Let’s Talk Freelancing

Freelancing. It’s kind of an ugly word, really, like outsourcing. Of course, managers love outsourcing because they can save money (usually it costs more in the long run, but who has time to notice that?).

Getting Burned

How many times have you done freelance work, only to have your “client” burn you? What options do you have (personally, I like contracts and collection agencies). You know who does not like collection agencies? Florida (and Texas, but much more Florida). Collection agents do not collect from Florida because they have little to no legal weight, and cannot get the money anyway. I also like escrow services, I believe the investment (especially with new clients) pays off.

Freelancing Sites

I have good and bad experiences with some of the freelancing websites currently available. The only invite UpWork recruiters sent me was an Excel file with a Trojan (that practice of not opening random files from the web comes in handy). UpWork sent confirmation of the Trojan a couple days after the invites went out. I have good experiences hiring from eLance (the precursor to UpWork), but not getting work through them.

Outsource offers lots of opportunity, but also lots of people looking for super-cheap work. You do pay for credits, but at least they carry over if you do not find anything. Outsource also does a great job of refunding if the client does not view your offer within a week. I’ve pulled in about $5k across two jobs with Outsource. However, I also have had a couple of nearly-insulting offers to work for anywhere from half to 10% of what I normally charge, with clients expecting me to thank them for it.

I have not had the opportunity to explore Moonlighting yet, but it looks like an interesting opportunity…when I can try it out, I can report back.

Finally, I recently came across Toptal Web Freelancers Network, and honestly, I find this one the most interesting. First, developers must go beyond an application and through a screening process. I hope this translates to clients who have no qualms about spending money. After all, this blog isn’t putting a gated Murci in my driveway… 😉

I’m looking forward to the interview process (I apologize in advance, I cannot share anything that goes on therein).

All the best in your endeavors!

Misdirected Frustrations

Let's Ban...
If you’re familiar with gun laws, this cartoon is laughable. If not, it might really make you frustrated and want to lash out at the GOP. Now, even as a registered Republican, I have to say I’m not re-registering with that party until they get their heads out of their asses. I may never register Republican again (women’s health, women’s rights, xenophobia, and on and on and on).

Let’s dissect this one panel at a time…
“Assault weapons?” Really? Still? You might as well say “climate change doesn’t exist” and “evolution is a theory.” If you think it’s by what the gun looks like (take a look at the Ruger Mini-14 in two different “models,” the tactical and ranch…this is the EXACT same gun except for what it “looks like”…yet the left would call the tactical an “assault weapon”…okay, and evolution is a theory, vaccines cause autism, and climate change is made up). It’s all bullshit and we all know it deep down.
Background checks…there’s the kicker, right? I mean, why not have better background checks; who could argue that? I’d love to see better background checks that cross state and federal agencies. One little problem that everyone overlooks, and that’s HIPAA privacy. Yikes…wait…that’s a HUGE problem. See, we can’t just access medical data anymore, and what’s next, are you going to limit the rest of the Bill of Rights to people you deem medically safe? First they came for the Communists…
The “gun show loophole”…doesn’t even exist. This is either the biggest or second biggest lie with regards to gun sales the media tells you. The way legal gun buying works is you buy through a dealer, they run a background check, and then you wait some period and get your gun (some states don’t have waiting periods on long guns). The US Government leaves it up to the states to decide whether citizens of that state can buy guns from other states (generally, the rule is you can’t). Here’s where the “loophole” comes in (spoiler alert; it’s not a loophole!): some states require you to do a private party gun sale through a Federally licensed firearms dealer (FFL holder). However, some states do not. Those same laws that allow a buyer to make a purchase from any legal individual allow buyers to make a purchase from private sellers at gun shows. For what it’s worth, in California, you must go through a dealer for every transaction, private party or not (it’s been that way for more than 20 years now). That means, that if you go to a gun show in California, you must get a background check. Anyone willing to sell you a gun at a gun show without going through an FFL holder is either stupid or undercover. Neither one will come out in your favor.
Ah, armor-piercing (AP) bullets…why would anyone need those?
Before we get into the “real life” lesson, let’s understand that AP rounds have been illegal for US civilians to use, import, or manufacture since 1986.
Well, let’s talk about ballistic (unfortunately…and incorrectly…often called bulletproof) armor. First, as the proper name states, this is armor to protect you against ballistic projectiles (it does not guarantee you survive or magically block bullets). The most important part of ballistic armor for this conversation is what’s known as the NIJ 0101.05 Standard; this is a rating system from the National Institute of Justice for soft body armor. There are three levels of protection for soft armor (common ballistic vests, ballistic protective clothing, etc.) as opposed to hard plate armor (we’ll get to that in a second). As with anything, there’s a cost/protection tradeoff (there’s a financial portion to the cost, and also a weight portion; adding a pound on Level II-A to get III-A armor might not be a big deal, but adding an additional 8 pounds for hard plate might be!). Here’s a handy table as to what kind of armor is good for protecting against what (this table was taken from BulletProofME.com’s website):
Level Tested For Comments
II-A 9mm FMJ at ~1,090 FPS (332 m/s); .40 S&W FMJ at 1,025 FPS (312 m/s) Absolute minimum recommended armor; not significant protection against the blunt trauma from the impact of the bullet against the armor. Generally a special-order item.
II 9mm FMJ at ~1,175 FPS (~358 m/s); .357 JSP at ~1,400 FPS (~427 m/s) A great balance between blunt trauma protection, cost, comfort, and concealment. Handles the blunt trauma of higher velocity rounds than II-A.
III-A 9mm FMJ at ~1,400 FPS (~427 m/s); .44 Magnum SJHP at ~1,400 FPS (~427 m/s) The highest blunt trauma protection available in soft armor. Minimizes blunt trauma injury, allowing more effective return fire. Recommended for use in high-risk areas.
Well, that’s interesting…do you know what’s missing from that table? Rifle rounds (or, less common, pistol rounds fired from a rifle or carbine). What this table tells us is that a 9mm FMJ (full metal jacket) fired at 1,400 fps will penetrate (defeat) Level II armor. Technically, that makes a 9mm round fired at that velocity armor-piercing for Level II armor (for that matter, a 44 Magnum round will also defeat Level II). So, all of you clamoring for an end to “armor piercing” ammo but “don’t want to take hunters’ guns away” need to get up to speed on physics and limitations of body armor in the real world.
Let’s just look at hard plate armor for shits and giggles:
Level Tested For Comment
III .308 Winchester FMJ/7.62x51mm NATO; 6 rounds at ~2,750 FPS (~838 m/s) 1/4″ (6mm) Ballistic Steel

