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Month: June 2009

A leaner business – water delivery.


I play a little game in the car on my way to the office every morning. I try to think of ways to remove myself from the flow of the business.

I’m a firm believer that after a company has grown to a certain size, the founder/owner becomes more and more of an impediment to the daily operation of the business. More to the point, the need for the founder to be involved in each and every decision becomes the impediment.

A business should be able to, if not run, at least chug along smoothly without you. Perhaps for a short period of time initially, but eventually it should be able to function without you indefinitely. If this isn’t the case, what you’ve got yourself there is a job rather than a business — a job, perhaps, without a proper boss, but a job nevertheless.

At any rate, every morning on my way to the office I try to think of ways I can remove myself from the path of the business. In the past, this has led to things good and proper, like direct deposit for employee payroll, removing the need for me to be at the office to sign the checks twice a month.

I’m not being intentionally lazy when I say that I don’t want to be at the office to take care of payroll, I’m saying that there is something wrong with a situation where business stops if I’m not physically able to be at my desk. I don’t know if you’ve ever been a day late with payroll. I have. I wasn’t able to make it into the office because of a meeting and the payroll packet just sat there on top of my desk. It may not be the worst thing in the world, but being a day late with payroll is shameful somehow.

Antair KitchenSo today I was thinking about the office water delivery. We have a water cooler thing. It uses 5-gallon water bottles. The kind where new jugs are delivered and old empties are taken away. Water usage at the Antair offices does not follow a predictable curve. Sometimes we have visitors. Sometimes folks work from home and the traffic at the office isn’t as high.

The water delivery service is managed online, which is good. The last thing I need is to have to call someone twice a month to have more water delivered. But the cycle of delivery, consumption and renewal, is still anchored on me. We don’t have an office manager, and while we run well without one, the water delivery situation bugs me to no end, simply because I can’t think of a good way to automate the process and remove myself from it.

If the water bottle is running low, someone at the office has to notice it. If we don’t have any extras around from the last delivery, I have to be notified about the situation, regardless of where I happen to be. I then have to log into the water delivery service website, and, assuming I remember the login information, check when the next delivery is scheduled for, and inevitably schedule an extra, earlier, delivery as soon as possible. I don’t know what the point of the scheduled deliveries is. They’re never in sync with our needs, so we wind up either having extra jugs that are still there when the next scheduled delivery rolls around, or we run out of water weeks before a delivery is due.

So I log into the site, schedule an extra delivery, and then proceed to either inform someone at the office about the delivery date, or put it up on the intranet calendar myself.

This entire process rubs me the wrong way. Normalized, the bad taste of the situation comes down to the fact that getting water delivered to the office requires the full attention of the President of the company. For as few brain cycles as the process may require of me, the fact that it requires any at all is what makes the situation feel wrong.

So here’s what I want from my water delivery company.

Give me an API. I’m going to solve this nonsense once and for all.


I’ll stick a cheap $2.00 sensor on the water cooler and have it signal an intranet app when the water level is getting low. One API call later, and our water delivery is instantaneously and automatically scheduled and the intranet calendar is updated accordingly. More importantly, I don’t have to be involved, and the business can chug along that much smoother without having yet another thing to be dependent on the boss for.

But alas, I doubt the company selling water inside plastic jugs will be delivering an API to us anytime this century, and I’m not going around writing screen scrapers to hack the thing together with noodles and band-aids.

So I guess I’m off to write that wanted ad for an office manager.

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Walker Designs

Andy Walker, our very own customer support guru extraordinaire … is also a designer.

Check out some of his shirt designs, and grab a couple for friends and family.

The one-day shirt sale is over. But you can still find some of Andy’s designs on his blog.


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Save Me a Spot


I live near a popular restaurant in New York City. Over the years, it has slowly established itself as a hot evening destination.

Every night, cars double and triple park in the hopes of catching someone pulling out so they can participate in the mad dash to grab the open parking space. The restaurant doesn’t have adequate parking.

The same area, during the day, is completely free of cars; you can park an 18-wheeler blindfolded.

So here’s your web app idea for the day…

Build a service where people who know they are going to need a parking space some time in the near future at a given place, are matched up with people who live in that neighborhood and are able to save them a spot.

I don’t know if a version of this already exists or not, and I can immediately see a whole slew of legal issues that could come up from a rushed implementation of something like this, but I’m the sort of person who analyzes legal hurdles 5 seconds into getting any idea, so don’t go by me. I’m just throwing something out there, the need for which I witness every evening outside my window.

Good luck!

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Dijkstra on SLOC

“I knew that each Apollo flight required some 40,000 new lines of code.

I don’t know what unit a line of code is … “

… but 40,000 is a lot.”

(photo ©2002 Hamilton Richards)
(photo ©2002 Hamilton Richards)

— E.W. Dijkstra

— from a 25-minute visit with Dijkstra, filmed in Austin by Dutch public TV in autumn 2000.

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And the first person I hired was …

Someone who comes in at least once a week and cleans our office.


I could go on and on about how our company depends on knowledgeable customer support crew, or our brilliant developers, but the truth is, if it weren’t for my first (and least expensive) hire, we would’ve all drowned in our own filth by now.

It makes all the sense in the world. The folks coming in to clean your office every evening or weekend are responsible for making your company look presentable, and your employees healthy and happy. So take advantage of the cleaning services provided by your office building, or, if that isn’t provided, go ahead and hire someone yourself. You can use the +1 hire to bump up your stats when you go pitching your wares to venture capitalists.

And if you only do things if they make “business sense”, you pig, I’m quite sure that office cleanliness has a large impact on the quality of work produced by your employees.

And it prevents me from sticking to your floor when I drop by for a visit.

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