Monthly Archives: July 2013

My first Rails App

It just keeps getting better. Week three of The Starter League has been the best so far, after the amazing first two weeks I didn’t think it could get any better.  This week we started to play with rails! O man, learning to code is sooo much fun!

I love the fact that I walk away after each class having learned something new.  The idea is that we cover something new in class, and we get to do it once in our pairs in class. Then after class, you try and do the example from class by yourself, referring to the solution when you get stuck. You continue to practice this until you can complete it without looking at the solution.

Once you get there, you try and do what we learned in class on your own app or idea.  Since I didn’t really have an app or idea that I wanted to work on I had to come up with something.  So, since I am trying to get a job as a ski instructor in Fernie, I thought let me try and build an app for helping them recruit seasonal workers.

My first Rails app, Apply page

Here you apply in my new rails app, it will enter your details into the database.

So this week we were introduced to rails. Rails is pretty cool, it makes life allot easier and it allowed us to set up the skeleton for a web app in no time. It also makes talking to a database really easy.  So my FAR (Fernie Alpine Resort) recruiting app became my first rails built, database backed app.

The data for this list result page is pulled out of the database.

The data for this list result page is pulled out of the database in my first rails app.

It is actually amazing how much we’ve learnt in only three weeks. While building out my FAR recruiting app I got to do a few things for the first time. I used bootstrap to help me with styling and used rails to set it all up.  I set my own database for the first time and interacted with it. They call it CRUD – Create, Read, Update and Delete. Basically the actions you perform while interacting with a database.

I am having so much fun! Still can’t believe I didn’t do this a long time ago. The more I enjoy this, the more I think I want to be a hacker!

Wrigley Field

Wrigley field must be one the most amazing places to visit in Major League baseball.  Wrigley Field is the home of the Chicago Cubs and is the second oldest ballpark in the majors, after Fenway Park in Boston (home of the Red Sox).  It was build in 1914 and now has a capacity of 41 000.

Busy concourse before the start of the gam at Wrigley Field.

Busy concourse before the start of the gam at Wrigley Field.

The Wrigley Field is located to the North of the city, while US Cellular Field home of the White Sox is in the south side of Chicago.  Last year when we were is Chicago for a few days, we went to two games at Wrigley Field, but the Cubs lost both of them.  So I was keen to go again and hopefully see the Cubs win!

So after a visit to US Cellular Field over my first weekend in Chicago, it was time to go watch the Cubs on the second weekend.  Getting to Wrigley Field is really easy, the red line stops about 50 meter from the stadium.  As soon as you are off the train you can feel the festive atmosphere in the streets, there is even are brass band playing.

Brass Band playing outside Wrigley Field before the game.

Brass Band playing outside Wrigley Field before the game.

The Cubs last won the World Series in 1908, the 104 years since then is the longest championship drought of any major sports team in North America.  But the fans still show up and support their team.  Wrigley field was close to capacity for this game, and the Cubs managed to win in extra innings.

Great view of the all the action from our seat on the upper level at Wrigley Field.

Great view of the all the action from our seat on the upper level at Wrigley Field.

One of the very unique features of Wrigley Field is that many of the houses on west and north side have built seats on their roofs to allow people to watch the game from there.  Many of them seem to have an indoor area, bars and televisions to help make the experience as nice a possible.  It sounds like they have an agreement with the Cubs to share revenue to allow them to do this.

Rooftop seats on the house across the street from Wrigley Field

Rooftop seats on the house across the street from Wrigley Field

I love going to baseball game, and will visit Wrigley Field a few more times this summer!

My Facepage App

I am having so much FUN learning to code! The Starter League classes so far have been awesome, I walk away after every class with new insight and something substantial that we have learned.

This week started with us still playing with HTML and CSS. We explored bootstrap, which is a framework to use in CSS, bootstrap is really cool. It reduces the work you need to do by 100’s of hours.  It allows you to structure the layout and display the content beautifully with way less work.  The bootstrap site, itself built using bootstrap, offers all the help you need to implement it.  It was a revelation exploring it and seeing what it empowers you to do.

We had our first real ruby playground session this week, which was awesome! We played around with arrays and hashes and had to do a challenge to combine it all to work out sales tax on items in a shopping cart. Kelvin (also from SA) and I, were working together and we tried to do a little more by styling the output to look like a receipt.

Our till slip output. Items with the tax and total.

Our till slip output. Items with the tax and total.