1/2″ (13mm) Ceramic

1″ (25mm) Polyethylene

IV .30-06 Armor-Piercing/.30 M2 AP; 1 round at ~2,850 FPS (~869 m/s) The highest rating for body armor.

3/4″ (18mm) Ceramic

1/2″ (12mm) Ballistic Steel
(vehicle armor only; too heavy for body armor)

Well now…that’s not what we expected. What happened to bulletproof armor? Ballistic armor isn’t what it’s made out to be in the movies, and maybe we’re a little loco about our obsession with armor-piercing rounds (since they already are illegal, in the strictest form of the term).

You’re probably interested, if you’re still reading, what makes a round “armor piercing.” Generally, these bullets have very dense cores; steel, tungsten-carbide, or depleted uranium. By the way…if your barrel isn’t set up to use AP rounds, you won’t get very far with them.

Restricting power of a political lobby group. Hmm, are you sure you want to really start there? I mean, because there are so many lobby groups out there, and I can almost guarantee one of them will say something you believe in that I disagree with. If you want to decrease the NRA’s power, just be aware that those exact same rules need to apply to everyone…not just people you disagree with.

My First Unity3D App

Wow…so that was exciting.

I just developed and published my first app using Unity 3D. I’ve learned a couple things along the way that might help someone else. For what it’s worth, I monetized with AdMob…not because I think AdMob is the best option (I don’t believe that at all), but because AdMob is a pretty solid mobile ad server. I may use a different solution in the future, but I’m not investing big money until I see how this pans out.

Which reminds me, I’ll also buy a Mac if this pans out. Using a VM was a pain in my ass (the setup went really quick). First, install your Mac OS X virtual machine on an SSD. I guarantee it will make a world of difference. Second, I like to work in big screens. It didn’t help me do that at all. I’m sure there’s a way, but in the last three weeks I’ve learned the basics of Unity 3D, C# (for scripting in Unity), how to basically use XCode (having never done it before). In the event you’re looking to build iOS apps with Unity…you need access to a Mac in some form or fashion. You can’t export iOS code without XCode (and integrating the AdMob SDK requires XCode anyway).

