As some of you know I just returned from a vacation to Florida with my family. However this vacation was a little different. Rather than spend a few weeks at Disney and other attractions, we rented a car and decided to drive to local beaches, Miami and Key West. Overall we enjoyed Miami, good food, nice cars, okay beaches (more on this later) and nice atmosphere.

From Miami we drove to Key West and while it was great seeing the southern most point (the Buoy), Key West really didn’t live up to our expectations. We did enjoy it, just not as much as I had hoped. The highlight of this portion of the trip was visiting the Key West Pie Company (from CNBCs The Profit), which as you’d imagine has amazing key lime pie.

Rather than staying in Key West we drove back to Orlando in about 7 hours and started the second half of our vacation. When the time came to visit Disney and other parks I decided to leave the camera, GoPro and iPhone photography at home. Reason being, I wanted to experience the vacation as it happened. The result? A much more enjoyable and connected vacation with my family. While looking at photos of Space Mountain and Mickey spotting is fun, i’ve found social media and FOMO results in our actually missing the true point of an vacation/event. We do of course have some photos from key moments and I know my wife took some candid photos.

Now, the other goal of this vacation was to visit various beaches throughout Florida and I can say we accomplished that. We swam/sunned at beaches in Venice, Miami, Key West and Sarasota. For Venice, our favorite beach was Caspersen, an out-of-the-way beach just beside an airport. This beach had lovely water, a seafood restaurant and great sand (though very hot in July!). Miami beaches were okay, though crowded and dirty overall. For Key West, our first beach was closed because of Red Tide but we did find a nice family beach, Fort Zachary Taylor which had food, picnic tables and massive amounts of beachfront.

The best beach out of all of those was actually one in Sarasota, Siesta Key Beach. This had Caribbean white sand, a large beach front for visitors, food onsite, facilities and a playground for kids. We ended up spending about 5 hours at this beach and cannot wait to go back on our next vacation.

Overall this vacation was a blast, a little deviation (both the photos and inner-state travel) but one i’m glad we did. I look forward to taking similar vacations in other places around this country. The goal of a vacation is to have fun, not just visit the main attractions everyone does. All told in 10 days we drove over 2500 miles and visited 7 towns/cities throughout Florida.



Last week I had the immense pleasure to be featured on the Busy Creator podcast, hosted by Prescott Perez Fox. Not only did I have the opportunity to speak about the company, technology and general business. I also was able to chat with a longtime e-friend of mine. Prescott and I have been friends for about 10 years, back to our PhotoshopCafe days. It was great catching up with an old friend and being able to share some projects/workflows for PixelBit.

I welcome you to have a listen, share and post your thoughts. This was my first podcast, so I later learned a few audio oddities that i’ll be sure to incorporate, should I be featured on another podcast.

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As most of you guys know, TestFlight was the best mobile testing and distribution platform for iOS developers. Well, that is now a thing of the past as Apple has shut down testflightapp.com in favor of their internal testing process. One of the biggest gripes with the internal process is your app must go through review in order to be deployed to testers.

After TestFlight went offline we had to pick another mobile testing platform. We tried out a few different ones, but overall found HockeyApp to be the most robust. Even-though it does have a monthly fee (TestFlight was free) it wasn’t too bad, basically $10/mo for the first 25 apps. One of the coolest features I found (so far) in HockeyApp is the ability to integrate crash reports and issue trackers. At PixelBit, we use JIRA and to our surprise that is one of the integrated options. After some setup on HockeyApp, configuring a WebHook in JIRA and throwing some errors to test the integration, its all set up and working. Took about 5 minutes from start to finish.

Here is how the integration works. When a crash happens in your app, a notification is sent to HockeyApp. Once the integration is configured this crash log can be sent to JIRA via a webhook and create (or update) a ticket. The crash log, link to the report and high-level information is created in the JIRA ticket. Here is an example crash:

hockey-app-jira-linked

 

Configuring the process

Basically all you have to do is in HockeyApp visit the App settings (Manage App > Bug Tracker). Log in to your JIRA account, pick your project and make sure you enable “Auto Create Ticket” otherwise a ticket will not be created. Once your project is selected, copy the WebHook URL at the bottom of the screen. Finally, click Save.

hokey-app-settings

Now in JIRA pick your project and go to (Settings > Projects > System). Scroll to the bottom of the page and click “WebHooks”. Click “Create a Webhook” and paste that URL from HockeyApp. Finally, make sure “created” is checked under Issues.

jira-webhook-settings

That’s it, now you should have integrated issue tracking with HockeyApp and JIRA. HockeyApp does have support for other issue trackers as well. This process is especially useful in multi-person team environments, it allows the developers to stay in sync with crash bugs and removes the tedious step of issue tracking for bugs.

Note: It only seems to alert on the first crash bug for a set, additionally you can exclude some bugs/categories/projects using JIRA JQL.

