Indie Hackers: An amateur entrepreneur tip

It’s been a while since I’ve said anything about the amateur entrepreneur project. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been doing much.

I’ll post more on books that I’ve read / am reading soon, but for now I wanted to say that an important part of how I’m learning about entrepreneurism and founding startups is through the stories in the IndieHackers podcast.

I like that a lot of the stories are from boostrapped businesses, and I like the line of questioning that the host uses.

So, until I have time to write more about my own adventures and frustrations (still more of the latter), it’s a good place to be inspired by successes.

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Piano in Dresden

I’ve been more serious about playing piano lately. “Serious,” by the way, means that I’m doing it more often and I try to practice things that are hard for me… I’m in a big practice practicing phase at the moment.

So, I was pleasantly surprised to find that a local hotel bar has live piano music on Fridays and Saturdays. That got me looking, and there seem to be a few places in Dresden where I can go and hear live piano.

I’ve resolved to visit them all. Here are the ones I’ve found:

  • Hotel Elbflorenz: Where my wife and I went on a date and I was surprised to hear the piano. I’ll be going back soon.
  • The Maritim Hotel: There’s a “piano bar” that apparently always has live piano? I’ll call and confirm before I go.
  • The Innside in Dresden: Funnily enough, I learned about their live piano by finding it in an angry online review. Apparently, you can hear it the in the rooms directly under the piano…
  • Klavierhaus Dresden: Probably the only place I don’t plan to visit, they mostly sell pianos (and I have one) and organize what look to be the kind of piano concerts I’d feel compelled to dress up for…
  • Champagner Lounge Dresden: I’m least excited about this one, because it seems to be reaching for a clientele that seems to be comprised of people who would annoy me.

Have I missed any? Does anyone expect that I’ll be frustrated by the experience? This isn’t the sort of thing that I usually do, so I’m unsure myself if I’ll like it.

Every day is better than occasionally

This might seem like an obvious statement to make — especially regarding fitness — but I’ve learned that every day is better than three or four times per week.

I’m still not in a routine that ‘just fits’ or a routine that I can’t imagine not doing. I’d like to get there, but, for me, exercise is a thing that I consciously choose to do because I know what it can do for me afterward.

And I struggle with making it a routine.

Enter, the idea of every day. For a while now, I’ve been using a 4-week challenge app on my phone as my ‘strength training.’ In fact, I’m restarting the challenge for the second time (I’ve been through it at the first to levels of difficulty.)

My January activity

You don’t need to open a dictionary to know that ‘every day’ means something different from what I accomplished in January. But, in January exercising four times a week — my old stretch goal — was a bad week.

I think that counts for something.

Even more, I’ve been feeling the changes to my own body, which is a nice thing to be able to report.

I still have the beer belly (“gas tank for a sex machine!”) that I want to get rid of, and I’m not pushing the scale much. But, when I hold my increasingly heavy kids, I can feel my core is stronger. Back pain has become so rare that, when it does rear its ugly head, I almost always realize “hmm, yeah, I haven’t exercised this week like I should.” (And that means that there’s a sort of positive-reward cycle that encourages me to exercise.)

In fact, as I’m going through the challenge again for the third and last time, I’m starting to wonder where I’m going to find my next every-day workout routine. The app I’m using (here, in the Google Store) offers workouts tailored to individual muscle groups “shoulders and back” and “chest and arms” or whatever. So, that’s the logical starting point, but I’ve been enjoying the simplicity of knowing that I have to free up a bit of time, start the app, and just do what it says.

So, we’ll see what happens when I ‘graduate’ out of the challenge.

I do get a bit of motivation out of these stats… 1100 minutes (18 hours)

WordPress is a pain

I just spent well over twenty minutes trying to write a quick post on how I got my newest Django project to serve CSS.

In the end, it was more difficult to try to get WordPress to format the bits that were supposed to look like code than seemed worth it to me. For a short time, I tried settling to just have it display as preformatted.

In the end, the preformatted tags seemed to always gobble up the surrounding paragraphs, no matter how I tried to go back in and edit them.

Sure, the new WordPress editor is beautiful. But if it makes blogging more difficult, why bother?

The Lieutenants (Brotherhood of War series)

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The Brotherhood of War Series (or, part of it)

I doubt there is an author about whom I feel more conflicted than I feel about W.E.B. Griffin. And, of his many series, I doubt there is one that I like more — or feel more frustrated by — than the Brotherhood of War series.

Officially, this is a review just of The Lieutenants, the first book in the series, but unofficially, I have read through this series at least a half dozen times. I love these books, and I’m occasionally frustrated by that fact.

What’s wrong with these books

Aside from the fact that just about every character in the books would be considered a knuckle-dragging neanderthal by modern standards, I can get really frustrated by the way W.E.B. Griffin’s millionaire characters (and there’s at least one in each series) play the “I have money and influence” cards to get past seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

Sure, a character who has a private airplane can be all over the country and take part in a lot of the action. I get that, and I don’t resent it. In fact, I wish all rich people were like Craig Lowell of the series.

On the other hand, at least once per book, there’s some problem that only gets solved because of the money and influence that Craig Lowell weilds. When so many other characters are working at overcoming actual obstacles, to have a character who seems to be the deus ex machina of the series can seem cheap.

Possibly worse than the role that money plays in the series, I genuinely resent how much of the plot is recapitulated in each subsequent book. By the time you’re three or four books into the series, it can feel like all you’re doing is re-reading things you just read. (I tend to binge these series.) If W.E.B. Griffen had decided to do without all of that, he’d have so many more pages in which things could actually happen. And I’d like that.

