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I spent most of spare time this month alternating between 2 things, collecting more cards on Hearthstone and working on A Healthier Commute. On the latter, I’ve already made a lot of progress on the algorithm behind recording commutes, but I had a ways to go on the UI. This month I built UI to:

  1. “Wizard” to select/change your car with animated transitions
  2. Overview of what A Healthier Commute is about when you first start the app
  3. Playback of commutes that have been recorded
  4. Tutorial around the playback of commutes

The actual amount of UI is not that much, but the animations and related work took a bunch of time. Hopefully I can release a v2 release something next month.

In news, the plane from last month is still missing! There has still been no verified wreckage and it looks like it’ll be a mystery for some time longer (years perhaps). Winter came back for a week in April, but now we’re well into April Showers season. Apollo is starting to have a grasp of language. He’s able to imitate a lot of words and has started communicating (although only negatives).

That’s it for April! Not a lot happened and I was pretty busy

Now that it’s been about two weeks since the CODE grand finale, I figure it’s about time to catch up on the press releases and see where I made it into the press. Of course, as I was not the winner and only runner-up my limelight is limited, but there were a few spots.

I was of course in the official government press release and the blog about the winners. XMG Studios, one of the sponsors of the event, also put out their own press release.

I made it into the University of Waterloo daily bulletin both before the finale and in the recap of the finale.

There were also a couple of new stories that basically re-wrote the government press releases with some official pictures from Facebook. Here’s one from Betakit and one from the Ontario Centers of Excellence and another from TechVibes.

I also did an interview (before they announced the winners) at the grand finale with CTV, and CTV did some reporting of the actual event and winners. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find that online; maybe it never aired! Too bad.

Last Friday, I had the lucky opportunity to participate in the CODE Hackathon grand finale because A Healthier Commute was one of the top 15 apps that came out of that competition. This was going to be tough because I’m not good at public speaking and now I had to present to a bunch of important people.

I spent the week before perfecting my pitch. It had to be under 4 minutes and included one of my recent videos so really, I only had 2:45. I wrote up my pitch, practiced it, realized it went over time and cut cut cut. I really do think that from initial conception to delivery, I practiced it 100 times.

So with everything prepared, then came the day to actually do it. The organizers gave everyone an opportunity to do a dry run a few hours before the actual event which I took advantage of. I arrived and quickly realized that my slides and screenshots were messed up because I had designed for 16:9 but the display was 4:3. That sucked, but I had a few seconds to fix up some of the text.

My dry run went alright, but I was a little over time. Next was the hard part – the long wait before actually speaking. There was about a 2 hour wait, and there’s nothing much that I could do during that time (I didn’t think I needed to practice anymore). The teams before me delivered error-free pitches (at least I couldn’t tell) and then it was my turn. To tell you the truth, I went on auto-pilot and relied on my practicing. I don’t remember what I actually did, except I know that I screwed up in (at least) 2 places: 1) I forgot to say one line (but it was repetition/support) and 2) I forgot to advance the animations on my slide until near the end (wasn’t too bad, but wanted to give audience more time to read). I might have screwed up in other places but I really can’t remember so I’ll have to wait to watch a tape.

I had several people come up to me afterwards and say that I had the best pitch that night! (although I’m not sure if it’s true or whether they were buttering me up for something else). Of course the highlight was coming in second place, but getting a photo with Robert Herjavic was also really great:

I’ve seen him a lot on Dragon’s Den and he is a celebrity. One more photo to add to my with-celebrities album!

March was a long month and a lot of things happened. At the beginning of the month, I spent 48 hours competing in a hackathon using Canadian Open Data (more on that later). Then I went down to NY for work during March Break. Surprisingly, the weather was exceedingly nice. It went up to 18°C (as my phone reported)! Then I had to fly back later that night and the next day there was a big snowstorm in Toronto. The weather was still pretty crazy but it settled into a cool Spring weather by the end of the month (still less than 10°C)

The big (at least most interesting to me) news story of the month was the Malaysia Airlines plane that went “missing”. How, in this technologically connected world, do you “lose” a plane is beyond me. It’s been almost an entire month and they’ve only narrowed their search down to a particular area of the Indian Ocean. They still don’t know the motive (if any) or the reason why the plane was diverted and ended up there. I suppose they will have a better idea once they’ve located the plane, but that doesn’t seem like it will happen soon!