Second, make sure you have your code-signing ducks in a row. In XCode, this means using Apple’s Developer and iTunes Connect sites. There’s a caveat—you’ll need to make sure your account allows for push notifications, even if your app doesn’t push. Whether it was Unity 3D or the AdMob SDK, I’m not 100% sure, but you’ll save a step now (and potentially later) by enabling it (it requires you to generate some keys; Apple does a pretty good job of explaining how). However, Apple doesn’t really tell you how to get your keys, so I’ve included that below. For Android, you have to view the build settings in Unity 3D, create a new keystore (check the box, enter and confirm your password, click “Browse Keystores,” and save the keystore), and then create a new key with Unity (you’ll have the option to do so from the “Alias” drop down). Sign your code before you upload it.

  1. Log into iOS Dev Center
  2. Select “Certificates, Identities, & Profiles” from the “iOS Developer Program” menu on the right-hand side (click here for a screen shot)
  3. Choose “Provisioning Profiles” under the iOS Apps header
  4. Select “App ID’s” under “Identifiers”
  5. Click the “+” at the top
  6. Name the App ID, determine whether you want a specific or wildcard ID, and select the services you want (make sure to select “Push Notifications”)
  7. Confirm the information is correct and submit
  8. You will have to set up SSL certificates to use Push Notifications; Apple will walk you through it
  9. Select “Distribution” under “Provisioning Profiles” in the right-hand navigation
  10. Click the “+” at the top
  11. Select “App Store” under distribution and click “Continue”
  12. Select the App ID you want to create the profile for
  13. Select the associated certificate (may have one or more to select from)
  14. Name and generate the profile
  15. You’ll have to download the profile but everything else is pretty clear-cut

Feel free to post questions here as you have them!

To NULL or Not to NULL

I’ve found programmers that I’ve worked with lately don’t like my use of null declarations in PHP. I come from a Perl and JavaScript background (with just enough C++ to be dangerous but not particularly useful), so I tend to declare variables before assigning them values (granted, it’s not a requirement in Perl, just a good idea).

If it adds to the complexity (and/or size) of code, why do it?

Yes, it will make the file a little bit larger…but I’ve never seen—or heard of—a minimized PHP file. Minimizing is great for client-side code (primarily JavaScript, HTML, and CSS) but unnecessary when servers handle the workload. You can find discussions of single- vs. double-quotes all over the Internet, even on PHP.net, but declaring variables in PHP seems odd because there’s no requirement to do so (technically, a variable in PHP has a NULL value when declared…but that doesn’t mean you won’t flag a notice).

Why do I [usually] declare NULL?

  1. Clarifying code; by declaring everything before I use it, I know what variables to look for later when I’m debugging (OOP PHP does this out of necessity with class-level variables)
  2. When using an IDE, the software auto-references those variables later; if I don’t have a matching variable, it won’t reflect in the IDE and I can catch typos before they become time-sucking issues
  3. Finally, PHP flags a notice-level error when a variable is referenced that has not been pre-declared; not everyone knows to turn off notice-level errors, and it’s a waste of log space (and effort to dig through logs full of notices)

I highly recommend working with other programmers; I believe it makes us better coders, we learn new ways of doing things and thinking about things. For continuity, you need to agree on programming conventions. I’m not overjoyed about giving up NULL declarations, but all things change—Facebook just released their fork of PHP, Hack.

Lime Light CRM API

I put up a new repository at GitHub yesterday that converts the entire Lime Light CRM API into a simple PHP class. The superclass (creatively called LimeLight) has two child classes, Membership and Transaction (with respect to the pertinent Lime Light APIs). This is a work-in-progress and is still in beta…it’s mostly bug-free. As there is no official PHP implementation (only recommendations and companies that will integrate for you), I figured it was high-time for an open source version. I’ve written this code probably a dozen times and frankly I’m tired of rewriting it.

Also, I lack the time to integrate Lime Light outside my existing client scope, and this is as good a way as any to put it in everyone’s hands.

It’s pretty rough and I’m working on building in controls to provide better options and more accurately reflect the API. In the meantime, take a look at the source code here, and feel free to fork it/improve it/etc. I’ve learned and benefited a great deal from open source solutions and am looking forward to giving back.

If you haven’t decided on a CRM solution yet…and you go with Lime Light CRM…tell them I sent you.

NOTE: Neither True Marketing Partners nor Lime Light CRM paid me to write this post or recommend their product. IF you buy Lime Light CRM and if you mention me on the contract, they’ll kick me back. If you buy it and don’t mention me or don’t put me down as your reference on the contract, I won’t get one cent. If you’re already using Lime Light and want to expand from the web forms to the API, this is a good place to start. I have to have a live version within a week anyway… 😉