2014 Resolutions

Cicada SamuraiWe’re half way through February now so I figured it would be a good time to quickly write out my 2014 Resolutions because – hey, better late than never. They really aren’t “new year” resolutions at this point, but I have been working on these since the beginning of 2014, so that’s got to count for something.

For some people a resolution is something that they want to be mindful of and strive to improve throughout the year. Some people resolve to “be nicer” or to “listen more” which is all well and fine, but those are often subjective judgement calls and at the end of the year it’s difficult to know if you’ve actually accomplished your goal or not.

For me a resolution is a goal. At the end of the year I can look back and point to some visible object or change and say, “Yes! I accomplished my goal,” or “Ooops, I have nothing to show for that resolution.” Resolutions are things that I “resolve” to get finished before the next instance of January 1st (or random day in mid-February) rolls around.

While I feel as though I’m pretty good at handling multiple projects at once, I do recognize the need to keep my list of resolutions a fairly short one so that I can concentrate on each a little more. I originally had three goals, but I think I’m going to bump that up to four goals. Anymore than that and it just becomes a jumbled list of “things I have to do but probably won’t.”

So here they in no particular order:

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5 Tricks for Beating Walmart on Black Friday

I’m not a big fan of Walmart as an institution and I often go out of my way to avoid shopping there. I’m also fairly thrifty (cheap?) so there are times during the year when an advertised item is so darn inexpensive that I simply have to take advantage of the offer.

Here are a few shopping tricks I’ve learned and used to get things at the low, low Walmart price with a minimal amount of shopping at Walmart, especially during Black Friday.

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8 Sneaky Examples of Skeuomorphism in iOS 7

santascanBy now most iPhone and iPad users have updated to the new iOS 7 and have been shocked, dismayed or just mildly surprised to find that the overall visual themes that were so familiar are now, mostly, gone from user-interface. There are brighter colors and more animations, but the most heralded design change is drift away from a “skeuomorphic” design.

The term skeuomorph was most unknown to the general public a few years ago, but now most people understand it to be the a design element which is used to falsely mimic another material or object. The fake wood paneling decals on station wagons is a skeuomorphic design to make it look as though the sides of the car are wood. The buttons depressing and popping up on my various scanning apps are all examples of skeuomorphic design. Though it’s most talked about with computer visual interfaces now, it’s actually been around for quite some time. In the late 1800’s ancient clay pots were found that had fake rivet designs molded into them, imitating the build construction of similar metal pots.

Apple designer Sir Jonathan Ive’s design changes have purposely moved towards a brighter and “flatter” design, tossing aside graphic skeuomorphic elements which imitate real world objects. In the old iOS graphics you’d often find textured buttons that looked like they clicked up and down, green felt and brown leather with intricate stitching in the background and different colors paper to “write” on.

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Make Your Own Gutter Vacuum

 

A DIY Gutter Vacuum

A DIY Gutter Vacuum

My previous house was a ranch style home that was surrounded by big trees, so every fall I’d have to climb up on a ladder and spend a good portion of the day manually cleaning out the leaves and other debris from the gutters so that they wouldn’t clog. Clogged gutters allow water to collect and if that water freezes into ice your gutters could become so heavy that they can bend, break, and even fall right off the house.

At one point I had a gutter that was so clogged I could see the pile of leaves flowing over the edges. I didn’t really want to get out the ladder and climb up on my roof just to clean out that section of gutter. I’m always a little nervous climbing up and down ladders and I simply detest sticking my hand in the muck and dumping it out onto the ground.

There are a lot of different gutter cleaning gadgets out there, but most of them rely on pushing, squirting or blowing the leaves and muck out of your gutter, only to have all that stuff land on your roof, your yard or (more likely) you. I also didn’t really want to spend the money for something I’d just use once or twice a year. There had to be a better way. Since I was spending the day cleaning up my yard, I had my Troy-Bilt chipper and leaf vacuum out and I was using it to clean up some sections of the yard.  While I was vacuuming the leaves out of the front flower beds I looked up at my gutter and realized I could probably vacuum out the gutters in pretty much the same way.

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Is Your Smoke Detector Chirping with New Batteries?

smokedetector200A constantly beeping smoke detector outside my bedroom recently taught me something smoke detectors that I didn’t realize: In addition to replacing the device’s batteries every six months or so, you should also consider replacing the entire smoke detector every so often.

I learned this a few weeks ago when we had a smoke detector start to emit a loud, but very quick, chirp every minute or so.  At first I thought the 3AM chirp was part of my dream, but after a few more beeps I realized something was wrong.  I groggily stumbled out of bed, located the beeping detector simply popped the battery out.  My home has a mix of hard-wired smoke detectors with battery back-ups and completely battery-powered smoked detectors.  Luckily, this one just used batteries alone. I stumbled back to bed to deal with the issue in the morning.

