Salt in Brooklyn

April 27, 2009

I was walking home today and saw a group of about 30 police in serious riot gear walking down the street. Freaky. Then they all walk into the Greek Orthodox church on our block.

Finally it dawns on me. I had seen the trailers parked up the block that they use when filming. And they often use the church to change costumes. So I checked the signs and they are apparently filming the upcoming movie Salt.

I’ll have to keep an eye out for Angelina…

Bad Zip Car, great weekend

April 27, 2009

Well, I guess it was inevitable. We had our first negative experience with Zip Car last weekend. But we still had a great weekend.

The weekend started early with parent/teacher conferences on Friday. Of course, it’s just kindergarten so let’s not get carried away here, but it’s really nice to hear teachers say wonderful things about your daughter. And since our conference was at 4:00 we asked our nanny to work late so we could do (gasp) an early dinner and a movie. Truth be told, we don’t get out that much.

There’s a new place near us that we wanted to try. It was a beautiful day so we sat outside. The food was great and so were the drinks. (My wife had The Fair Harbor and I had the Ommegang Witte – tasty)

We saw State of Play which was good, not great. But for someone who hasn’t been to the movies in ages, just relaxing with the popcorn was worth it.

The next day we were visiting my wife’s sister. But we had also agreed to take Danielle’s best friend while her mother was doing an all day class. It was another great day. We went to the park in the morning and Danielle had her swim class after lunch.

Have I mentioned who her new swim teacher is? You can look him up here or here (Anthony Ervin). Really, an Olympic gold medal winner teaching 6 year olds is serious overkill, but he’s really nice and good with the kids.

To look at him you wouldn’t guess how good he once was. Yes, he’s tall and thin with 0% body fat (and tattoos covering both arms). He’s a bit geeky looking. When you get close you notice the huge feet. And teaching in the pool you can’t tell. Except for one time when he was out of the pool and the three kids were doing the backstroke. They weren’t supposed to go all the way to the other end of the pool but they did and once they started they couldn’t hear him. So he walks about halfway down the pool, does kind of a sideways dive into the water and about a split second later he emerges at the other end of the pool. OK, he’s still fast.

After swimming we we going to my wife’s sisters. We had the Zip Car reserved for 4:30. When I left swimming I had a voicemail from Zip Car. The person who had the car before me wasn’t going to be back until 6:00. Well that sucks. I called them to see if there were any other cars available. The first totally gorgeous weekend of the year. Any guesses? No cars. So we’re basically stuck. It was very annoying, though in truth it didn’t really impact our weekend overall. Funny how an hour and a half can seem like a disaster at first and be a non-event later.

Apparently Zip Car has a pretty emphatic no tolerance policy on lateness. The other driver will get fine $50 for every hour she was late (would be nice if the inconvenienced party got some of that…).

We got up to my wife’s sisters place a bit late, but the girls napped on the way so they were ready to go. Everyone played and had a great time. We played the next morning had lunch and headed back. And since Danielle’s friend’s mother wasn’t going to finish her class until 6:00 on Sunday, we did a picnic in the park.

There’s a park in Brooklyn tucked in between the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge called Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park. It’s a great little park, and will eventually be park of a much bigger park. It’s also very close to one of the best pizza places around (at least according to Zagat’s). You can count on standing outside in line for at least a half an hour to get a table. But they take pick up orders. So 45 minutes ahead of time, I call them. Then later I just walk from the park, skip the line, pick up my pizza (really annoying the 30 people waiting in line) and walk back to the park.

A delicious end to an awesome weekend.

Great Parenting Moment

April 24, 2009

I was walking home after taking Danielle to school. Close to home I see our nanny, Maggie. It’s a beautiful morning so she’s talking Victoria and her daughter Mia to the park. Mia (3) is in the stroller but Tori (2) is a walker so she’s walking next to the stroller.

About a half block away Victoria notices me. She waves, looks at Maggie and then takes off running to me. She comes at a full sprint, runs to me, jumps in my arms and gives me the biggest hug on the planet.

What more is there?

Empty Seats at Yankee Stadium

April 21, 2009

Some of the prime seats are so expensive that they can’t sell them. Check out this picture of a recent game:


Full everywhere except the super pricey seats. I think the Yankees miscalculated…

Taxis in LA

April 18, 2009

Apparently they are trying to encourage taxis in Los Angeles. But here’s the telling statistic:

Los Angeles has roughly 3,500 licensed taxi drivers for a city of 4 million people. New York has about 47,000 cabbies for a city of 8 million.