In addition to the actual hackathon, I spent a lot of time this month actually improving A Healthier Commute. On the code side, I’ve been prototyping how I can track driving trips and have been somewhat successful (under optimal conditions). There’s also been a lot of work on the product side, mainly because I was one of the finalist for the event. I had to produce a bunch of videos, prepare a presentation and a bunch of other paperwork-type things. Then, I had to practice the presentation a lot (I figure I did it maybe 100 times from initial conception, through the tweaks, until I actually pitched it). It’s almost like another job!

But, it’s been fun. Mostly because I don’t really do this that often and there is a guaranteed audience (to hear my presentation at least) so it’s not like I’m doing all of this into a vacuum and just posting about it on my blog. In any case, the pitch went relatively successful and I ended up placing second in the competition. So not only was it exciting and interesting, it was rewarding!

I’ve always marveled how startups and Kickstarter campaigns can come up with great videos about their products. I just don’t have the video chops or the tools to make videos like that! Unfortunately, I had the opportunity to make a couple of videos for A Healthier Commute as part of the things I need to do for the CODE Hackathon.

It was very difficult and a big pain. Making a video is harder than making the app, especially because I am nowhere near happy with the outcome. Here’s my first video:

I feel I have good branding and slides, but everything else is tough. It’s tough to control the phone and talk at the same time. It’s tough to get your message down in the minimum amount of time. And it’s tough just to assemble the video together.

Certainly I wasn’t happy with this video, but at least I had something to pass this gate.

Next, I was asked to produce a 15 second video. Not only is that not a lot of time at all, there was a collection of information that must be in the video. Here’s what I came up with:

I think this video is better than the first one. I spent more time thinking about my message and how to cut it down so it’s more concise and direct. 15 seconds isn’t a lot of time, it’s half a TV commercial! But this video still took about 4 hours to make.

Then I started working on version 2 of my teaser/about video. Here’s the result:

Each video is better than the last, and for this one I had spent a lot more time thinking about the positioning and how to convincingly present my argument. I’m happy with the message. However, I’m still not happy with the video itself. I actually wanted to do a bunch of different animations for my slides, but I just don’t have the tools to do it (I don’t have Powerpoint/Keynote either!). I suppose if I had a slick presentation I could do a screencast and then record it; but ideally I’d want some software where all the images are objects that I can animate around (sounds like some Adobe product).

It’s important to be a designer (or have a designer hat) when building. I’m better at graphics now. But with the advent of YouTube, it’s important to have video skills, and I have neither that or the right tools!

Although the Hackathon which I entered A Healthier Commute has completed, I’ve been continuing to work on the product. It’s interesting to me because I want to do some research into whether I can track commutes using just a phone. Well, certainly you can do it, which is what apps like Waze or Uber (in reverse) do. You could even use something similar like Strava or MyTracks to do it. But I think what’s different is that all of those require active user intervention.

I have a FitBit Force and it has this neat feature that does sleep tracking. It collects data, processes it and spits out all sorts of neat conclusions like your sleep efficiency. You can see how long it took you to fall asleep, whether your sleep was restless and how many times you were awake. The thing I hate the most about it is that you need to remember to tell it start tracking when you go to sleep. Not only that, when you wake up, you have to remember to tell it to stop tracking. It’s very easy to forget one or the other.

I think it’s the same with commutes and/or driving. You might come up with a clever marketing strategy and get people to track their commutes for a week; but after that people tend to forget or get tired of doing things. And it’s the aggregate data that holds the most value, so it’s important that people keep tracking for longer than a week.

So with A Healthier Commute, I’m trying to make all this tracking automatic and passive. No buttons. It’ll just be smart enough to display your commutes. That’s challenging, difficult and interesting.