2 March 2011

Guess Who Made It Into The US?!?!


Yesterday was probably the most kick-ass day I’ve had in quite a while. After months of headaches, worrying, and fighting with the boys at the US Customs and Border Protection I was finally admitted into the US to visit my partners in Mountain View, attend some meetings/dinners/seminars, raise some money, and take this whole startup thing to the next level! So, at about 6:30 on Monday night my dad drove me to the London train station where I hopped on a train to Toronto.

At this point I hadn’t really slept except for a few hours on Saturday night, so I was pretty wired, but I was just paralyzed with nervousness and fear. It was terrible. I hadn’t been so negatively scared or worried in a really long time. I just kept going over all the stuff that would go bad if I couldn’t make it.

Not fun.

Anyway, I got into Toronto around 10 and hopped on the subway heading for Mike’s mom’s house, where I was gonna crash for a few hours. Mikes mom greeted me when I got there, and we chatted for a little bit, but I was keeping her up pretty late at that point so she headed for bed and me to the basement to do some email, a little blogging and lots of worrying. At about 3 I got a taxi to the airport, then proceeded to twiddle my thumbs for an hour and a half.

First off: Toronto Pearson doesn’t open customs until 4:15 or so in the morning, so dont ever show up much before that!

Second: Checking in online is absolutely useless when you have bags to check, that was a waste of time.

Once I got my bag tag I headed into customs. There was no line so I got my choice of officer, but man was I ever scared (I’m still shaking a little now thinking about it). I ended up with an officer that really only said “bordering pass and passport”, and then after looking at the nasty stamp in my passport, “go to the back room”. Not surprising, but he sure wasn’t a talker! But here’s where it starts to go better. I really only wait 5 minutes before an officer calls me up.

Right off the bat he tells me nothing has changed and that I’m still not aloud to start a business in the US. I let him talk, and explain there has been a misunderstanding, handle the “so the other officers are lying?” question and show him the articles of incorporation. He asks to see a few more things, but generally is very kind, listens to what I have to say, and asked relevant questions.

He we thorough, but he was very receptive to my story lining up, and me having all the right paper work. In the end he checked my bags and sent me on my way. Total time of maybe 20 mins. I really dont know what I did right this time, but it went well! And thats it really! I hopped on a plane, had horrible nightmares about oauth + CBP + Airport security (“I know I forgot to update the twitter application secret key, now they wont let me in the US, and I still don’t have my shoes back on!”, haha). And when I woke up Steve was waiting for me in SFO.

I still can’t really believe it, but I’m here. Were together again. So now I owe you a little tour of our hacker dojo! But in the mean time I hope this whole mess has been insightful. I hope you learn from my mistakes. And I hope you never have to go through any of what I did. Be good, be prepared, be candid, and try to understand the rules - and I think most of the time you should be fine.

Oh, and just to ice the cake after I got off the plane I got a very ironic email from my dad. It was a link to this article by the Globe on how not to cross the border. haha. If only I had this a few months ago!

1 March 2011

Upverter: Alpha Live!

Exciting News!!!! We have finally launched the Upverter Alpha. Woot Woot! Thats right! We have a product, users, the works. This is soooo exciting! Check out the announcement at the upverter blog, or the landing page to register for the beta. In other news, I wanted to apologize for going quiet on the wire. I have still been writing, but with the chaos of the Alpha blitz there was no time to fix obscure wordpress issues. The blog should be working again, and I’ll go through and back post my writings.

23 February 2011


 Today I just wanted to do a quick little plug on our new best friends in the whole world InMojo. These guys are kick-ass. They are an open source hardware marketplace of sorts with a focus on crowd-sourced orders and breaking down the manufacturing and P2P sales problems that OSHW have. I spent an hour or so on the phone with them the other night and it was just a great chat. We talked about how we breathe more life into the movement, what our users need, how our products fit together, and what other startups in the ecosystem we need to prop up. Because at the end of the day we are all trying to make this place, this open source hardware, and hobbyist electronics ecosystem, a better place to hang out. We all want it to be a better place to learn, with better tools and easy ways to share your work with your friends. We want people to understand the open source vision, and that we all get better when we work together. And we want ways to build what we design, ways to make it really, truly come to life, and ways to build them for our friends. We are in the together, and we need to work together, and I’m just so excited that the guys over at InMojo share our vision for the future of electronics and OSHW. If you haven’t yet, you should check out their site. They are adding content all the time, and root them on ‘cause they are a brand new company just like Upverter and we all need your help to make this work!

