Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Thank you Majid

Today I got an unexpected visit from an incredible human (his humility will force him to hate this post).

About 5 years back, with my family's support, I took one of most "all things considered" risks of my life - an opportunity to toss stability aside and make something great. We interviewed droves of candidates to build the impossible. Hard to imagine but turns out there just wasn't a lot of people that passed that "sniff" test. That understood, possessed the ability, or for that matter willing to take that risk. This guy is different on all counts.

 With support from partners that also believed, we setup shop in a 12x12 storage room - the first official "office".  Equipped with a "well seasoned" conference table, 2 or 3 computers and as many monitors as we could get surplus from ECU for $20 a pop. In that room we debated, designed, hustled, and built the core of eAudit.

Since then there were also countless unfiltered cultural debates, insights, lessons, life experiences, exposure - all shared from what the world probably considers otherwise opposite lives. Priceless in every sense.

Fast forward and we've processed packages to well over 1 in 3 addresses in the US. Hundreds of millions of packages, billions of charges; meaning you (or your neighbors) have already been touched in an off sense way by our software if you've received a package on your doorstep since 2014 or so.

We joke all the time we've spent more time in the same room over the years than we have with our wives, and it's actually probably true. In these years this man also turned down countless enormous offers. I mean LIFE changing offers - from every software name that each of you use every day.

He's always stuck with me for a quarter the pay and five times the work.

I have no answer for it but I do know this; I've been blessed to no description for the people that have been willing to take risks on me in my life. Myself now pushin' 40, I've also been around long enough know who these people are - and that these people are few and far between.

To a great engineer, a great person, and a valued friend - we, my family, I thank you Majid Darabi Go make GREAT things in Silicon Valley - we all wish you the best in this next chapter. SHOW 'EM HOW IT'S DONE!!!!!! 🦄🦄🦄🦄 #GOBIGORGOHOME #ONWARD!!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Holidays 2017: Will My “Ship” Get There On Time?

Peak shipping season is in full swing and 2017 is shaping up to be an interesting year.  Our team has been busy forecasting/monitoring parcel traffic volume and the question on everyone’s mind is:  Will my “ship” get there on time?
If you’re still planning on shipping this holiday season, here’s what you need to know.  If you just want to see if your package is likely to arrive on time skip to the infographic below.  [skip]
Online sales is growing at estimated 18% as opposed to a relatively static retail growth of about 4%, fueling major package volume increases for USPS, UPS and FedEx and others.  There are several uniques about the 2017 peak landscape and most interestingly, outside of the general volume increase, is the fact that Christmas day falls on a Monday this year.  This further compounds staffing complexity for the carriers with two major delivery days falling on a weekend – traditionally limited service days (Sat 12/23 and Sun 12/24).
The good news so far (at least at the time of this writing) is that weather has for the most part been on the side of the carriers nationwide.
Here is a breakout of the package volume the carriers expect to push through their networks Nov 27 through Dec 24:
  • FedEx 400M Packages (~ +10% YoY)
  • UPS 750M Packages (~ +7% YoY)
  • USPS 850M Packages (~ +10% YoY)
Consider those numbers for a second before you bash the carriers.  2 billion. That’s a lot of boxes.  These guys/gals are working hard.
At eAudit we’ve monitored the ramp up over the last few weeks and forecasted 68% overall package volume increase over a typical month (a 9% increase over December 2016) for our customers,  confirming the carriers expectations and further expansion of online transactions.
This isn’t totally unexpected however, if you track back to summer 2017 you’ll observe a significant uptick (5-7% YoY) in shipping containers destined for the U.S.  In other words merchants have been stocking inventory at record pace therefore making bets on this season for many months.

Although the anticipated volume is less than a surprise,  we’ve observed the carrier networks are still showing signs of major congestion.  Despite bringing on 95K additional temporary hires, UPS has already implemented a 70 hour work week for many employees and has already admitted volume is exceeding their expectation.  FedEx brought 50K additional people to handle the load and are also working extended hours.  Even with the added resources UPS and FedEx are still struggling to clear existing volume from record setting $6.5+ billion in Cyber Monday sales this year.  This backup is also evident in the significant week over week upticks we’re observing in our customers deliveries past their commit times (arriving late).

