vegetable bed, and loamy soil with which to fill it. “Loamy” is a word I now know.

Also I have three garden companions aged 4, 6, and 8 who like to fill the watering can and dump it out. If the cucumbers are gross, at least we will have made them gross together.

But the cucumbers won’t be gross. This year the cucumbers are going to be DELICIOUS. Loamy soil!

No One Owns UX. Everyone Owns UX.

I returned from a UX conference a few years back resisting the urge to change my title to UX designer — but also wondering why I shouldn’t. Someone has to drive the effort, right? Someone has to own it.

Everyone owns UX.

Each piece of the development puzzle seeks to improve the user’s experience.

The order in which feature requests are prioritized impact the user’s experience.

We write requirements to paint a clear picture of an improved user experience.

We run through a few rounds of design mockups, and we evaluate the speed at which the code finally operates, as well as the error handling created by the development team, to improve the user’s experience.

As a designer, I’ve learned that my role is not to solve problems, but to help facilitate their solving. While I am the first to form a tactical approach based on a set of requirements, I don’t own the solution — I contribute to it. Our team is humming when a developer and I work side by side to bring a concept to life; we poke, prod, step back, evaluate, nod, frown, reassess, brainstorm, and begin again.

A subtle yet critical shift routinely occurs between the mockup and the markup. I like to get to the markup quickly because that lets us fail quickly. Said another way, we can quickly see if we’ve succeeded.

We can see if we’ve succeeded.

No one owns UX; everyone owns UX.

Ship

This is the twelfth post in the series 12 Days of Ideas: Building & Marketing Web Products.
Illustrated by Krista Seidl

Fortunately I think terms like ‘pixel-perfect’ are on the way out.

We’re all working to perfect our product, but that doesn’t mean we’ll ever create a perfect product. The perfect is the enemy of the good. I’ve heard this phrase a million times, and it’s true.

That said, there is a wide range of product quality between ‘perfect’ and ‘good’. So when in doubt, ship.

“No tasks longer than one week. You have to ship something into live production every week – worst case, two weeks.”
— Naval Ravikant, Build a Team that Ships

That post made my palms sweaty the first time I read it. This seems overly dogmatic, I remember thinking. What about taking time to put the idea in front of some users? What about jumping up and down on it in staging for awhile?

Or, what about getting it into production (possibly visible to your team only) to see how it works and feels? We have a new dashboard sitting behind a hidden URL for this very reason. I love working this way. It’s fast, it’s instructive, and it’s not going to upset any users who feel surprised by it.

Then again, it’s just sitting there. We should probably ship it.

“If you’re at the helm of a young company preparing for a launch, don’t. Roll out what you have today to the appropriate users. Get them to love what you’re building.”
— LayerVault, The Launch is Dead

It helps to accept that the approach you’re implementing won’t be a silver bullet to the problem you’re attempting to solve:

“No solution will be without a little harm. The best we can do is keep it to a minimum.”
— Sandy Weisz, An Engineer Embraces Design

This is incredibly liberating news! You are free to ship something that might not be perfect.

“It’s not perfect. We ship too many features, many half-baked. The product is complex, with many blind alleys. It’s hard to integrate non-engineers – they aren’t valued.

“But, we ship.”
— Naval Ravikant, Build a Team that Ships

Focus on the Right Priorities

This is the eleventh post in the series 12 Days of Ideas: Building & Marketing Web Products.
Illustrated by Krista Seidl

My coworkers and I spent a lot of time this year reviewing and revising our product roadmap. We discussed the best way to add features and adjust their priority over time. We wanted to remain flexible, to tackle important items as they surfaced.

And then I read this:

“It’s always good to be working on two things: The next most important thing and the next most interesting thing.”
— Jason Fried, Two i’s

Almost everything on our roadmap skews toward the important end of that spectrum. “We really need…”, “Our customers have regularly asked for…”, “This feature could really stand to be…”.

That isn’t to say that these tasks aren’t interesting at the same time, but often the next project in the pipeline is a labor of necessity. Hopefully the problem solving interests us because the technology and the product interest us.

Jason’s post reminded me that you simply can’t hope that important things interest your team.

After reading the post, I asked our developers: If you had two weeks to do whatever you wanted with the product, and no one would bother you during that time, what would you do?

As you can expect, their responses were nowhere near the top of the roadmap — but all of the projects we discussed would add value to the product. Even better, they’d keep the team engaged and energized.

Sometimes important is all you have time to tackle. Many/most times there aren’t two weeks to let a developer disappear into a project that might never be justified by business needs.

But there should be.

I’m reminded of Stephen Covey’s time management matrix from ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’:

Covey Time Management Matrix

We spend most of our time in life and work in quadrants I, III and IV. We routinely neglect quadrant II, but that’s where some of the most valuable things come to life.

Recognizing the importance of the interesting is the first way to ensure that you carve out time for it. To keep people engaged, allow innovation to pop up from unexpected quarters. The product and the company will be better for it.