On Friday Raghu showed us how to use what we learnt in the last two weeks could be used to play with the Facebook API.  It was unbelievable to see what we can already do even with the limited exposure we have had.  So after class we had to get something ready for a show and tell session in the afternoon.

I decided to play with the Facebook API a little more.  I pulled the last 200 posts in my timeline, sorted out the pictures, and isolated the ones with at least one like. Then I wanted to sort them by the number of likes, which turned out to be more of a challenge than I thought. I call it My Facepage App:

This output all from My Facepage App. It was fun playing with the Facebook API!

This output all from My Facepage App. It was fun playing with the Facebook API!

But Google was my friend today, so after a few trial and errors, I managed to get it working. YEA! I can already think of many times in the past where the little skills I have learned so far could have saved me so much time!

This is AMAZING!

1871 – Home of The Starter League

The Starter League is located in a co-working space in the Merchandise Mart, called 1871.  Merchandise Mart is a huge commercial building (372 000 sq meters) that was built around 1930, this building has its own metro train stop, full food court and much more.

1871 is a community non-profit endeavour that seems to be working really well.  1871 was the year of the great Chicago fire.  But the story is more about how the city was rebuilt after the devastation, and how passion and innovation was combined to not only build one of the most amazing cities in the world but also contribute to world we all live in today.  So 1871 now tries creating a space where passion and innovation can be combined again to form some of the great businesses of the future.

1871 Reception Area

The Reception Area of 1871. 1871 is home to The Starter League and TechStars Chicago

The Starter League, TechStars Chicago and few others are also located here.  The vibe is really cool, location is great and the infrastructure everything a young start-up needs.  There is also a coffee shop and honesty based stocked fridges to get something to eat or drink at any hour of the day or night.  It works on a membership basis starting from $125 a month for evenings and weekend and goes up to $400/month for reserved space.

View of the open working area at 1871

View of the open working area at 1871

They also have some great events at 1871, like talks by founders and hackathon.  I am really looking forward to attend many of them.  It is also fascinating watching everybody working, people are mostly dressed really casually, like you would expect form start-ups. Every now and then there are some suits walking around, they really stand out.

The Starter League class room with iMacs

The North Classroom of The Starter League at 1871

It is also very interesting so see some of the conversations going on all around the place, you can often see people having job interviews or even meetings with potential investors or mentors.  It is really awesome seeing a community like this in action.  This must add immense value to the Chicago start-up ecosystem. It was clearly a great idea and the execution seems to be going great as well.

I have not really looked for places like this in South Africa, and can’t really say that I know of any on this scale and size.  But it would add great value if there was something like this in every major city in South Africa.

Lifetime Building Startups

I am really enjoying learning to code. It feels so empowering to finally understand more about what goes on under the hood of web applications.  Becoming a hacker is proving to be a really fun journey.  The Starter League classes have been great so far, I have also worked really hard to try and be ahead of the curve, working hard outside class.

Being here in Chicago and learning to code, is hopefully the first steps towards doing a startup.  I have been thinking about what the ideal setup would be if I would like to be involved in startups for the rest of my life.  Forgetting about the actual problems I would like to solve, and their solutions that could turn into businesses.  What is the skill set that I need to acquire, how do I need to set up my personal circumstances to be ideally suited for a lifetime building startups?

One of the keys for me to answering those questions is that I am really leaning towards bootstrapping, instead of raising capital early.  This is a little surprising to me, as I have always been inclined to go for more aggressive growth that raising capital can enable.  Not that I won’t raise capital again, but I would like to try get as far down the road as possible before I do.

I am also of the opinion that you should give yourselves as much negotiating strength when you eventually get to the point of raising money.  The stronger position the company is in the better, and having a real alternative to raising money is essential.

So bootstrapping a startup as long as possible would require keeping expenses as low as possible, so the paying big salaries to founders won’t be an option.  For me that has two big implications, 1) I need enough annuity income to support our own financial needs; 2) I need to be able to contribute in a big way to building the product.

By learning to code I start towards solving the second one.  To really get where I need to be however, may require working as a developer for a few years to really get all the skills I need.  This also gives me the time to make sure I set up the annuity income I need.

Having the skills and no need to ever earn a salary from a startup must be close to the ideal situation to be in! Achieving this in the next 2 -5 years is going to be my goal! In this time I can also look for the right problem to solve. As Robert Pirsig said in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”:

“You want to know how to paint a perfect painting? It’s easy. Make yourself perfect and then just paint naturally.”

I am looking forward to a lifetime of building startups.