Why I keep coming back to these books

These books are like old friends to me. When I’m sick, or down, or just at loose ends, I like to return to them. Because even the playboy millionaire is the kind of person you like to return to. W.E.B. Griffin writes series the way record companies cast boybands: there’s the beautiful one, the unlikely warrior, the legit war hero, the starchy by-the-book one, the honorable German WWII veteran who was part of a plot against Hitler.

No matter how formulaic it sounds written down (and, considering it’s just about the exact same cast, but with different names, as you’ll find in his Honor Bound series, it’s clearly formulaic), Griffin does such a good job of writing the characters that it’s a genuine joy to spend time with them, to watch them overcome obstacles. (And to mourne when more than one of them is surprisingly killed.)

Even more than that, these books are much more about the brotherhood than about the war.

When my wife sees I’ve got the books back out again, I think she imagines me reading about soldiers jumping out of firing positions and overwhelming the enemy. There is remarkably little of that in the book. (In fact, what little combat there is — from post-WWII Greece to Korea and Vietnam — is almost incidental to the story.)

Instead, there is a group of officers struggling against ‘the system,’ whether it’s because someone who is too chickenshit (too literal with rules and regulations) wants them out, or whether it’s because they’re the inspired ones who can see the way things are going and they want to influence the development of the Army (and, in this series, of Army aviation, in particular).

As a middle child and life-long outsider, I can relate to the ones who feel themselves to be ‘outside’ the traditional system (here, the ‘ring knockers’ of West Point, also called the WPPA for West Point Protective Association). And, because this is fiction, the characters who you learn to like have a better than average chance of success.

That, more than anything else, is what keeps me coming back.

What I could have done differently

The situation now

It’s not that long ago that I started making a plan to introduce my classroom vocab manager and worksheet generator to the world of teaching. And, I’m starting to see success. Both of the websites that I established are starting to show traffic every day.

What’s more, I can see that people are clicking through to Dynamic-EFL.com. That’s exactly what I wanted.

But very few of those people are signing up for a free trial. And, so far, none of the ones who have clicked through have made a worksheet with it.

It makes me think.

I have two thoughts on the whole thing.

Maybe I need to explain it better

I worry that I don’t sufficiently explain what the software does. Or, perhaps, that I over-explain it. After all, I already totally get what the software does and why it’s amazing.

Perhaps more images and fewer big blocks of text? Perhaps a better video walkthrough?

There’s a lot I could do to make it better, but, it’s a whole extra challenge.

Maybe it’s a numbers game

I’ve probably had about a hundred strangers look at the site since I started really trying. That’s not a lot of people. Ideally, it will be more and more with time, as the whole strategy of sharing static resources to attract teachers pays out.

But, maybe I just need to accept that I need to get x number of eyeballs on the site for each person that’s going to sign up. And maybe I have to accept that it’s going to be y number of people who are willing to sign up for each person who invests the time to really understand what it does.

Most likely, it’s both

I mean, I probably could make it more clear what people do. (And maybe break the explanation out across several pages, so that Google Analytics will be more of a help seeing what people are interested in)

And it’s probably the case that great explanations and onboarding can only reduce the values of x and y from (from the numbers game section), not turn every visitor into a conversion.

The plan for the near future

Believe it or not, my plan is to not do much. Sure, I might re-work the landing page(s). But, I think I’m at a point where I need to trust that some people are going to like the service. I’ve recommended it to colleagues (who promise to have a look when they have time) and I’m spreading the word on LinkedIn.

Now that I’m getting excited about the Fantasy Pilgrimage idea, I’d like to start directing my creative coding energy in that direction. So, until I have a handful of users who are willing to provide feedback so that I’m not longer just guessing at things, I don’t plan to mess around with the code of the worksheet generator very much. (Though I may make it possible to create and distribute ‘coupon codes’ that extend the free trial, in order to create a sense of urgency for the people who use the site.)

Until then, I think it’s time to let the site try to prove its own worth.

The Hidden Life of Trees

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A book in its natural habitat

The serious tree scientists I know warned me off from reading this. “It’s unscientific,” they said. “He talks about trees wanting things and thinking. He has no way of knowing what they want or if they think.”

And, for a while, I didn’t read it.

Instead, I enjoyed the brief section on ‘how trees work’ in Hugh Johnson’s “Trees.” But it wasn’t enough and, eventually, I picked up a copy of The Hidden Life of Trees.

Is it unscientific?

I don’t rightly know. There is talk of trees smelling and tasting, but then he explains exactly what he means and it’s clear that he’s using human-centered language to communicate with humans. I never felt he passed anything off as fact that wasn’t, and always clearly labeled speculation.

His level of anthropomorphizing trees can be seen in the way he talks about beech and oak trees ‘competing.’ That’s not a shocking use of the word in biology. (At least, not for us armchair biologists.)

Is it good?

Yes. An unqualified yes.

So much so that I thought it presented enough information, easily absorbed, for me to have the framework for my A Year in the Woods project. So, that’s great.

Now, though, a week or two after I’ve finished reading it, I have to say that I didn’t retain a ton of the information. Sure, there are things I learned: the younger trees leaf out first, because the ground warms up before the air, and spring ephemerals are dormant for ten months of the year and are a sign that a forest is at least 150 years old.

But, there’s a lot that I read and it blew my mind… and then I didn’t have any other information to connect it to in my head and it’s gone again.

So, it’s a great book and heartily recommended to anyone who likes trees or the forest, but it may be hard to absorb everything in one go. (If you’re like me.)