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Hardly blogging at all…

I still have things I want to write about. I’ve just been using all of my writing energy for MassLandlords.net. Here’s an update showing where my work time has gone.

time utilization graph
Time utilization as of 12/8/14.

You can see that ArtistBomb (blue) has gone way down.  The two purple colors are both MassLandlords.net.  Light purple labeled as “MassLandlords.net” counts Internet-facing work only. “WPOA” is the same organization but counts back-end administration, including finances, management, and a very little public policy advocacy.

So what happened to ArtistBomb?

Well, with any business it’s a race against opportunity cost. I worked hard for ArtistBomb, as the graph shows. Out of all the working hours in the past two years, ArtistBomb received just about half, or one full year. But ultimately, I’m not the music industry guy. When I was asked to take a more active role in MassLandlords.net, it seemed like the contributions I could make there could be more “on point” than what I was able to do at ArtistBomb. For me personally, it seemed like the opportunity lost by not working MassLandlords.net would be greater than the opportunity lost by not working ArtistBomb.

Plus, MassLandlords.net is already able to pay me a little bit.

For the rest of the folks there at ArtistBomb, I think it still makes sense to push forward. We can clearly see the need for what the company’s doing. Once they figure out a reliable income stream, they can build on that.

I think the challenge for ArtistBomb remains time allocation, actually. I doubt anyone there tracks their time to this level, but if they did, their ArtistBomb color might look more like my “WPOA” color: an important but small and variable focus. In startup land essentially all of the early work remains uncompensated. So finding more time to work on the startup can only be helped with funding or with financial independence.

As the graph shows, I’m still supporting the company with what I can provide, including legal and tax compliance. And I know they have big things in store. Big ideas take a long time to develop. In the meantime, we all need to make ends meet.

So what’s with MassLandlords?

Things are going well. But there’s a long road between where we are and full time paid staff.

All signs are that we’ll get there. It will depend to a large degree on whether we can build trust among the landlords in the state. We need their willingness to coordinate with us to reach “economies of scale.” Right now, for instance, there are still 17 groups that produce their own email newsletter without any of the benefit of our greater experience or content. We’re hoping to eliminate redundancies like this. It will free up local volunteers to focus on local problems. It will send resources to the state-level to tackle problems shared state-wide.

The time management challenge for me, personally, is not getting sucked into the never-end public policy work that lies ahead. This requires a full time paid public policy person, like they have at a local Chamber of Commerce. My mission is to build to that point. But the Commonwealth’s challenges concerning landlord-tenant law are manifest, and landlords are asking me to tackle those as soon as possible.

I’ll do what I can.

How I’m Spending My Time: Update

Back in September I wrote a short piece about how I was spending my time.  Since it’s about six months later I thought I’d update the graph.

Doug Quattrochi's Personal Time Tracking Data 2014_02_25

These are 40 day moving averages.  When I think about where my financial future lies, I think it’s mostly ArtistBomb and partly MassLandlords.net.  The way I spend my time backs that up.

The period in December where I focused less on ArtistBomb and more on the Worcester Property Owners Association (WPOA) coincides with the end of the restructuring effort at the WPOA.  This put in place a new Board of Directors and a new action team, and roles were changed for most folks.  Now WPOA is moving forward smoothly and the focus there is on MassLandlords.net, which I’ve spiked out separately.

MassLandlords.net has the potential to be a unified source of digital resources for landlords in Massachusetts.  I’m enormously proud of the work done by Stellar Web Studios and the WPOA Board of Directors to help get this project off the ground.

You can see that other projects, like the BagPack for Hands Free Groceries, and even this blog, are getting less attention now.  Partly this is because they’re getting less traction, partly it’s because they’re more clearly “lifestyle” activities.  Yes, I like selling little grocery carrying straps on the side.

ArtistBomb.com and MassLandlords.net have been improved by what I learned with Hands Free Groceries and dougjq.com.  So even if the latter properties aren’t as valuable, it’s not like the time spent there has been wasted.

