Monday, September 22, 2014

Summer of Pizza

Summer is over and autumn has begun in all but official media release. The trees out behind our place are starting to turn yellow and, for a few leaves, deep red. It's time to look back on the past summer and think about everything I did.

For starters, summer 2014 was an event-filled one for me. A year ago we drove across Canada from British Columbia (stopping over in Edmonton for the summer), and yet that seems more like a footnote to an otherwise interesting life. This summer, on the hand, was marked by the fact that I stayed in one place, yet it is a memorable summer for me.

First, I expanded my business from 1 student in April to 11 students by August, both online and in my "Learning Lounge" classroom. While this 1000% growth in 4 months is exceptional, it came with costs. Website upgrades, facility rentals, data and internet bills, CSM, accounting software and, of course, advertising all took a bite out of what I was earning. So, to help make ends meet and provide me with some personal cash, I started delivering pizzas on the side.

Pizza delivery is simply epic. Seriously. It is fast-paced and exhausting, yet the cash can be exceptionally good and I was given quite a bit of freedom during my shifts. It did take a physical toll on my and my car, but at least it provided me with some seriously fun memories.

I was working for a company I cannot name due to confidentiality agreements I signed, but let's just call them "Dom's" or "Minoes". I was considered a sub-contractor and was told that I was renting a service to the store and would thus need to claim my own taxes, etc and would not be listed as an employee. The deal was that I would submit my availability to the store manager and he would schedule around that (as it turns out, I had to be very specific because if I left a single second open, I was scheduled).

Payments were simple: I kept all the cash and debit/credit receipts from the customers I delivered to, and at the end of the shift the store billed me for all the pizzas I had delivered (or "bought"). A $1-per-delivery charge and $5 per hour were subtracted from that amount, and I paid the difference and kept what was left. Basically it came out to $5-an-hour + $1 per delivery + tips. Some nights I walked away with less than minimum wage, while other days I averaged $22 an hour!

I learned Guelph really well during the summer, finding all the back streets, exploring the new subdivision sprawl along the east and south ends and meeting tons of really nice people. I only had one dickhead and he was drunk. Other than that people are incredibly kind to the pizza guy!

All summer long I cruised about with a "Ominoes" sign magnetically stuck to the roof of my car, listening to music and munching on pizzas. The late-night weekend shifts were the best. Getting an order downtown at 1 am on a Saturday night was an adventure. Hordes of University students were stumbling and puking and fighting and hootin' and hollerin' all over the place. Drunk chicks in slutty outfits would try to get rides, while drunk guys would holler "Ominoes! Yeeaaah!" when I drove by. There were a lot of fist bumbs at red lights with happy drunks. Kinda made me feel like a local hero.

I remember one  night I got a delivery order for a house on Cityview Drive. This house was tucked back at the end of a new subdivision, but it was the only old house there, part of an original 19th Century farm that was once there. It dominated the top of a high hill from which almost all of Guelph could be seen. The night lights twinkled, the Church of Our Lady was lit up several kilometers away, car headlights went to and fro. Pretty awesome.

So this guy I was delivering too was surprised how fast the pizza arrived ('Ominoes bases it's service around speed of delivery). "Oh, umm, my wife is paying for it but she's not home yet." he told me, embarrassed. "Do you want to come back in about five minutes?"
"Sure, no problem." I told him.
So I returned to my car and pulled up a couple of feet to the end of CityView Drive and watched the lights of summertime Guelph. I was listening to 91.5 "The Beat" out of Kitchener, which plays new trance and house music every Saturday night, and the Arty remix of the London Grammar song "Hey Now" came on, adding the perfect soundtrack for this beautiful night view. I stayed there for the entire song and then made my way back to the guy's house and delivered the pizza.

Pizza delivery was fun, although the long shifts (I averaged 36 hours per weekend), the ridiculous price of gas and the wear and tear on the car was making it not worth it. In August, the height of the slow season for all pizza places (they clean up in autumn and winter), I was told that my services weren't required until September. I said goodbye, ate my last piece of pizza fresh out of the oven, and went home to find a new job.

Delivering pizza was fun and interesting and had a lot of potential to make serious cash. Some nights I would come home and count out $400, from a single 12-hour shift! Other times, after gas was counted in, I was lucky to break seventy-five bucks. Still, the memories are sweet and the music was fine and the pizza was delicious. I don't think I would ever do it again, but at least I learned that for myself.

Thanks to pizza, I will always remember the summer of 2014!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Accidental Tech Nerd

I didn't mean to become a tech nerd, it just sorta happened. Business survival steered me into the nerdgasmic world of cloud computing, apps, smartphones, Android and development.

Six months ago I didn't know what a snapdragon 805 processor was, or how to organize my life and my business completely on "the cloud", or the detailed differences between iOS and Android (or even the differences between different versions of each operating system).