18 February 2011
Man, Big Stu is Getting Old!

Haha. Big Stu is my Dad, and if you haven’t met him let me tell you he is a very big and towering teddy bear. And we all love him buckets. And he just turned 60! The following is my notes from the trip… I just got home from probably the most incredible family vacation, ever. Incredible being together. Incredible amounts of food, and sun, and beaches. Incredible hanging out with my parents. Incredibly stressful getting home and back. And incredibly bad timing. It was a pretty serious blend of emotion, and chaos. And I’m so very, very happy that I could be there with my dad, my mom, and my family, even though the timing was so terrible. For my Dads 60th birthday this year my mother got him a trip. A trip on a cruise. A trip on a cruise with her and the 6 of us boys. For lack of a better word, this sounded insane. The following is my rough recounting of the trip. We left home at 11pm Friday night. We were actually in the car and pulling away a few minutes before 11, which marks the first ever, in the history of the universe, time that the Homuth family was on-time, let alone early to do anything. Now the first stage of the trip was the suspense filled journey to the U.S. border. Its not a very long drive to Sarnia and thus Detroit from my parents house, so thankfully it wasn’t long and drawn out, but the nerves were running pretty high. As you all know I had a bunch of border trouble back at the start of January, and we were less than sure that I was going to make it across for the family vacation - which was pretty tense/stressful/disappointing. So we show up at the border at about midnight, and as expected immediately get asked to head inside. Everything went pretty friendly though. Of my experiences lately these guys were the nicest to deal with yet. It really was the best fusion of through and friendly I could have hoped for. So once inside I get asked the standard welcome to the border questions, and I talk about my B-1 visa issues over the last couple months, and about the family trip. I explain that while my B-1 issue still isn’t resolved this trip is unrelated. And after a couple of standard questions I give the officer all of my paperwork collected over the last couple months, and I go and sit down with my brothers and my Dad. The officer reviewed my documentation and my file for maybe 15 minutes, and called me back up to go over it all. As I said he was very through, he actually looked at and read most of my documentation. He got a pretty good kick out of my post about my original problem at the border and credited me for taking as much blame in the process as I did. And in the end approved my visa and let me in. I do owe him a thank you, and a shout out - so here it is! Thanks a ton. You let me participate and a pretty incredible family event. And I came back home, just like I promised. So thanks! So at this point I have that wonderful sick to your stomach feeling that comes after all of your nerves let go. I’m shaking, mumbling, and its more than a little hard to talk. But I’m through! I made it in. And I’m on the path to rebuilding a relationship as a visitor of the US. We manage to reassemble the convoy and other than a couple little navigation hiccups we arrive at the airport and curl up for a little nap before our flight. two flights, a layover and a bus ride later we board the Celebrity Summit cruise ship, where I am currently sitting on the back deck and typing up this post. We made it! Now basically the whole cruise followed the following pattern:

  • Boat drives while were sleeping
  • Wake up hungover at some island
  • Breakfest with the family
  • Get changed, packed for the day
  • Meet at the gangplank and head to a beach
  • Put on 8 gallons of sunscreen and sleep under a palm tree
  • start drinking at 9am
  • Sleep more
  • Head back to the boat at 3pm
  • Zak tries to hide somewhere and work for 3 hours
  • Get dressed for the show or dinner
  • Show or dinner
  • Dinner or show
  • Drinking and partying to all hours of the night with Clint, Jake and Grayson
  • Go to sleep & Repeat

In the interests ot documenting for everyon elses sake, a couple pointers:

  • The internet sucks! ($1/min at the best)
  • $5 per chair / $5 per umbrella
  • $8 each person each way to the beach

And the islands we visited:

  • Saint Thomas
  • Saint Martin (Favourite)
  • Antigua
  • Saint Lucia
  • Barbados
  • Starting and ending in Purto Rico

It was an incredible trip and I have more to write about it, but for now this is it!

