jb… a weblog by Jonathan Buys

A Daring Adventure

or, A Good Life

I’ve been floundering. I’ll go ahead and call it an early “midlife crisis”. For the past few years I have been drastically thrashing about, unsure of what I’m doing with my life. I went to grad school and earned a Masters in HCI. I joined a start-up, and then left it unexpectedly. I started my own business, shut it down, reopened it, and am now wondering what to do with it. I built software I no longer use myself. I write about open source software, and use a Mac on my desk, but Linux on my servers at the day job. I have a hard time concentrating on any one thing because I’m torn in so many different directions at once. Things need to change.

The Why

I once considered myself something of an adventurer. I left school before graduation and spent months camping in a tent on the Washington coast. I joined the Navy and travelled, visiting Spain, Portugal, France, Greece, Italy, and Israel. Shortly after my wife and I married we moved to England and rented a farmhouse in the countryside of Cornwall. We stayed there for four years, and in that time we honeymooned in Dublin over St. Patricks day, and I went rafting in Wales, and caving closer to home in Cornwall. I drove through London in an American Jeep. When my tour in England was up, I joined the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, once known as the Defense Nuclear Agency, in New Mexico in a special duty assignment. We used to travel to the deserts of Nevada, north of Las Vegas. In my free time I would take the kids hiking in the Sandia mountains.

Things changed when I left the Navy. We moved to Iowa, I got a job at a desk in a cubicle, we had our fourth child, and I started living a “normal” life. Day in, and day out. For the past six years I’ve been a Linux systems administrator. In the same position, in the same desk. I started to believe that my adventure was over, and that belief made me desperate. I was wrong; I’ve been traveling through the deep.

The “why” of Farmdog, my Mac software company, stems from my desire to escape the cubicle and build a sustainable income that I can run on my terms, from anywhere in the world. Farmdog was meant to be a way to facilitate more adventure, more travel, more life. I thought if I could earn enough with my software business, I could pay off my student loans and eventually quit my day job. The reality has been far less interesting. Farmdog has barely sold enough copies of either Paragraphs or Go2 to pay for the annual Mac developer account and the two icons I had done for Paragraphs. I’ve earned far more as a freelance writer than I have as a developer, which is a disappointment.

After spending months and months learning Cocoa and Objective-C, and months and months more after that developing Go2 and Paragraphs, I was crushed when sales dropped to nothing after launching Paragraphs over the summer. I called it off, shut it down, then felt that I’d reacted poorly so I brought everything back up again. I sent a friend, who’s opinion I trust, an early version of this post, and he replied with a quote:

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature… Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”

That of course is Helen Keller, who was nothing short of amazing. I’ve been mulling that quote over for the past several weeks, and in the last few days I’ve come to understand more about myself, my motivations, and where I want to go with my personal and professional life.

It came to me while jogging the other day. We’ve built a good life here. In this house, on this land. My family is together, my kids are well behaved and on their way to becoming confident, competent members of society. My faith has never been stronger, and our church is fantastic. My relationship with my wife has never been better. But, getting here hasn’t been easy. The repetition of my daily life has allowed the kind of deep soul-searching that I don’t think I would have done before. I’ve had to do a lot of deep digging, honest, bare-bones, white-knuckle type of digging.

I thought my adventures were over, but I’ve been digging through the deep. The biggest challenge a man can face is to master himself, only then can he face his greatest adventure: being a father and a husband. With the help of Christ, I am doing just that. My motivations behind Farmdog were to pay off debt so we could travel again. We will travel again, but at an appropriate time, perhaps when the seasons of life change again and our kids are leaving home to begin their own lives, their own adventures. Now is not that time, now is time for slowing down as much as we can, enjoying and teaching our kids as much as we can, and living our day in and day out life to the best of our ability.

The Details

Farmdog as a company is selling two products that I, personally, do not use. Go2 has been replaced by a Quicksilver plugin that reads my .ssh/known_hosts file. Paragraphs is a fairly good blogging platform, but it combines two tasks into one application, and winds up doing neither of them as good as competing products. Jekyll is fantastic, and includes free hosting with Github, and the Mac has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to fantastic text editors. MacVim, BBEdit, IA Writer, and Byword are at the top of that list. Paragraphs does have a few neat tricks, but it is nowhere near as good, or as bug free, as other text editors.

If I were to have the time over the next five years to dedicate several hours each week to developing Paragraphs, I think I could build it into a fantastic application. But, each minute I work on Paragraphs I’m taking a minute away from something else that needs done. If I’m programming, that means that I’m not doing any freelance writing, and as previously stated, writing makes me far more money each month than programming ever has. Since the goal is to pay off some bills, it seems counterproductive to spend my time working on something that makes little to no money.

I hate to take Paragraphs and Go2 down, but it seems hypocritical of me to keep them up for sale when I’m taking my personal and professional life in another direction. What makes this decision so hard is the amount of help I’ve had along the way. For years I’ve been able to send off a new build to a good friend or two and have them tear it apart, and send me back a long list of wrongs in need of repair. I cannot express how important having someone test your software honestly is, or how much I appreciate the help I’ve received. But, however highly I value it, loyalty to friends seems like a poor motivator for running a business. Luckily, since I have such smart friends, they already know this.

Farmdog will remain a business, and I will support Paragraphs and Go2 for one year from the date of the last purchase of either application, but further development will be very, very slow, if at all. I may keep developing Go2, but the future looks dim for Paragraphs.

Now, and Soon

My personal life needs me to keep working, but also to keep growing and finding new avenues for change. To find contentment in my professional life, and to solidify the many aspects of my work, I needed to find a new direction, one that met this criteria:

  1. Made use of my experience as a Linux sysadmin in a web environment
  2. Made use of my degree in HCI.
  3. Provided an opportunity for both freelance and corporate work.
  4. Shows promise and sustainability for the future.
  5. Incorporates open source software and a new stream of topics for writing, until freelance writing is no longer needed.

Considering my professional needs, experience, education, and desires, it seems clear that I should be modifying Farmdog Co. into a web design and development business.

In many ways, this new direction reminds me of when I decided to learn Cocoa. Design now seems like programming did then: out of reach, too far from what I’m good at, just a little too much for me to grasp. I love a good challenge. Especially when that challenge can quite literally change my life. However, the difference is that I’m actually far more familiar with web work than I ever was with Cocoa. I started building web sites almost as soon as I got a computer. I was put in charge of building the command intranet back in 2000 - 2001, and I’ve been involved with the web since. Even with Cocoa, Paragraphs builds web sites, and I designed the default theme (such as it is) myself.

Web design and development feels right. After many nights of prayer and meditation, I feel good about this change. My first client will be, of course, Farmdog, followed by this site. I expect many slips and falls along the way, after all who am I to think that I can just decide one day to be a web designer. But I know one thing for sure, this will certainly be a daring adventure.

life indie farmdog