Last month I commented on an article written by Rob Go that included the idea entrepreneurs should focus on “one company at a time”.  I think about that when this graph gets updated every couple of days.  Would either ArtistBomb or MassLandlords.net go faster if I wasn’t also actively landlording?  Yes.  Would they go faster if I were focusing on one and not both?  Yes.  Well, am I doing the wrong thing by splitting my attention so?

It seems like both businesses – ArtistBomb and MassLandlords.net — have the same kinds of challenges.  In particular, can you reach enough of your customers at a low enough cost to make it worthwhile?  The interesting thing about working both at the same time is that each has a different set of tools available.  So in theory I can work with two different teams trying different tactics.  What I learn at one can be brought to the aid of the other immediately.

From that point of view, I don’t think split focus is really so bad.  Not right now, anyway.

Thoughts?  Leave a comment.


Goodbye, My Blackberry

I purchased my Blackberry Storm in the summer of 2008.  It had been a sturdy and dependable companion, so it was with some sadness this October that I came to feeding it into a machine.

First, let me acquaint you with this miraculous phone:

  • Encryption so strong that not even Middle Eastern governments could crack it.
  • A touch screen so sturdy you had to push it in until it clicked.
  • A case so invulnerable it scratched whatever it landed on more than it was scratched.
  • An OS so complete that you really didn’t notice your lack of apps.

Alas, despite a new battery and some serious sleuthing in tech forums, the phone became prone to overheating and locking up, requiring frequent hard resets.  I got myself a modern Droid Razr.

Using the Droid Razr’s digital assistant, I set a reminder to ring me when I was near the Woburn Mall.  There I had seen a thing called “ecoATM,” which promised cash for my phone.  I put the Blackberry and its cracked and worn belt clip into my car and went about my business.  The reminder occurred when, where, and as promised, and soon I was standing before the ecoATM with my dearly departed Blackberry.

If you have an old phone, you should try ecoATM.  It’s a remarkable process.  It will take any phone — any phone, it says — and determine what it is, how good it is, and whether anyone else in the world can make use of it.

There’s a part of the process where the machine scans your phone and produces the correct wire to connect to it.  That in itself is worth your time to see.

My Blackberry, it turns out, was in “good” condition.  This picture of the ecoATM screen shows part of the process.  Also, it’s my first Razr selfie, created when I inadvertently captured my shadow:


“Your phone is ‘good’ so I can give you $4 for it.  Do you want $4 for it?  You can’t change your mind.”

“Okay,” I said.

Out came four wrinkly ones. Gone forever went my Blackberry.

The ecoATM invited me to drop my worn belt clip into the bin on the side of the machine.

There are a few remarkable things about this story:

  • My new phone is so capable, it helped me dispose of my old phone.
  • The ecoATM was able to identify me (“I see you’re not a thief”) and my phone (“I see your Storm 9530 is not stolen”) and my phone’s secret inner workings (“I see it still has the default factory RAM”).
  • Somewhere someone is getting more than $4 of value for this old technology.

I love all of that.  Some day — many miles into the future — I hope to dispose of my Corolla this way.

Locked Out of Our Connected World

A week or two ago I was locked out of my house.  Here’s the story of what happened and what I did, in case any of you find yourselves in a similar situation.

I was outside digging an underground pipe and dry well for my new gutters.  The ditch was out-of-sight of the back door and on the way from the back door toward the street.  My back door is always locked except when I’m working outside, when I leave my keys, wallet, and phone inside.  I leave those inside because when I’m using power tools, like the diamond saw I used to cut through my patio, I don’t want things in my pockets making it hard to move or squat.

My brother, who lives with me, and his fiancé, who was visiting, came out of the house.  They walked into view and we chatted about the ditch, then they left to get on with their day.  Normally, the conversational ritual is like this:

My brother: “I left the door unlocked.”

Me: “Okay.”

That day, however, his fiancé left the house first.  She opened the back door — the fact of it being already unlocked indicating no special procedure to her — and my brother’s muscle memory led him to lock it as if that’s how he had found it.

