It was just a year ago that I was writing about closing down my consulting business and joining ownCloud as an employee.  And now I've moved on to new digs.

Moving From ownCloud

ownCloud was a great opportunity.  I really love open source software - software that is written and distributed with the source code and the ability to change and re-release that source code.  I've been a contributor to open source projects for a long while, and have even started my own.  So the opportunity to get paid to work on such a project was a great find for me.

There were several things that attracted me to my job at ownCloud.  First, it was a product, not project work.  Rather than working on a new project for a new client every few months, this was a single product to concentrate on iterating and getting right.  Second, the daily schedule was pretty free to work how I pleased, as long as I met promised schedules and got done the work I was supposed to do.

In all, I was very pleased with my time at ownCloud.  The people there were nice to work with, and I was exposed to a different aspect of software company.

That said, toward the end, I felt that my experience was being wasted by not allowing me to contribute in significant ways to the fundamental design of the product. I felt that prioritizing some fundamental changes was more important than the things I was working on, and after sharing these thoughts, although they became more solidified in my mind, they were not the priority of the company for me to work on.  That was ok, and I understood it, but I wanted more.

I think I simply had a bad week at ownCloud, and in mentioning this in passing to a friend, I managed to discover CoverMyMeds.

What is CoverMyMeds?

The simplest explanation is long, merely because if you haven't had the problem, you might have no idea that it needs solving.

Insurance companies sometimes require doctors to specify reasons or meet certain other treatment prerequisites for prescribing certain drugs to their patients before they will approve payment on that drug.  To inform them of these prerequisites, the doctor must fill out a form which is usually specific to both the insurer and drug with that information for that patient, and send it to the insurance company.  The thing is, doctors don't keep track of this stuff, and patients usually don't find out they need it until the pharmacy, trying to get money from the patient's insurance company, gets denied their claim.

CoverMyMeds provides a system that is free to pharmacies, doctors, and patients to easily obtain the correct forms, fill them out, and submit them to where they need to go.

Interviewing at CoverMyMeds

My interview at CoverMyMeds was the most intense interview I've ever enjoyed.  Mind you, I've been at some lousy interviews - Vanguard comes to mind, ugh, chills - but half way in, after meeting the people, I could tell that they were places that I'd never want to work.  With CoverMyMeds, things were a little different.

My friend told me that my first interview would be a pretty casual "get to know you" interview with no technical questions.  But I found out quickly that they were fast-tracking things to try to hire candidates promptly.  While the technical questions surprised me, they weren't crazy; I was simply ill-prepared to answer those types of questions.  Fortunately, I apparently know enough unprepared to succeed at answering those.

I had a second Skype interview where I solved some basic coding questions.  These were deceptively simple problems, and being a little nervous at someone watching me work, I think I flubbed a couple of things that I should have easily passed.  Still, I did well there.

For my last interview component, the company flew me to their office in Columbus, Ohio.  I spent the day building a small application based on their specifications, then presenting the app, my code, and an explanation for my decisions to a group of their developers.  I answered questions about what I did, and even some impromptu javascript puzzles.

A lot of the interview was oriented toward seeing if I would be a good corporate "fit" within the team.  I really liked the people I met.  They all seemed like savvy developers, and had similar extracurricular interests to mine.  I think we got along very well.

Ultimately, I think I did well at the interview, because they offered me the job!

Working at CoverMyMeds

I've been trying to explain to friends and former co-workers what it's like to work at CoverMyMeds, and always feel like I'm coming up short.  I can summarize by saying that it's a pretty great place to work, but there are some specifics.

For one thing, they've figured out management.  I suppose this has the potential to change because such a thing is fragile, but right now, management is pretty nice.  Unlike many places that "talk the talk, but don't walk the walk", this place "walks the walk".  When they say that the company believes in the well-being and happiness of its employees, they actually mean it.  I have some silly examples, but trust me - it's pretty great and unique.