Not sure if it was just me, but it feels like I was just reflecting on 2013. This past year has had some lows and highs, but overall its been a great year. To start, rather than listing out those traditional New Years resolutions (as if a ball dropping marks some reset in productivity or bad habits). I like to take the start of a new year to reflect on the previous accomplishments and setbacks, learn from them and hustle harder in the year to come.

Things Never Go as Planned

Let’s start with what didn’t work or go as planned. I had set a goal of hiring a full time sales person last year, but due in part to timing I decided not to risk it. This was single handily the worst possible idea, we were really busy at year start, saw a lull in the mid-year and thankfully ended off strong. However, had we taken that sales risk, it would have been a much more profitable year. In addition, we let outreach and marketing take a back seat to client demands which in turn contributed to that lull during mid-year. Rather than sit and sulk (no point in that) we took this experience and set aside a plan to expand this year and continue to grow our service and market range.

Key takeaway: Don’t let fear and failure stop you from taking risks.

Focus on the Good

Thanks to amazing opportunities, PixelBit was able to work on and ship some great projects. If you’d like to see more of the work shipped last year, just head on over to our updated website, go ahead, i’ll wait. :) One of our clients had the great fortune to be featured on a TV show focused on bars. In addition, we were able to secure the trademark for PixelBit, which while not groundbreaking is a big step to expanding and validating our brand. We are already working on 2015 and will be sure to post updates. Of course if you want to follow our progress, you can do so on Twitter and Facebook.

Personal Updates

On the personal front I was able to achieve one of my goals, which was to buy a sports car, purely for fun and enjoyment. Not long after buying the car I joined the BMWCCA and was instantly exposed to autocross. I won’t go into many details (I have blog posts for that), but I will say it was an amazing experience. One i’m looking forward to attending in the coming year. In addition to autocross, I am hoping to make some track days.

Additionally, my wife and I finally were able to take some time off and took a road trip to Florida. We spent some days on the road, about a week in Disney, some time with family and then drove back again. It was quite the experience, compared to flying and one i’m excited to do again. Not sure our son enjoyed it as much, but next time we plan to stop more along the way. Hopefully make the trip the fun and the destination the cherry on top.

In all 2014 was a good year. It had personal and professional accomplishments, lots of growth and i’m excited for what 2015 offers. One thing for sure I know I am focusing on this year is family, friends and experiences. Of course i’ll still be working and growing, but money/success/growth isn’t the only thing in life. So, now that i’ve rambled on for a while, how is your reflection on last year?

The following 15 secrets of professional success are something I live by, its how i’ve continued to grow PixelBit and how we retain amazing relationships with our clients.

Some have been learned through experience and others i’ve adopted from fellow entrepreneurs.

  1. A brand is grown, not built.
  2. Keep your opinions away from your business.
  3. Never stop hustling/growing/learning/experimenting.
  4. Spend less time watching your competition and more time working.
  5. Talk less, listen more.
  6. Talk less, do more!! (show, don’t tell)
  7. Tailor your message (marketing/in-person) for the specific audience.
  8. NEVER agree to something you cannot do.
  9. Image/reputation takes years of hard work to grow and only seconds to ruin.
  10. Always be honest and true to your word.
  11. Never be afraid to talk about what you do, but don’t overdo it.
  12. Make sure all members of your company speak the “voice of the company”.
  13. Hire fast, fire quicker.
  14. NEVER make a client feel less important, years to perfect, but IMPORTANT!
  15. Specialize, don’t generalize.

Bonus secret: Work/growth is important, but don’t forget to live outside of working.

Finally was able to dust off the DSLR and shoot some photos. I remember when I would shoot 1000 photos a month, now i’m lucky if I get 100 a year. Between growing PixelBit, family activities and other hobbies, I never have time for photography.

After working out some kinks in how to shoot in low light, I was able to capture some pretty great photos. Here is one of them:

BMW in the rain

Shooting in less than ideal conditions (rain in this case) really can yield some great results. I love how the reflections and water drops glisten as the sun was setting.

Hope you enjoy. If you want to see more, head over to Flickr.

I have also been doing some quadcopter photography and will be posting those results soon, but here is a teaser.

BMW M3 from above

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Photo Credit: Jesus Mendez

The following is a series of tips, tricks and observations i’ve noted from my previous autocross events. Note, I am a novice and have TONS of room to grow, i’m basically providing this insight as I progress and hope it helps others.  I will continue to provide more as I attend more events. The key piece is to keep an open mind, always be open to learning more and just have fun!

This past season was my first in autocross. After learning about some events run by the Boston chapter of the BMWCCA I was hooked. I’ve made some great friends and met a lot of very helpful instructors. I’ve even seen a personal improvement (shaved 10 seconds off my last run).