So,  will your “ship” arrive on time?  Our basic recommendation is to finish up as much online shopping by Friday 12/15 to avoid unnecessary risk or expense this year.  The closer the holiday becomes we also recommend considering “ship to store” options if available.  Delivering hundreds of packages to a store is far more efficient for the carriers than your doorstep which could increase the odds of an on time delivery in your favor.
Friday 12/15 is the last day general ground shipments have a reasonable expectation to arrive by Dec 23, with UPS having a slight advantage this year with it’s newly expanded Saturday Delivery for Ground service.  Starting Monday,  the options start to dwindle with only premium options being available.
We’re watching Dec 22 closely as it’s the last day most premium services should deliver that are not upgraded to Saturday delivery(additional cost).  Saturday Delivery option is key here,  remember to select it and pay the piper if you need to!
As always the most up to date delivery estimates are going to be from the carriers themselves,  here are links to each of their online delivery date estimation tools:
Another important consideration for parcel shipping this year are changes to the carriers money back guarantee.  FedEx has kept step with it’s 2016 announcements while UPS has made a significant change to Ground service guarantees, waiving refunds for the entire season as opposed to partially last year.  UPS’s guarantee is still slightly stronger however,  by still time guaranteeing Next Day Air Early and WW Express to within 90 minutes,  as opposed to all FedEx air services by end of day.
2017 UPS Holiday Money Back Guarantee  (link)
UPS Air and International Scheduled Dec 18-23:
Next Day Air Early and World Wide Express Plus: +90 Mins to delivery time
All other Air by End of Day
UPS Ground and Standard Picked up Nov 27-Dec 24:
No Money Back Guarantee if Late
(2016 no guarantee dates: 11/27- 12/3 and 12/18-12/24)
2017 FedEx Holiday Money Back Guarantee  (link)
FedEx Air and International Scheduled Dec 18-23:
All By End of Day
FedEx Ground and Home Delivery Picked up Nov 27-Dec 24
No Money Back Guarantee if Late

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Best App for Productivity Isn't an App.

I get the question frequently.  As a tech guy what's the best app out there to manage your time?

New task and productivity apps come and go all the time and I've used them all.  So to go ahead and technically answer the question, day to day I'll always use Google Calendar (meetings/scheduling),  Google Notes (don't forget), Trello (prioritization/progress) , and even Gmail (this stuff all comes from somewhere).  I've found you can manage most any project within the combination of these apps. Sure,  there's more specialized ones out there but I'm talking about what makes us productive.

Turns out there's many good apps out there and then there's the process that I actually rely on:


6"x 9" Steno Books.
So hold on.  You're a tech startup guy and you're not using an app?  Blasphemy.

Well - yes and let me give some background on why you always want these in your toolkit. I like ones with a plastic cover,  for what it's worth.

They're always on.
You don't have to charge or plug in a notebook.  It's always on,  it's always there.  They're mobile, no wifi, and work everywhere.

It's an archive.
You always have a physical record nearby,  no password to remember - no locking your information into someone else's platform. No changing platforms.

You physically write.
This is an important one.  There's something about physically writing something down that binds you to a task, and triggers importance to see it through.  I'm not a psychologist,  but it's true.  At least for me.

You physically cross things off.
Goes hand and hand with the above.  I only cross something off my list when I have verified or reasonably confident it is complete.  Sticking to this one rule faithfully adds vital importance to the act of crossing something off.  Make it a habit and soon you'll start getting a feeling of accomplishment when you cross something off.  Hold yourself accountable.

Years ago I worked for a company that had an internal task management system.  Tickets,  tasks, projects would come into it assigned from everywhere,  and I would login to see what I had to do.

Once I completed a task and click a link,  a huge page size image of a coffee cup would appear,  along with something along the lines of "Congratulations this task is complete".  Ah.  I could relax.


I worked there for five years. Literally thousands of tasks I completed to see this silly message and picture.  Some tasks took 2 minutes,  some took weeks but the outcome was always the same.  Seeing the coffee cup was pretty satisfying.  Also knowing that if I closed a task when something wasn't actually fully completed, quickly felt like cheating.  That same thing applies when crossing something off in my notebook.