Another thing is that the development process is thought out.  It's certainly not dogma; there aren't rules for every little thing.  There are enough rules to make sure everything gets done smoothly, and make sure that everyone knows how things are supposed to be done and what's expected.  And that's it.  It sounds pretty simple, but so many places lack this discipline with their development process, it's surprising and refreshing to see it written, in place, and working.

Something that attracted me to CoverMyMeds was the chance to learn new technology.  It's a bit complicated to explain, but suffice to say that CoverMyMeds is primarily a Ruby shop.  Learning Ruby has always been on my professional to-do list.  It was difficult to pass up the opportunity to leverage the skills I have as a PHP developer while learning Ruby and being paid to do so.

CoverMyMeds does Pair Programming, which is an activity where two developers are "paired" to work together on a particular feature or project.  It's very hard to explain to family and friends how this really works, but it ultimately results in me being tethered by headset to a guy in Florida all day.  It sounds potentially awful, and I'm sure my pair would agree that it has its downsides, too, but all-in-all, it's been pretty nice to have someone to help me work through things, especially while I've been learning the ropes.

Our current project is leading us both into exciting new development waters, and when it's done, it'll be pretty fulfilling to see it in use.

What's Next?

I hadn't really thought about it before starting at CoverMyMeds, so it's both somewhat strange and oddly telling that I'm considering it now.  "What will I do next?"

Well, if I had thought of the question at ownCloud, I still might be thinking of doing something new.  And with my consulting business, I was struggling to do new things all the time just to keep money coming in.  And at Rock River Star, what I wanted to do next and what was available to do next were never going to be the same thing.

So now, when I think of the question, I don't think that I want there to be a "next".  That seems pretty good to me, and I hope that next year, when I'm writing another "State of the Job"-type post, I still feel the same way.

A year or two ago (have I been dealing with this for so long?), I did something that has essentially turned my neighbors against me.  Or at least, it feels that way.

Something happened, and I didn't handle it well.  I frequently don't handle social things well.  Its paradoxical, considering that if people - specifically, my neighbors - took the time to really get to know me (and vice-versa), they might understand why I don't handle these things well.

Not that the circumstances matter, but it had been a trying month.  I don't want to get into specifics, but suffice to say, it was an unusual evening in that my entire family had sat down together for some family time, and we were enjoying each others' company.  It was a rare occasion after such a trying month, and something I longed desperately to accomplish.

Our evening was interrupted by a doorbell.  When I answered the door, nobody was there.

I should say at this point that we had been victims of a frequent "ding-dong-ditch".  I don't know exactly why, but I think it was due to some animosity built up between our kids and the neighbor kids.

Our kids had spent their summers playing in the trees beside the house.  Under the cover of the huge evergreens, they invented club houses and "shops" for pinecones.  They played with many of the neighbors, but a handful of them didn't want to play the same way our kids did.

I don't know how to describe how our kids are different from the other kids on the street.  I'd start by saying that our kids are not "sporty", but they do play sports, so that's not the entire picture.  Our kids aren't "joiners".  Our kids are creative and empathic, sensitive perhaps beyond what tough skins kids need to have.  As a result, they don't understand kids being "mean" even when they don't mean to.  And they don't really have a tolerance for it, extricating themselves from their own play just to avoid those scenarios.

Also, I hate to call this out, but I think it colors the situation too strongly.  Riley has a tic.  It's reasonably mild, but it is noticeable.  I don't really know how other kids react to it, because he doesn't really allow himself to be close to other kids.  He doesn't like his photo taken.  He's stubborn.  He's strong-willed.  He's actively smart.  He's disturbingly like me when I was his age, and I think that's the only reason I've been able to cope with a lot of his foibles -- because I'm so like him.