When I woke up the next day I checked the batteries by trying them in a little flashlight and they all appeared to be good. I grabbed a new set of alkaline batteries and put those into the smoke detector that had the intermittent beeps. The smoke detector beeped once (as it always does initially) and that was it. I put it back up on the ceiling and it seemed to be okay. But as I was walking away the smoke detector chirped again.

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How To Name A Baby

How To Name A BabyOne of the five million important decisions new parents must face, picking a name for your bundle of joy is one of the easiest tasks to screw up. It’s generally a good idea to make this decision early because as time goes on you’ll begin to second guess yourself and before you know it you’ll be standing in the bakery ordering a cake for your child’s 18th birthday with the inscription, “Happy Birthday Baby Smith!”

Modern psychology has shown time and time again that choosing your baby’s name is one of the most significant and proven ways you can assure that your child will blame you for everything from the ages of 3 to 63. You want your child to be successful and confident in the world. You want your child to take charge of life and be able to face others. You want your child’s introduction to make a good first impressions.

And that’s why very few children are named “Otis” anymore.

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The House Hunters Drinking Game

HouseHuntersDrinkingGameMy wife and I find ourselves watching the HGTV show called House Hunters which is a pseudo reality show that follows someone as he or she looks at three different houses for sale and ultimately ends up buying one of the three homes. It’s one of those shows you never actively sit down to watch, but you always find yourself watching when nothing else is on.

The formulaic House Hunters first introduces us to the people who are looking to buy a house for the usual reasons: sick of renting, have a growing family, moving to another city, clearly got some sort of inheritance and want to blow it. Then the show follows the prospective buyer while he, she or it walks through three different homes with a real estate agent during which they all amuse themselves by making somewhat scripted comments about the home. At the end of the show the buyers pick on of the three homes and we get to see the person a few months after he or she has moved in.

House Hunters is basically a heavily edited and poorly scripted reality show with a tiny bit of voyeurism thrown in as we are shown the inside of homes we’d never normally get to see inside of. It’s paced slowly and the comments are fairly predictable, which makes it a show that simply begs the viewer to perform his or her own Mystery Science Theater 3000 all over it. Which, from what I can tell, most viewers do.

Did I mention that this is one of the more popular shows on HGTV?

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My Four-Year-Old Is Ready For College

Pardon me for boasting a little bit here, but my four-year-old son is clearly ready for college. He has proven to his mother and me that he does not need the basic foundations of kindergarten, the monotony of grade school or the drama of high school. I think my pre-k son is just about ready to fit in with the college crowd and take his place among the slackers, the burn-outs and the party animals who will inevitably become the leaders of tomorrow. Here’s why:

He’s Obsessed With Partying

Whether we’re watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse or Handy Manny about every third episode revolves around going to a party, finding something for a party, getting ready for a party or preventing something bad from happening at a party.  Without the ever-present danger of a party being threatened there would be no daytime television for children.

Two fingers of children's Claritin.

My son’s drink of choice.

Since my son has a lot of friends there is also no shortage of real birthday parties to attend every month.  My weekends have become an endless blur of bouncy playgrounds, amusement arcades, sports clubs, cold soggy pizza and dry birthday cake.  I feel like a Vegas limo driver most of the time, just standing around waiting for my young charge to demand that I take him to the next debaucherous event on his calendar.

At some point kids got smart with the parties and tricked us adults into having one party at home and another one at school.  I suspect the rapid increase in parties over the years can also be blamed on teachers who are desperate for activities and free carbohydrates. In addition to the multitude of birthday parties there are parties for just about anything you can think of.

Lincoln’s Birthday? Let’s have a party! We’ll make top hats and glue on red construction paper dots!  Groundhog day? Let’s have a party! Everyone bring in their favorite groundhog themed recipe! Arbor Day? Let’s have a party!  We’ll plant pretzel stick trees in cupcakes!  You can bring in 40 cupcakes tomorrow, right?

These kids make Lindsay Lohan look like a homebody.

He Doesn’t Respect Authority

I remember turning 19 years old, being perfect and knowing everything. My son is almost five and already has a self-righteousness about him that makes Donald Trump look like Woody Allen. My son spends a good deal of his time marching around the house dictating what mommy and daddy should do. Mommy and daddy spend a good deal of time thinking about military academies.

If I tell him he can have a cookie after dinner he’ll tell me “No!” and then proceed to argue with me for 20 minutes about why he shouldn’t get a cookie. When I finally agree that he’s right he’ll throw a full-fledged tantrum and demand to know why I’m such a bully. So far he hasn’t tried to organize his 10-month-old sister into a protest march in the living room, but that’s only because she can’t actually walk yet.