Now, I know how a smartphone powers 1080p screens, and what a pure "vanilla" Android experience is compared to a "bloated" and "skinned" one. I know that iOS8 and the iPhone 6 were released today (September 9 2014) and that everybody is waiting for Google to release the Nexus 6 and the new Android L system. I know how to clip things from sites and store them in the cloud immediately, and how to work on docs simultaneously with my development team overseas from my Google Drive. Why do I know all this? Because I have to.

Two years ago I bought a Samsung Galaxy SIII. Why? Because my old Motorola Krazr flip phone had busted and it was time to get something new. Like, really new. I had hated touch-screen phones; my thick fingers tend to punch all the wrong buttons when I'm texting or dialing, but the guy at Virgin Mobile let me play with an SIII and I was sold. It was pretty!

For the next two years I used this super-computer, with more processing power in it than was used to land Neil Armstrong on the moon, like a regular "old" phone. Aside from texting and Angry Birds it might as well have had a rotary dial on it, because I didn't really use it. The Google Maps GPS came in handy once in a while but I was really wasting its potential. Then I started my own business.

My TEFL business is chugging along (rather, gliding along) nicely. I'm in the process of developing it further and bringing 21st Century infotainment (wow, spell check let that one pass!) to the ESL classroom, and snagging my piece of the $193 billion pie. I have online students in four different timezones, as well as classes of students in Kitchener and Toronto. I recently started work full-time during the day with a tech startup here in Guelph that develops GIS maps for telecom infrastructure. I work that during the day and run all over the place during the evening working my business. It's not only exhausting but also very difficult to organize.

That's when I found Google Drive, Google Calendars and Google Keep. The three sync perfectly with my Google Plus account (which is FAR superior to crappy Facebook) and as soon as I started entering scheduling information into my calendar on my phone, it would send me a notification when an appointment or class was approaching. Wow! No more millions-of-pieces of scrap paper with random times written on them littering my desk! With Google Keep I can jot notes, make lists, even just speak into the microphone and Keep perfectly transcribes it into a note that is automatically synced across all my devices on "the cloud". I can snap a photo with the Keep photo tool and snip an article from the web to read later. I tried Evernote but the fact that it doesn't sync with the rest of Google lost points. It was also confusing as all f**k.

Slowly I was becoming a tech nerd, although really just a Google fanboy.

My Galaxy SIII was having a hard time keeping up with my new found cloud computing, especially after I discovered Google Music and have now synced my entire iTunes library to it. So long as I have a data or wifi signal, I can play thousands of songs on any device without ever having a single file stored on anything physical. They're all in "the cloud"!

After two years my Samsung was nearing the end of its life. The screen is still crystal clear (can you say "AMOLED"? I still don't know what that is, but it sounds super high-techy). The battery, always a problem, now lasted me a full 4 hours from a full charge. The Samsung bloatware (all the extra bits Samsung added on top of the Google Android system) were draining my battery and I wasn't using any of them and there was no way to shut them down. So I went looking online and came across info on how to root my phone and add the Google Now launcher. Ta-da! Not only did I become an official tech-nerd (simply uttering the words "root my phone" or "launcher" makes you a nerd), but my phone can now hold a charge from 7 am until 10 pm, provided I don't listen to too much music.

Despite being able to extend my phone's life another few months, the time has come for me to get a new phone. Just in time for this, a whole bunch of amazing new phones were released in the past month! I've had my eye on the Nexus 5 and was comparing it to rumored specs for the new iPhone 6, but quickly decided that I absolutely can't stand iPhone (my wife has an iPhone 4S and LOVES it. She swears by it, but all iPhones look the same. There is seriously no difference, no customization and nothing interesting about an iPhone). Back to Nexus 5 I went a-looking. Then Motorola released their new Moto X (2nd Generation) last week and it blew my mind. Now there's talk of a new Nexus in October/November. Some startup in China has the awesome-looking OnePlusOne available by invite only.

At the same time I have recently "hired" (sub-contracted) a "consortium" of tech-nerd IT students (basically 4 students, two in Toronto, one in Pittsburg and one in Jakarta) to develop the software and apps I need for my business to advance. They introduced me to Google Docs and Google Sheets, which are basically the Google versions of Word and Excel, but are found completely on "the cloud". Using Google Hangouts live video conferences, we can all work on the same documents and spreadsheets at the same time, from four different cities in the world! How cool is that?

As I work my job with a startup, manage and grow my own startup, keep a busy schedule of English teaching, spend hours developing programs with IT students and hammer out a detailed business plan and write all the course material for the future launch of my revamped business, I find myself constantly engaged on my mobile and desktop devices. Calendars, email, video conferences, scheduling apps, billing apps, accounting apps...the list is endless. My phone and the cloud has literally allowed me to do the work of, six...people all at once. For this reason I am looking very carefully at what the best device is to take me another two years into the future. I'm already 100% committed to the Google cloud ecosystem, so I just need to find the right devices. And this, out of pure necessity, is why I am an accidental tech nerd.

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