I picked up the habit of using Steno books about 10 years ago while working on government projects.  They always had them around.  I'm cheap.  I started using what was there,  and it stuck.  The key to making it work is to define a standard process.  There's many standard ways to do it but I just made up a simple one that works for me,  your mileage may vary.
  1. Date the top of each new page.
  2. Draw a box next to any line signifying it's an action item
  3. Only cross off tasks when they're verified complete/closed
  4. If page fills up, I use circles across entire line signifying it is not complete and copy the line to a new page.  (This also helps show things that are taking more time or you're procrastinating on as you flip through the pages)
  5. Don't commingle tasks and notes.  Any new page can be used for notes (meetings etc) but no tasks lists on a notes page.
On the notes pages,  I will usually staple a post it note so the edge hangs outside the book and title the notes so I can find them easily.

Every Friday I will go back through the last 10 or so pages of the book and look for things I may have missed or note any accomplishments.  This helps close the week, reflect,  and plan for the next.

Each new notebook I put my name,  email address and phone number on the back cover in case I leave it somewhere (saved me several times).  I also put the date I started the new notebook.  It takes me 45-90 days to fill up a notebook,  and when it's full I write that date on the back.  This allows me to see what date range the info in each one is when I have to look back through my stack.  So yes,  I have stacks of notebooks crossing many years and projects at this point.

So that's my app. Keep things simple,  follow your own process,  and write things down the old school way.


Thursday, July 07, 2011

Building a High Pressure Solar Powered Rainwater Irrigation System


Water is free when it's rain, so is sunlight. Why not put the two together and build a sustainable irrigation system - here's how I got it going.


In the early spring of 2011 my wife started a new garden at our house in North Carolina. Once all the tilling and planting was done, we needed a watering system (aka drag a hose to the end of the lawn). Seeing a bump in our water bill and running hoses back and forth got a little old, so I wanted to design a sustainable irrigation system. To the drawing board and time for a project!

The goals of the project were pretty straight forward.
  • Store and reuse rainwater runoff from the house
  • Had to be easy to use (ie. pull the handle on the hose and it sprays)
  • High pressure to service 200+ feet of hose and/or underground pipe
  • Go completely green and leverage solar power to run the pump system - why not at this point
Why you ask? Well because everyone needs a backup plan for irrigation during a complete power and city water service interruption! Just kidding, this project started by looking into renewable water resources and adding the solar power just seemed to fit better with the overall theme it took on - plus it turned out pretty cool, it's off the grid and all completely renewable. [Queue "Go Green" chant here]. This could easily be adapted for remote locations etc..


First I set off looking at how other people had accomplished rainwater systems. I found that many used reclaimed 55 gallon barrels to store rainwater. Although this is a great idea, I needed more storage space so I quickly started looking at larger containers. I went with a 400 gallon polypropylene tank that I picked up locally from a farmer that used it for water only. Before running across the tank I considered using standard IBC totes, which allot of people seem to be doing with good success - I recommend finding some of those totes if you cant get your hands on a good tank.

Rainwater quick math..

45 minutes of decent rain fills my 400 gallon tank so don't think you wont have enough water to fill the tank you choose. More specifically 1 inch of rain on a 1,000 square feet roof yields 623 gallons. The one consideration I will also mention is factor in how much your tank will weigh full. Water weighs 8.35 lbs per gallon, so at 400 gallons full my tank weighs in at a hefty 3340 lbs (or as much as a typical mid sized car). I would NOT suggest setting that on your deck, support its foundation well.

Now that I had a tank, mounted in position under a good gutter downspout - I started looking at pumps.


Many small residential rainwater systems rely on gravity to feed a small spigot. As you can see on the left I incorporated that also but I needed high pressure across a long distance so a good pump was necessary. Unbeknownst to me when I started this endeavor pumps are apparently science into themselves, and before this I was completely uninitiated. After speaking with several pump vendors, finishing the internet (yep, the entire internet), and an honorary degree in hydrodynamics I decided on a 12v on demand diaphragm pump. Basically what this means is when the pump detects a drop in pressure on the hose side (sprayer nozzle open) it starts, when it builds up pressure (sprayer nozzle closed) it stops. 12v because I would be running it off a deep cycle battery charged by solar and on demand so I wouldn't have to explain to anyone how not to burn up a pump.