My Son Is All About the Babes

While some of his friends are starting to worry about catching cooties from the fairer sex my son has managed to create quite a few flirty friendships with the girls in his class.  He’s claimed two different classmates as his “girlfriends” and agreed to no less than three different future marriages. We don’t even live in Utah!  My son’s a player before he can spell the word.

He Likes To Drink From A Shot Glass

My four-year-old has some seasonal allergies and takes a little dose of liquid Claritin every day. He gets such a kick out of downing a shot of Claritin that he now regularly asks for drinks in his “little cup.” As a good bartender I’m usually obliged to pour him two fingers of milk or water and let him down it in one shot. Most kids learn how to drink out of shot glass when they get to college.  Mine is 16 years ahead of the game. .

He Likes To Streak

After knocking back a belt of Claritin what better way to celebrate your youth than ripping off all your clothes and running through the house naked? My son does this regularly as I get the bath ready for him each evening. He usually accompanies his streaking with screams of joy as he runs up and down the hallway, giving our home the feel of a frat house with a fraternity of one.

 

Fortunately, I don’t think my little guy will be packing up and moving out of this dorm room quite yet. To get into college you usually need to get a pretty solid SAT score, have earned a high school diploma and at least be able to write your own name with a crayon (assuming he’s not attending on an athletics scholarship).

And, for what it’s worth, he’s a lousy tipper.

Wagner Paint Sprayer Review – Power Plus with EZ Tilt

The Wagner Power Paint Plus Sprayer

The Wagner Power Paint Plus Sprayer

I’m here to review a Wagner Paint Sprayer I was sent by the folks at Wagner Spray Tech a little while ago. This particular model is the Wagner Power Painter Plus, though many of Wagner’s consumer level paint sprayers share similar features. The Power Painter Plus is one of their new line of handheld EZ Tilt Power Sprayers which will work even when tilted up or down in most cases. I’m normally a paint roller guy and I even used a roller to paint my own house, but after using this Wagner power sprayer for just a few minutes I have to admit that I’m quite impressed. Here’s my full Wagner paint sprayer Review:

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How I Became a Successful App Developer With No Programming Skills

Successful App Business with no Programming Skills

Some of my apps in the iTunes store.

For the past three years or so I’ve been a moderately successful app developer with over 20 different apps in the Apple iTunes store. I’m not a programmer, I haven’t hired anyone else to do the work for me and I have almost no expenses.

Making money with apps is more difficult than ever and the chances of a single app making millions of dollars is about the same chance you have of winning the lottery.  But if you start making little apps and expand from there you can create a small but steady income with apps.

Here’s how I began…

I Blame Pat Flynn

Pat Flynn is famous in blogging online marketing circles as a successful writer who made it big with this smartpassiveincome.com empire. He was laid off from his job, started selling a specialize e-book online, made a ton of money and has since expanded his business 10 times over. I was listening to one of his podcasts in early 2011 and he mentioned something about making over $50 per day just from selling his iPhone apps. Pat was one of the few app developers who actually shared real income numbers online, so it confirmed that app development was something worth investigating.

Pat's simple Traffic Light Remote vs my deluxe Traffic Light Remote.

Pat’s simple Traffic Light Remote vs my deluxe Traffic Light Remote..

So I looked up his apps at http://www.lolerapps.com/ and I noticed that most of his apps were, to put it bluntly, total crap. He has a “traffic light remote” app (with one button) and a few silly game apps that mix up photos or involve shaking your phone really fast. His iPhone “Crapps” are remarkable in the fact that they are completely unremarkable in every way.

Pat Flynn himself readily admits that his apps aren’t changing the world. But they’re making decent money, so that’s impressive. Like me, Pat isn’t a programmer, but unlike me Pat had plenty of extra money to spend on hiring app developers for his ideas. From what I can tell, that’s how he makes his apps: he gets and idea, he pays $3,000 – $5,000 to a contractor developer and he has an app produced for him.

Don’t get me wrong: it works.  He’s making over $100 a day now with a small collection of unimpressive apps.

I had some little app ideas and I had always wanted to make some interactive storybooks for my kids, but I didn’t really have the income to justify hiring a developer. So I went looking around for an alternative solution.

GameSalad Isn’t Just for Games

There are lots of different programs and systems out there for creating smartphone apps without a lick of programming, but many of them are centered on producing business apps or include an outrageous “monthly hosting fee” that may run $40 – $70 or more. The two software packages I heard the most about at the time were GameSalad and Corona.

After a few months of investigating both I decided to go with GameSalad because it looked to be “easier” to work with, didn’t involve any real coding of any sort and the basic version was totally free. The “free” factor was a major influence in my decision. GameSalad is complex enough to make some pretty clever games so I figured it would definitely be good enough to make the simple apps I had in mind.

The only drawback to this plan was my lack of an Apple computer (which is required for iPhone app publishing).