Tips from previous runs

  1. Constantly keep talking to fellow drivers/visitors
  2. Don’t be afraid to approach the veterans, many are VERY open to chat
  3. Talk less and listen more
  4. Do take an instructor along for most runs, but also run some solo
  5. While working the course watch the cars lines and actions
  6. Get as many ride-alongs as possible at each event
  7. During ride-alongs watch drivers inputs and basic line, but don’t mimic.
  8. First run of a course should be about exploration, not speed or times
  9. More speed requires faster inputs and more room for error
  10. Slaloms require smooth wheel movements, maintain speed
  11. Most courses don’t require shifting, get into desired gear and use acc/brake only
  12. Turn off driving aids to learn your car, but be safe.
  13. Smooth out your inputs as you progress
  14. Practice the right habits, bad ones are hard to break.
  15. Bring a GoPro, it makes for some great footage!

Things to bring

  • Shoes for driving (Puma makes some great ones)
  • Sunglasses & sunscreen
  • Helmet, if you have one (some events have loaners)
  • Clothes appropriate for the weather and change of clothes
  • Raincoat, umbrella or poncho for course work and standing around
  • A folding chair (fold up campers chair works best)
  • Lots of water in a cooler with ice
  • Lunch or cash to buy lunch from the events (varies)
  • Cooler for lunch, beverages or snacks
  • Notebook and pencil to write down all advice and sketch course for review
  • Good tire pressure gauge (can find one on Amazon for short $$)
  • Portable air tank or compressor (plug-in or gas powered)
  • Chalk or white shoe polish to mark the tires (remove after event to prevent marks)
  • Numbers or painters tape for numbers (usually needed to be 8-10 inches high)

As some of you know, earlier this year I bought one of my dream cars (ultimate is F430, that will have to wait a while!). A space grey BMW M3, 6 speed manual with the competition package. This was the culmination of working hard for 10+ years, foregoing some other luxuries and having an amazing wife that let me spend a good bit of money on something frivolous.

This wasn’t my first German car, in fact my very first car was a 2001 VM Jetta. I bought it from my family and overall it was good. However anytime it had to go into the shop it got expensive quickly! I was not excited to go through this again, but was told BMWs are more reliable and especially the M platform.

After a few months of internet searching, contacting dealers 1500+ miles away and even talking to transporters, I found the car! Oddly enough in my own state, which was very convenient. After the dealing and key retrieval I was ecstatic.. for about 100 miles. Then I heard a weird noise while turning the wheel to full lock. After some time spent on e90post and m3post, I figured out the problem was dirty differential fluid. I took it to the dealer and a few hours later was handed a printout that totaled $700!! However, one thing I didn’t mention was, this car came with the BMW extended warranty.

Since that initial service, the car has been to BMW Sudbury at least 3 times for other minor things (albeit the diff fluid is NOT minor). Let me just say that if you ever do buy a car, any really, opt for the warranty. If its nearing its expiration on the original warranty and you intend to keep the car, extend it. Especially on a higher end car with lots of gadgets that like to break.

Now, as I am sure all of you are wondering, what is my impression of the actual car..? That’s simple to answer. Amazed!!

Before I continue, lets take a break and show off a few photos from delivery to just a few days ago. You’ll notice something special, at least for me, with cars/bikes.

IMG_6145

bmw-m3-front bmw-m3-interior

IMG_7533

Did you see it? I haven’t modified this car at all. Aside from the LED interior bulbs ( I had to do something ). You may remember that 8 days after I got my TSX, 3 years ago it was modded. Days after I got my bike, modded. I am deciding to do something different with this one. I will of course mod it, I have a pretty extensive list in fact, which includes:

  • Tint
  • Wheels
  • Exhaust
  • Headlights
  • Carbon fiber lip and Diffuser
  • Euro bumper (remove US reflectors)
  • Brake kit
  • Spacers
  • ECU Tune
  • Carbon fiber trim pieces
  • Front/rear cameras
  • etc…

 

However, this time around I will slowly mod the car. Adding a piece here/there, hopefully enjoy it a bit more. I intend to keep this car for many years and will take great care of it, so it lasts. It will be driven (hard at times) but never abused. I will post various updates along the way and hope to do much of the work myself, with some exceptions, for safety reasons.

Now back to the car. Another cool element of this purchase was it being my first manual car! Some people thought it was nuts to get a car such as this with a manual if I couldn’t even drive it off the lot. However, with the help of my father-in-law I was able to get it home and every day would drive it a little more. Now about 3 months in, I still have a bunch to learn.. but its never too late to learn. I recommend everyone drive a manual transmission at least once in their life, its amazing.

As far as performance figures/facts. I could spout all the data from BMW, but that is all online. My impressions of this car coming from an i4 (4 cylinder) were it was amazing and can be scary, if not handled properly. I’ve taken it on a few spirited drives on desolate roads and next month i’ll be attending an autocross.

So, hopefully you enjoyed this life update. Key things to take away from this are: Always work for your dreams, never give up. Don’t write off an entire car line/country for one bad experience and buy a BMW. Trust me on that last one, you won’t be disappointed.

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