Tools of the Trade: Storyboards

Google Storyboard

Storyboards are a great tool primarily used by filmmakers. Storyboards have been adopted by other industries because of the benefits they provide. They provide a great way to plan out visual elements of your project before you commit to the heavy lifting. You can prove out an idea without writing any code or getting something on film. Think of storyboards as comics that highlight important scenes in your project.

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Low Budget Code Project 00: Conway’s Game Of Life

Howdy folks. Welcome to your first low budget code project. We’ll be creating Conway’s Game Of Life using the rules established by Coderetreat.  What makes this project great?

  • You can do this project in less than an hour
  • You can focus on learning a specific skill
  • Once you’re done, you’re done
  • You can do this project again and again

Our goal is to create Conway’s Game Of Life in 45 minutes. Once you hit the 45 minute mark you erase your code. That’s right, you toss it. Your main goal isn’t to focus on the final product; A true example of focusing on the journey over the destination.

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What is Low Budget Code?

Hi, my name is Raul Torres! If you follow me on Twitter you may have noticed I am a huge movie fan. I’ll watch anything from the latest chick flick to the summer’s big budget comic book adaptation.  I have a special place in my heart for horror movies, especially the low budget ones. When I am not watching movies I am usually working on the code that powers my latest idea.

What do low budget movies have in common with coding and software development?

venndiagram Low budget filmmakers and software developers have been creating the next big thing before for years. They have invested their own time and money to create projects straight out of their garage. They face the same challenges from budget constraints to tight deadlines.  They are rule breakers and disruptors that change the world. The final product may differ, but the entrepreneurial spirit is the same.

Low budgets films have been the proving ground for various directors. James Wan’s short film Saw led to a full length movie. He recently directed the latest Fast and Furious movie. Quentin Tarantino’s didn’t include the heist scene in his first film, Reservoir Dogs, due to budget constraints. Despite having limited resources these filmmakers managed to put together amazing projects in a short amount of time.

What is Low Budget Code?

  • Low budget code is the proof of concept you put together to learn a new technology
  • Low budget code is the demo you create to get your manager to buy in on your idea
  • Low budget code is the side project that lands you your next big opportunity

Software developers can learn a lot from film makers, and the best place to start is with the low budget filmmaking. No matter what your goal is, you can use small projects to boost your skill set and career. I’ll be writing about how to create your own low budget code projects and various software development topics, while exploring the connections to the world of filmmaking.

And now, on to our feature presentation…


Take 2: Yet Another Blog Intro

Howdy readers, new and old. I’ve made so many introductory blog posts on so many different platforms that I’ve lost an exact count (1234).

So here we are yet again!

Welcome to Low Budget Code

What’s so special about this attempt? This story starts with a tweet.

I’ve attributed a big part of my success as a software developer to my soft skills, so I was very interested in following up on the book and author. As a result of my research I discovered John Sonmez’s site, While browsing Sonmez’s site I was presented with the following call to action:


I saw the form and thought, “What have I got to lose?” And here we are, at yet another introductory post!

The Lessons

I am on lesson 5 as of this post. These lessons have provided something that was missing from my previous blog attempts: A cohesive plan. After going through the lessons I realized my previous attempts at blogging had some of the bits and pieces, but I never had a cohesive plan.

Each of John’s lesson gives you valuable information followed by an assignment to get your blog up and running. It’s a great format and it works well. I was surprised to see some of the homework assignments ask you to reply to the newsletter. I was even more surprised to get an actual response. It’s a small personal touch, but it shows a commitment that John has to his lessons.

Wanna give it a shot? Here’s where you can sign up for the newsletter,

What’s Next?

I’ve already got a few ideas for posts, so there will be more to come. I mean it this time. For now you can catch me on Twitter, @uz88.

Horrible User Stories: Episode 00

I like to tell myself, “Raul, you live in the future!” And indeed, I do live in the future. Technology rocks, I even have proof.


Behind every amazing technological innovation is a plan. I’d like to think that some of these plans follow a SCRUM process and they create user stories.

Unfortunately there are a lot of bad ideas out in the wild. Surely these amalgamations of ideas and technology must have had some type of user story or requirement to keep them on track. And yet, no one told them that they were creating a Horrible User Story

As a thirsty driver, I want to purchase a drink from the gas pump.

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This starts off as a good idea. You and your car are thirsty, let’s kill two birds with one stone. Then you get to the execution. A gas station terminal is not a web browser. It isn’t even as sophisticated as modern ATMs. Someone, somewhere, thought that using a gas station terminal to do more than enter your credit card info was a good idea. Surely anyone who is thirsty would choose to walk into the store and pick a beverage over browsing a tiny monochrome screen. This option just seems completely unneeded. It’s not faster, cooler, or easy. Why? It’s a mystery that will probably never be answered.

One last note. Usability is apparently so horrible that they have a five step guide on how to purchase your item at the pump. And the best part? Apparently you still have to go inside with your receipt. And I bet you have to pick out your items yourself. Welcome to the future.