Initial App Business Expenses

So on Father’s Day of 2011 my family and I went our local Apple store and I purchased an iMac as a gift to myself. A little later in the day we stopped by a discount store and picked up a simple computer desk. The next day I set everything up, turned on my iMac, downloaded GameSalad and began learning the software.

My initial business expenses looked something like this:

$1300 – New iMac
$45 – Computer Desk
$99 – iOS Annual Developer Fee
$499 – GameSalad Pro (purchased later in the year, after I had an app ready to publish)

To be fair, I already had a few other resources. I already had a folding chair to sit on. I also had a 3 year old PC and an old version of Adobe Photoshop Elements. For less than $2,000 I had everything I needed to be an app developer.

My First App

GameSalad itself is actually very easy to use but it still took me a while to understand a few key concepts about how to work things out. I decided to take an app concept that Pat Flynn had used – the fake traffic light controller – and make it a better fake traffic light controller. That would allow me to learn the basics of using GameSalad and help me figure out the whole App Store process as the same time.

For the rest of the June and July I spent a few hours a week (mostly after the kids were in bed) noodling around with graphics on my PC, transferring them to the Mac and then working with rules and actions in GameSalad. Even with GameSalad’s relatively easy interface (and tons of available YouTube videos) there is a rather steep learning curve in the beginning, especially when it comes to working out app provisions and developer certificates all the little magic features that allow you publish and app to your phone.

I chose to use the two-prong approach to app marketing by releasing a free version with ads and a paid version without ads. After a few false starts and frustrating mistakes I finally published my Traffic Light and Crosswalk Controller in the Apple iTunes App Store in early September.

I saw my first app earnings report in October 2011. That same month Steve Jobs died. I like to think the two events are unrelated.

I made a few bucks (literally.. a few dollars) and was encouraged. My kids liked playing with the traffic light controller app that I’d made.  They seemed to have no problem hitting buttons and making annoying sounds for hours at a time.  My GameSalad skills weren’t very impressive, but I knew how to make buttons and I had kids as active app testers, so I decided to run with the gag apps. Soon after I produced an Elevator Remote button app, a Monster Zapper app and a Santa Scanner app.

It turns out that the Christmas season is a big time for app downloads (no one can exactly explain why). Many developers make more money in December than they do the rest of the months of the year combined. I was no exception. I made about $65 from September to November, but ending up making a little over $1,500 in December of 2011 and a few hundred more in the following January. I had four different apps in the app store, and a few had a free and a paid version as well.

Within just 6 months of buying an iMac, a desk and GameSalad Pro I had recouped just about all the money from my initial investment.

Steadily Producing More Apps

The great thing about being a small-time app developer is I can usually work in small blocks of time. I have a full-time job and my kids keep me pretty busy. It only takes 10 or 15 minutes to make a rough graphic or test out a concept in GameSalad. Some developers have a big marathon coding sessions when they are working on their smartphone games or apps, but I’m more likely to have a hundred 20 minute sessions over several months.

I’ve purchased a few GameSalad templates for games and apps, but I usually find that they need some modification before they’re up to my standards. I’ve released a few more scanner apps and a few trivia games and I even tried making a useful app with my HDTV Calculator. Most of my apps make a little money at first and then taper off to just about nothing.

Silly and stupid apps seem to do better for me, so maybe Pat Flynn is on to something. My few games have not done very well. This could be due to the fact that there is intense competition for games, but it also could be due to the fact that despite all my hard work they really aren’t very good. They’re playable and interesting, but I’ll be the first to admit they’re not the best of their kind available.

I’ll be honest: making apps has been more a labor of love than of money at this point.  It’s fun.  It’s still a bit astounding to see your app in the iTunes app store, much less on someone’s phone.  I even made the front page of BoingBoing back in 2012, so that was a lot of fun.

App Income

I am not making Pat Flynn’s $100 or more per day with my apps. I have more than 20 apps in the iTunes App Store alone and I generally make anywhere between $3 to $8 per day from a mix of app purchases and ad clicks. I also have a few apps for Android in the Amazon App Store and they sell marginally well. The few apps I’ve put in the Google Play store sell almost nothing.

The Christmas season is the exception to this rule. I mentioned this before, but it’s worth repeating that during November and December app sales for almost all developers go through the roof. Part of it could be Apple’s pattern of release new products in the fall, part of it could be cold weather coming in and people being in a “buying” mood due to the holidays. Whatever it is, most independent app developers see a big bump in sales at the end of the year followed by a quick drop off back to normal sales levels in January.

Making Your Own Smartphone Apps

I’m a marginally technical guy but I’m not a programmer by any means. I have a full-time job, two young kids and a house that needs a lot of work. With a little investment and some determination I’ve been able to make a steady (but not exactly large) monthly income from the apps I build in my rare moments of free time.

If I can do it, so can you.