If you can’t find one, you ain’t gonna take one…

The Secret is Out

April 17, 2009

For a long time I was being secretive about what I was up to. I would tell people that I “had a couple of projects I was working on” or something vague like that. But the truth is I have been very busy working on exactly one thing since about the beginning of December.

A short while after I was let go, I was out in Chicago to see my old friend (and former CS STARS CEO) Bob Petrie. I wanted to catch up and bounce some ideas around, but he had a very specific idea to pitch. Bob had no intention of competing against CS STARS when he was first let go. There were too many friends still there. But after Jeff Markowitz got let go and then the entire NY office (some may not realize, but Bob started the business in NY) Bob’s thinking shifted. Not that we don’t still have friends at CS STARS, we have lots, but it has clearly changed.

Frankly, my first thought after being let go was not, “gee, how can I stay in the insurance risk management industry?”. But Bob’s pitch was compelling. Let’s build a RMIS system that has a subset of the STARS feature set, but the really important US RMIS features. Do them as well or better. Make the implementation/service model simpler and therefore cheaper. Carve out a decent share of the market. Own the business. Make some money. Work for yourself.

So I thought about it for a while. The job market is lame. I have severance pay. But this is a serious v1 software play. Bob’s initial thought was the two of us and some cheap development labor. I realized we needed more than that. We needed partners who knew what they were doing.

As part of my severance deal, I can’t solicit CS STARS employees. But the entire NY office was no longer employed by CS STARS. Including two of the best and two good friends. My pitch back to Bob was simple. Let me talk to Linus and Tim.

It turned out that both were interested. The folks at 37signals have stated that three developers is the optimal number for v1. In this case I think they were absolutely right. But you have to have the right three people.

Linus, Tim and I have probably worked harder in the past four months than ever before. But working together (with Bob, while he isn’t programming, he’s a big part of the project) has been incredibly easy. We all know what we need to do. We discuss, we take on the parts we want to, we go off and we work. We get back together, discuss, rinse, repeat. There is 0% administrative non productive time. Boring conference calls? Stupid paperwork? Mindless time tracking? Non existent.

Did I mention how much fun it has been? First of all, I love to program. But in my role at CS STARS I really hadn’t done real programming in years. And, by the way, it showed for the first couple of months. I was the worst javascript guy ever at first. But use jQuery for a month and suddenly javascript is your friend.

And after a relatively short time, we realized that we could build something pretty cool. Not just something that was ok and cheaper. Linus started with the name Origami and I really liked it because to me it evoked elegant simplicity. That has become our design philosophy.

It’s the 37signals philosophy.

We believe most software is too complex. Too many features, too many promises. Instead, we build simpler web-based software with elegant interfaces and thoughtful features you’ll actually use.

And the classic:

it’s better to make version 1 half a product than a half-assed product

Origami doesn’t do everything. But what it does, it does well. And that is much more fun to work on.

We had the rare opportunity to start from scratch. No legacy issues. SaaS only. Single database. Data model from the ground up with everything we know about what the product needs to do. That last point has been unbelievably huge. Can you imagine running a loss triangle on 2 million claims in less than 30 seconds with no pre-processed data? What else could you do with no legacy constraints?

Who knows where this will take us. At the end of the day, we have to sell it. Can we? We’ll see. But we have a compelling product, a great (if small) team, and we’ve had a lot of fun…

The next chapter has begun…

Alzheimer care matters

April 13, 2009

I’ve mentioned before that my mom has Alzheimer’s. A while back she really started to decline. She was losing weight and my mom is tiny to begin with. They put her on hospice care, which meant that they expected her to last no more than six months.

A little while later, the facility where she is staying decided to raise her fees substantially. They said that she required a lot of extra care (she likes to wander off and she gets belligerent when you try to bring her back).

There was another Alzheimer’s place nearer to my brother. It had a very good reputation, but was very expensive. My mom has a decent pension between her and my dad (who passed away years ago), but she’s not swimming in money either. But with the first place raising their fee, the difference in cost wasn’t as big. And being closer to my brother would make it much more convenient.

So we moved her to the nicer place. Since then she has gained ten pounds. One time she introduced my brother to someone and used his correct name. I can’t remember the last time she did that.

So it clearly matters what kind of care an Alzheimer’s patient gets. They are now saying that they’ll probably take her off of hospice care.