I ended up purchasing a Delevan 7870 model pump which was
probably a little overkill. Its pumping 7 GPM @ 60 PSI - it works great.


To power the system I picked up a deep cycle marine battery, 45 watt solar panel and regulator. I got a great deal on the panels from Harbor Freight, so far so good and charges well even in not optimal sun conditions. I wired the regulator into my sunroom where I added a small 300watt A/C inverter to also use the free solar power for a lamp or radio when I'm hanging out on the porch (an outlet on the porch was something the builder apparently forgot but that's another story). The regulator obviously also feeds the marine battery keeping it fully charged for the pump. All these electronics I stuffed in a little cabinet to keep it dry and monitor the charge etc. I mounted a power switch on the battery box to start up the pump and wired it all up.


The pump wasn't designed to be doused with rain and the
elements so I mounted it into another battery box. According to the manufacturer it also had some tendencies to overheat so I wired in a small 12v fan from my computer grave yard parts bin. It seems to keep it cool enough for the service its done so far.

A couple more notes of what I found through talking with people and trial and error. Be sure to have a good hose or pipe on the output side of the pump. Your spray nozzles cant be too restrictive or they will cause the pump to get all the way to 60psi (or whatever the cut off point of your pump is) and then cut off. You will know you have too much restriction if you spray the hose and the pump cycles on and off continuously - this is bad and will kill the pump in short order. The idea is for the pump to stay on continuously when the trigger on the hose is pulled or the sprinkler is running

In lieu of a first flush system that diverts the first 10-20 gallons of water into a reserve tank (for cleaner water) I grabbed a small skimmer basket from my local pool supply store, a tiny one at around 6" across that fit perfectly into the tank opening. I then put a filter sock in the skimmer basket (pool store had those also). So far pretty good filtration for all but the finest particulates and is really easy to pop out and clean. I may eventually build a first flush system however.


For the garden I ran about a 220ft trench and 3/4" PEX PVC piping. This is connected to a bib that runs a 3/4" commercial sprinkler head. There was plenty of flow and not enough restriction to cycle the pump on and off - perfect. (pic to the right is finishing up the trench to bury the pipe)

For the regular hose I have 200ft of 3/4" hose with a run of the mill sprayer nozzle. I did have to try several before I found one that had enough flow, therefore keeping the pump running. Remember an on demand pump cycling on and off will become a boat anchor very soon. (to reference I use either the hose or the pipe to the sprinkler, not both at the same time)

Some take aways from using my system:
  • 3/4" sprinkler head throws water 40' (A=π *r² )- so that's irrigating over 5000sq ft off a solar charged pump!
  • Tank fills in about 45mins of decent rain
  • Deep cycle battery has never completely drained with solar and current usage (yet)
  • While running commercial sprinkler, tank can be completely drained in about an hour
Some adds I am considering:
  • First flush diversion system for cleaner water
  • Float switch to turn off pump when water is low
  • Check valves and add line from house so I can switch sprinkler to city water if no rain
  • Secondary tank under porch
Although this is a high level overview of the entire design and build hopefully it will help you with your own sustainable solar powered rainwater system, good luck and have fun building something.

If you read this far,  you should follow me on Twitter!



Saturday, July 03, 2010

The Oryan Project: from the garage to near space

Pano from ~100 of our pics stitched together
Pre-Launch Predicted Trajectory
It's pretty quiet and cold up here.
Update: I created a subsite for this project as there's way too much information and images for a blog post, check out our website for this project at Astrohack.com.

Well, It's been quite a while since an update. We've been working on a number of things but probably most interesting was/is Project Oryan (Astrohack). The project was a self induced challenge to launch a platform into the stratosphere and take some amazing pictures of the little ball in which we live, all from commercially available parts and some garage space.

To date we've had many successful launches and have developed a stable repeatable launch process and platform. We've made it 100k feet several times and captured some amazing shots and data. We were surprised at all the attention it receives and have been covered by local and national media. We've also been fortunate to attend youth science activities to show our crafts and discuss the challenges of near space photography.