The bottom line is that our kids essentially sent the other kids away from the clubhouse in the trees.  They didn't like how the other kids played.  And the other kids, being excluded, did even more things that our kids construed as "mean".  As an adult outsider, it seems like somewhat normal play.  Had our kids embraced it instead of decrying it, it might have all worked out for the good.  Instead, our kids don't really have friendship with the neighbor kids, which alienates them even more.

But I can only suggest being inclusive to the kids so much when their response is always in the tone of, "Why should I play with kids that are mean to me?"  And I don't have a good answer for that.  I can tell them that maybe the other kids aren't really mean.  Or they don't really mean it.  And maybe if they themselves were better friends toward them, they wouldn't be mean to them.  Maybe I could have been a better parent, but there's only so much you can do.  The kids will make their own choices, ultimately, even if they're hard.

So, the doorbell.

Nobody was there.  I had just sat my family down for a night of peace for the first time in a long while, and then this assault.  I had my guesses as to who it was that was doing this to us, these impressions provided by the neighbor kids' animosity toward ours.

I was about to close the door, put it out of my mind, and just get on with my evening, when I heard a dog yapping in my driveway.  The boy up the street - one with which my kids have always had a particularly hard time relating to - constantly has this little dog in tow.  He follows him everywhere.  And here was this dog, yapping at something in my driveway.  It was now completely obvious that my intuition on the culprit was correct.  Or so I thought.

From the dark, a voice.  "They're going to know it's you if he's barking like that."  An adult.

What?  What is this madness?  Encouraging your kid to do this?  Is this a joke?

It took me a moment to find my shoes and storm across the street to the neighbor's yard, from where I'd heard some noise.  Many neighbors were there, enjoying a fire pit, as often happens around here.  I'm no longer invited to these, by the way.

The particular neighbor who I am certain I heard in my driveway and his boy were present. And while everyone else was trying to have a good time, I said things that I probably should not have said.

There's no defense, really.  I have excuses.  I was tired.  Tired of the conflict in my own family.  Tired of being targeted by this miscreant ringing my doorbell and running off.  Tired of my kids being spent emotionally by the neighbor kids' attitude toward them. Tired of feeling ignored as a human by the neighbors in general, for whatever reason, whether because our kids don't play together, or we aren't "sporty" people, or we don't participate in the activities they do, or we aren't in sales, or that we both work, or that I just don't feel like I really belong in this neighborhood after having grown up in lower circumstances than the area in which we now live.

I shouldn't have done that.  I shouldn't have said those things.  At least, not there.

And now I suffer.

Today at the bus stop, I tried to speak to my neighbors, in spite of knowing that I'm anathema, but they didn't say a word to me.  Riley didn't want to be in the 1st day group photo they all took, which I knew.  We played frisbee in our driveway instead.  I wasn't ignoring you neighbors, or disrespecting you.  I was keeping my kid from starting his first day in a new grade by being miserable.

I hope Riley has a good day.  This is ruining mine.

Hello internet.

I hope you have come here because you've seen my pleas on social media and want to know what I'm raving about.  I will explain my concept to you simply:

I want you to send me a photo of you drinking something.

You may have some questions.  I will attempt to answer a few:

Why?

When I was working in Australia, I got a photo of my friend and co-worker, Donal, drinking a Coke Zero.  For reasons I can't remember anymore, but probably having to do with returning home to work alone all the time, I printed the photo and tacked it to the wall above my monitor.

Every day I look up at the photo and see Donal there, drinking his Coke Zero, and it gives me a sense of...  I dunno, it's just frikkin crazy.

However, one day I thought about all the people I knew online, who I was connected with one way or another, and how it would be cool to have photos of all of them, and how it would be especially neat if we could all have a drink together.

What are you planning to do with these photos?

I'm planning to print them out in as high quality wallet size as I can, then put them in a frame that I will construct specifically for that purpose.  I will hang the frame on the wall in my office.  Hopefully Donal will send me a new photo of himself, so I can replace the curling laser-printed paper.

It will look something like these, but in a much wider and taller grid of wallet-sized photos:

Will there be an electronic edition of the photos?