Two shovelfuls after they left I realized the frightening truth.  The door was locked and I didn’t know when they’d be back.  I ran into the street looking for their car, saying “Shoot shoot shoot” (equivalent).  But they were gone.

Shovel digging in dirt.

Traveling Salesman 101

“Hi there,” I said to the neighbor as I walked up her driveway.  “I’ve been locked out and I was wondering if I could borrow your cell phone to look up a number.”  I should remember my brother’s number, but he’s on speed dial, so I’ve never had to remember it.  I tried to think of the hundred or so other numbers I have saved in my Contacts, but none of them came to mind, either.  Panic causes amnesia.

My neighbor was not impressed.  I offered $10 to refund the 411 fee.  “Is 411 like the operator,” she asked?

Cell phones are generally unlisted, so we tried Labcorp in Westborough, MA.  A friend of my brother works there and would have his cell number.  The 411 computer suggested some car dealerships.  I dialed 411 again, thinking it had misheard me.  We got the same result.  I stood in silence thinking about my options, and then the computer offered an operator, to which I said yes.  The operator found Labcorp’s number and dialed it for me.  On the other end of the line, a fax machine picked up the phone and started making all those noises.  I hung up and thanked the neighbor.  I said I’d pay her back.  Then I wandered searchingly back into the street.

I started to walk towards downtown Worcester.  I thought if I could find Sandra Katz, she would have a computer and a phone I could use to look up and find some number that would get me to my brother.  I thought it was more than a mile to her office (it’s actually 1.5 miles).  That didn’t seem as close as NU Cafe, which was seven minutes in the other direction, so I went there instead.  I’m there regularly, so I figured they’d let me use the store computer.

It was lunch time when I walked through the door.  I was unshaven, covered in dirt, and looking pretty wild.  A concerned looking patron glanced up at me from his table.  I saw him and thought it would be better to talk to him, who obviously had a computer right there, than it would be to wait in line for the cashier, who might not be allowed to let me use the store computer.  So I started walking towards him.  He concentrated very hard on his laptop, trying to make me disappear.  But I introduced myself, and before long he was less afraid than when I had first burst onto the scene.  I sat down across from him.

He helpfully Googled and dialed some numbers for me but we couldn’t get anywhere.  Cell phone numbers really aren’t listed, and we confirmed that Labcorp’s listed number was definitely a fax number.  I really needed some time to work at a computer, but to ask the man to quietly eat his panini while I spread dirt all over his keyboard was too much to ask.  So we pulled up qpmservices.com and dialed Sandra Katz.  Before long I was in Sandra’s car heading to her office.

(It’s worth mentioning that I keep all of my phone numbers in Google contacts.  In principle, I should have been able to access these from the man’s laptop in NU Cafe.  The problem is, I use Google’s two factor authentication.  So when I tried to log in from an unrecognized computer, Google treated it like a criminal enterprise and sent a text message to my cell phone.  I needed to use the content of the message to log in from the man’s computer.  Without my cell phone, I couldn’t log in.)

Numbers, Numbers Everywhere

As it turns out, a great many phone numbers are available online.  When you’re locked out of your home, most of them are not helpful.  You can, in certain circumstances, find office numbers or other work numbers for people who know the person you need to reach.  I left a couple voicemails like this.  “Hi, this is Doug, can you call my brother and tell him he needs to go to 90 Madison St, 4th floor…”

What eventually broke the logjam was a little bit of an exaggeration.  I found a corporate headquarters’ number for the workplace of someone I knew who knew my brother.  I used a deep, measured voice and told the person who picked up that I had a family emergency to report and that I believed the message needed to go to an employee in that building.  Could she use an internal company directory to look him up?  She connected me right away.

From there it was all quickly resolved.

“Locked Out” Lessons Learned

  1. Digging ditches, like everything else it seems, now requires that you have your cell phone with you.
  2. A winning smile and deferential tone of voice get you access to other people’s phones and computers, even when covered in dirt.  People are basically good.
  3. It pays to know local folks who can come give you a ride.
  4. In an age of concern over privacy and security, a great many things really are private and secure.