The pictures are from our second try. We lost communication with Oryan I on decent, but I'm happy to say Oryan II which was launched on July 1, 2010 was recovered successfully and worked flawlessly. Expect a better write up soon, but for now take a look at a couple of the pictures we got...

If you read this far,  you should follow me on Twitter!






Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Great Tech Organization and the Digital Split

Ever since private companies and government started using computers there has been someone making the decisions on what technologies to leverage. In the beginning options were limited so choices were easy (albeit expensive). Entities adopt methods of sharing information and for better or worse stick with the plan over the course of a decade or longer. As fast paced as the industry is, there have only been a few leaps that have changed the game entirely but they all add up to where technology fits in today's workplace (and for that matter where it's going).

1. Cheap Computers: Once computers got cheap enough, they became ubiquitous.
2. The Internet: Once they were all connected, people could share information (chaotically at best)
3. The Great Organization: This is where we are now, web 2.0. Open access to information, clouds form

Numbers one and two are past tense so let's focus on three. The Great Tech Organization, or so I call it. Allot of people refer to it as web 2.0, 3.0, cloud or Generation Y computing. Whatever nomenclature you tag it with the idea is the same, to untangle the lack of standards from the Internet boom and really start using information efficiently by making access platform transparent (my name is still the best, however).

"The Great Tech Organization" made possible incredibly powerful applications that we all use (ok, unless you are over 35 - we'll get to that later) daily. Interconnected (via standards) cloud applications and methods like tagging, Facebook, Google Apps, YouTube, Twitter etc are all built in a way to share the information they contain freely at will with anyone, or any application that chooses to access it. This did a number of things but mainly it allowed anyone from the best application engineers down to shade tree developers to tap into incredibly powerful specialized central systems to enhance their own applications while allowing the people to decide what data they need. So... That's why there is a embedded youtube videos on every random website out there.. hmmm. Thats why I can view what 200 of my friends have on their mind right now, from my Blackberry - and react if I want to. Let the people have the data and they will figure out what to do with it, that's the idea here. Once all these systems had a way to communicate, other than via browser (which required a human), the internet starts to become a less chaotic, more effiecient, and more organized place to live.

So here we are in 2009 with all of these great applications at our disposal on demand. At no other time could the average Joe access so much information so quickly. So we use all this information socially, is big business taking note?

The Digital Split in today's businesses: There was a time that one generation of people who didnt grow up with computers disregarded them, computers were almost entirely embraced by the youth but not their parents. That's what I call the "Analog Split". Today most everyone uses a computer to communicate in one way or another and for the most part people have adopted the internet as here to stay. What we see now is the Digital Split, where one generation of business is used to doing things the old fashion way (centralized in house servers, email messaging, custom specialized applications) and the current/future way (cloud computing, social networking, and web 2.0 applications).

So who is adopting the new methods? Which side of the Digital Split is your company?

Social network links on the official White House website

Let's look at the feds. The US Government is actually doing a great job in my opinion, with at least part of the solution, and much better than many large companies (yep, I said it). This is largely due to allot of youthful influence on new policy when it comes to IT and a new administration willing to roll the dice. They are starting by communicating with the masses. The president spells this out as the new government vision in a January 2009 briefing from the White House. You'll notice the White House has it's own YouTube channel and Facebook page (as does the State Dept, and so on and so on..). Obama pushes twitter updates constantly. It's not 100% effective yet, or nearly close, but you can see that they take it seriously. Take a look at the Data.gov project and you will see the feds are also putting open access methods into practice also (someone up there is on the right side of the split). It's not just a way for the country to promote its agenda (it is) but it's also the new way of doing business. The people have adopted these methods to communicate personally, why shouldnt business? I say they should, if you want to remain competitive.

So take note of which side of this digital split your company is on. The lines between personal and professional computing are blurring by the day. The smart money rightfully recognizes the power this brings. Skills that will be in demand in the future may revolve around YouTube, Facebook, or anything else your boss doesn't want you using while at "work". For the first time since the internet, the people are ahead of business in way they think about sharing information. Besides, 1 million heads are better than, say.. one - right?

If you read this far,  you should follow me on Twitter!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Special Thanks

Thank you to Loyola University students for skyping me into class today to talk about the information technology industry as relates to the federal government. I had fun and best of luck in all of your future endeavors.