I currently have no plan to produce a sheet of photos of people drinking that just happen to know me, no.  But we'll see.

What is the composition of this photo?

There are two essential elements:  You.  Your drink.

Your drink does not have to be an adult beverage (and for some of you, it probably shouldn't). It would be nice if you included a note saying what your beverage was along with your photo so that I know what you're drinking if it's not otherwise identifiable.  Like, if you're drinking beer from a tumbler, you should mention what the beer is.

You can be drinking the beverage, or just holding it.  I prefer the photo not to be completely staged, if possible, but I'll take what I can get.  Ideally, the photo should "have interest" -- pose interesting questions about you, where you're drinking, what you're drinking, and why people would like to hang out with you.  If you need me to tell you why I'd like to hang out with you for inspiration, I will.

As for other criteria, it should probably be a decent photo (well lighted, in focus, etc.), and include only you as the centerpiece.  I'm not opposed to, for example, you drinking a Shirley Temple next to Mickey Mouse, or you with a beer and an arm around Lucy Lawless, just as long as it's clear that you're the person the photo is about.  Remember, it's going to be printed wallet-size, so a photo of you on a Californian cliff with the sun setting over the Pacific in the background while you drink a 50-year-old scotch is very cool, but I'll have to crop all that cool stuff out.

Beyond that, creativity is yours to command. 

Oh.  No nudes.  You're all quite lovely enough with your clothes on, thanks.  (Yes, I'm talking to you, Randy Walker.)

Can I send more than one?

Sure, but I'm only going to pick one for the frame.  Pick one or two, maybe three if you're really indecisive, and send them and that'll be fine.

If you feel like you should be doing more than just sending the one photo, you should convince/help the people that you know who know me to take a photo and send it.  Go out with them for a drink, take the photo for them, and then send it!  Easy!

Who can play?

Anyone can play, although if I get thousands of photos, I'm probably only going to make a frame to hold so many of them.  In that case, the people I actually know are going to get first placement.  See, this is about the people I could be drinking with, but can't.  Get it?

This is not to say you shouldn't send a photo.  Send a photo.

How do we do this thing?

You send me a photo.  I receive it by June 4th, 2014.  If the sheer fun of this project wasn't enough to convince you, then you should know that June 4th is when I celebrate my 40th birthday.  Didn't get me a gift?  No problem, send me your photo having a drink and we're square.  You can get me a gift, too, that's still cool.

I know it's only 17 days, but my goal is 100 photos.  If I got one photo from every person I follow on Twitter, that'd put me over, and I'd have a photo from Tatiana Maslany, which would be, like, Keanu-whoa.

Here's how you do it:  Send your photo file to drinkingbuddy@midnightcircus.com 

Easy.

I'll let you know how it goes.  I probably won't start on the frame until I know how many photos will be going in it, but I'll surely post to let you all know how it goes.  Thanks in advance for your photo!

I read a piece by Cory Doctorow called Standardized testing and schools as factories: Louis CK versus Common Core which talks about a comedian who dislikes the application of Common Core.

I'm not writing to defend Common Core, at least not fully.  People around our district that talk about it seem to have a limited understanding or a skewed perspective on what it is.  I think the problems with Common Core are often not what people most frequently surface.

8ef7c930-b44a-11e3-84f5-9547b2943d40_commoncorephoto.pngConsider this critique of Common Core math homework.  It complains that the problem solved with Common Core techniques is significantly more complex than traditional methods.  But the traditional method of solving this seemingly simple subtraction problem (427-316) has some problems of its own.

First, using the "line up the numbers and subtract the bottom from the top" method for the solution is just as much a contrived procedure as the Common Core way.  There is no intuitive leap that a child can take that puts these numbers in this layout to ease the subsequent artificial process of subtracting the bottom number from the top.