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Book Review: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

tfdoatThis is the first management book I have read that constructs a full narrative to deliver the foundation of the author’s principals. Readers follow the ups and downs of DecisionTech’s new CEO and discover each dysfunction of a team in a very organic way. Other management books I have read will include a short allegory to supplement each point the author wants to convey, which occasionally makes for a very dry / technical read. The narrative structure of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team keeps the book interesting and gives the principals far more depth.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to improve the team they work with, regardless of the role you play.

Back To The Basics

I tried Ghost. I didn’t like it.  I am willing to try it again in the future, but right now it is too “beta” and it gets in the way of writing.

I was trying to backfill content I previously made to populate my blog. Modifying the published date was such a hassle.  Once the post was made the order of articles in the admin area is still “last created” and not “date published”. Totally uncool!

Hosting media for a post was  a joke.  I don’t want to upload something to a separate CDN for a  post, I am cool hosting it on the server. There currently isn’t a way around that with Ghost. I’d paint you a picture, but I wouldn’t want to go through the hassle to upload it!

Another crucial point is how far along the development process is.  It seems to be going slower than anticipated.  Speaking as a developer I can completely understand… but as a consumer I want a little more.

Microsoft ASP.NET and Web Tools Team (and Azure) AMA!

A few members of the ASP.Net and Web Tools team did an AMA on reddit. Some of the questions that got answered have been in the back of my mind for awhile. Here are a few Q&A’s that stood out.

Less or Sass? A LESS editor will be coming out in VS2013. A SASS editor might come out in the future.

What’s the story with Silverlight? “I think it’s done as far as the Open Web is concerned.” Makes sense since the open web has won.

What aspect of technology are you guys most excited about for the future? “JavaScript and C#. JavaScript is the virtual machine that we don’t have install…it’s in the browser. C# lets me put an app in every app store.”

Any thoughts in making project files exclusionary instead of inclusionary? “The short answer is yes.” OMG This one answer makes me so happy.

Blog 4.5

Tl;dr: I am moving on from my side project, Everblog. As a result I’ve also decided to change my primary blogging platform.

So Long, Everblog

Everblog was a fun project. I learned a lot working on the site, in fact I’ve slacked off on continuing the series of post regarding the lessons I learned. However, I’ve decided it’s time to move on, here are a few high level reasons on why:

  • Evernote just doesn’t do HTML well for blog posts
  • Kicks my butt in terms of features, and they have Evernote’s blessing
  • I don’t have time to support the site the way I would like to

I am going to set a hard deadline and then take down the production site. I’ll keep the dev instance around and won’t allow new users to sign up. I’ll have more details on this once I figure it out.

Hello, Ghost

I’ve been wanting to check out Ghost and Azure. I had an afternoon off and decided to go for it. Now we have the blog you are currently looking at today. Ghost seems like a really cool platform, so I wanted to dive into it 100%.

What’s Next?

I already bumped into a few issues in Ghost:

  • No instant Google analytics setup
  • Not sure the best way to host images
  • Not sure if I should customize the Casper theme or make a new one

None of these are show stoppers, but it’s kind of annoying. However, that’s kind of the point. Node seems pretty cool so I might as well make myself knee deep in it.

My next set of goals for the blog are:

  • Import all articles from my previous site
  • Customize this site a bit
  • Write more

Here’s to the future. Let’s see how this turns out!

You Should Be Emailing Your Users From Day One

Today’s post will focus on a few of the support lessons I learned while working on I consider support as:

  • Anything that involves working directly with a user to fix a problem
  • Any feature that is not part of the core product. (Authentication, user management, etc.)

Email Your Users At Sign Up!

  1. Get permission to email the user in the future
  2. Send the user an email welcoming them to the site

Adding a check box and sending out an email are two very simple things that I should have implemented into the sign-up process. To be honest, these basic features weren’t even on my radar. Due to this oversight I lost an opportunity to start and continue a dialogue with people who want to support my site. I set myself up for various failures by not connecting with my users. The first email I sent to users was to re-authenticate their account after the “Great Evernote Password Reset of 2013”. I was scrambling and didn’t know who to send emails to. To make matters worse I had no idea how they would react to the message or if it would even get through their spam filters. If I would have started having conversations earlier with my user base it wouldn’t have seemed like such a big deal to send out the update in the first place.

Email Your Users Monthly

The first month or so I was a beast, I added features left and right – PDF support, RSS feeds, better notebook management and much more. The only place I announced any of these updates was in the Everblog Blog. It was better than nothing, but only a handful of users took advantage of the new features. In fact, I received a few requests for features that were already implemented from users that were unaware of the updates. If I had a recurring newsletter I am sure the features would have had better adoption and users would be happier.

Keep The Communication Going

Another important thing that I did not do, and will make sure to do next time, is create a forum for the site. It sounds old-school, but I think that it would of made a huge difference in how I managed the relationship with my users. It would have made my life a little easier in terms of answering questions about the site. Plus there is the added potential of crowd sourcing. If I can’t answer a question maybe one of the users can

I want to close out each one of these articles with a few “Startup Protips”

Raul’s Startup Protips

Keep an open dialogue with your users from day one with emails and a forum