Second, if the problem required "borrowing", such as the problem 427-336 might, the traditional method gets much more complicated.  In contrast, the Common Core method of solving the problem is exactly the same.

Third, the Common Core method of solving the problem gives a more complete and fundamental intuitive explanation of why a person can solve the problem in this way.  The traditional method doesn't provide any explanation of - when you subtract the 3 from the 4 you get a 1 - what has actually happened to the quantities involved.  Having this intrinsic understanding of the number is incredibly important to build on for subsequent math.  It's my opinion that lack of emphasis on this understanding when using a traditional approach to teaching math is the reason why our country is lagging so far behind the rest of the world in mathematics concepts!

I would ask parents who don't understand the Common Core concepts to consider whether they're willing to prepare their children with the appropriate tools for the future.  Using the old ways is like giving your child a chunk of clay and only ever showing them that it can make ash trays, when a better understanding of clay's properties and capabilities would be more likely to lead them to great artistry or utility.

Many complaints I hear about Common Core are from parents that simply don't understand how their kids are being taught a subject.  Rather than complain that you can't help them, why don't you try to learn what they're learning at school and participate?

Now, that said...

Common Core utterly fails when it comes to evaluation.  It presents these concepts in good, new ways, but then insists that everyone learn to produce the results in exactly the same way.  This is completely contrary to the advantages that Common Core can deliver!

Moreover, the standardized testing that Common Core encourages is so extremely gamed by the teachers that it's almost worthless.

I love (the majority of) our school district's teachers.  They're excellent at their jobs, and work in a bad market.  And I don't blame them for wanting to do their best to get the best for our kids.  Still, once a year for a whole week prior to actually taking them, the teachers focus on how to best take the assessment tests.  Not just strategies, but practice tests for the types of problems that will be on the test.

This isn't the kind of test that you'd want to do well on to get into college.  This is an assessment of how well the school is able to convey the Common Core topics to its students.  You can see that if you teach to the test, at least in the way I've seen our kids being taught, you're defeating the purpose of the test entirely.

There is also the case of kids learning at different rates and in different ways.  Sometimes, the students don't take tests well, or can't concentrate for the test, but yet be totally competent at the subject matter in a different environment.  Some students excel at the work, and are held back by having to study concepts that are well-known to them just so that their classmates can pass a portion of a state-mandated test.  Some students need help, and need to be coached through things they don't understand yet, which is not allowed on the test.  These are real, common problems that these all too common assessments don't seem to address well.

The quantity of these tests is astounding, and the importance that our school district lays on them is mind-numbing.  If we didn't spend as much time testing constantly, the kids might actually learn twice as much! 

I don't know what the answer is to these assessments, because clearly, we need to make sure that the students are learning what they need to learn at each level, and that the school is doing what it needs to do to achieve it.  But what assessment consists of in a perfect world? I don't know.  All I know is that the current situation is not the best case.

Worse, I believe our schools are suffering by focusing entirely on STEM education, at a detriment to the arts or a more well-rounded and integrated program.  Not all of our kids are going to be the scientists of the future.  And even those scientists will need a lens through which to interpret the influence, utility, and beauty of their work.

“Martin, did you ever play basketball?”

“Yes.”

“Tell me, what’s a foul?”

“It’s when a player breaks one of the rules. Do it five times and you’re kicked out of the game. Six, if it’s the NBA.”

Phillip smiled. “Good. The best way I’ve ever summed up the war as I see it is that one side, our side, sees a foul as being against the rules, and if you do it too many times you have to be removed. The other side, Jimmy’s side, sees fouls as things you’re allowed to get caught doing several times, and if you don’t, you aren’t trying hard enough.”

“So you’re mad at Jimmy because you think his side cheats at life.”

“Partly. Mostly I’m mad because I’m pretty sure his side is going to win.”

Meyer, Scott (2014-03-18). Off to Be the Wizard (Magic 2.0, Book 1) (Kindle Locations 2566-2572). 47North. Kindle Edition.