14 February 2011

A Step In The Right Direction

I just wanted to say a very profuse thank you to the customs and border patrol officer that let me into the U.S. on Saturday so that I could participate in my Dad’s 60th birthday celebrations. Its a step in the right direction, and I appreciate that. Thanks. I’ll write more about my latest experience at the border in a later post, but for now let me say that he was very through, yet the nicest and most understanding so far. It took about an hour, but it wasn’t uncomfortable, and the goal seemed a lot more oriented with getting me across than keeping me out. So again thanks! This is about to be a pretty incredible experience, and I’m glad I get to take part.

10 February 2011

U.S. Border Status Update

I can’t help but laugh a little. Its been 39 days since I first tried to cross the border with Steve to go down to Mountain View for some incredibly exciting business training. Its been 37 days since I tried for the second time and was dismissed for having a scary file. Its been 28 days since I applied for a B1 Visa from the US consulate in Toronto. 14 days since my first interview when my application was sent to Lewiston for further processing. 1 day since they invited me back for a second interview. about 7 hours since I got up at 4:30 this morning to catch a train to Toronto to visit the consulate. And about 75 minutes since they suspended my application on the grounds that I’m a Canadian citizen and don’t need to apply for a Visa from the consulate (apparently I had to show up in person to find this out).

In total I’ve missed 50 percent of the seminars I was trying to visit the US to attend. Spent about 25 hours fussing, worrying and filling in paperwork to try and fix my file. Spent about 18 hours in transit, lineups, and call queues waiting to meet officers. Spent about 12 minutes speaking with officers. And 26 days twiddling my thumbs waiting for the US government to inform me that I’m using the wrong process.

Like I said, I can’t hep but laugh a little.

I never imagined, for the life of me, that a border guard having a bad day could so unrelentingly affect my future. Live and learn I guess! If I were to offer a hypothesis - it seems a bit like the support center phone transfer problem. Except instead of no one knowing how to fix my problem, no one is willing to say I’m ok. The original officer decided I was a bad guy, and no one has the balls to overturn that. Which I guess I get. If I actually were bad, who wants to be the sucker that proves the original guy right. Especially in a system where there is no duty to serve the customer. What I don’t get, is why the computer screen trumps the insurmountable evidence I have been bringing with me. Why a note that says I was unprepared and didn’t provide paperwork is worth more than the paperwork I didn’t bring the first time. It doesn’t make sense. And I’m pretty sure that’s a catch-22. I’m pretty sure there is no way to win without some serious amount of compassion on the part of a border guard.

So I head back to the border. Back to plead my case. I know a little bit more now, and I have a better skill-set. And maybe these are silly questions, but I can’t help asking. Couldn’t they have just told me to go back to the border a month ago? Why did it take so much paperwork, time and money to explain a process to me? Why even offer to look into it? Or most importantly, why lie to me and keep passing the buck?

9 February 2011

Starting Deployment

 Today we start the intrepid journey from client-side javascript running on our local machines towards a server stack on EC2 which will be supplying the files, dynamically bootstrapping the environment, and chatting with the client-side javascript such that changes can be persisted, files can be loaded and save, and collaboration can happen. In short, today we start to move stuff to the servers. EXCITING! We are currently blitzing on the last few bits of the puzzle. The weekend was spent on the API, yesterday on integration and design actions. And we want to let people in day after tomorrow, so that means today and tomorrow are going to be spent reviewing and deploying. I’ve been saying it a lot lately, but we are really close. In other news I got a response from the consulate today that I need to go in for a second interview. So I’m going to try and head there tomorrow I think. I have no idea where I stand, but fingers crossed!

7 February 2011

Random Thought: Activation Energy

 There seems to be a lot of activation energy to my writing. Whenever I’m in the zone and writing daily its great, my thoughts are clearer, I’m more productive despite spending time writing, and I have good focus on my priorities. But whenever I get into a coding zone, writing seems less important. It cost me so much more to switch gears into email, or phone calls, or writing. If I had to guess I’d say this is the same thing Stevie experiences whenever I call him and ruin his train of thought. Its also probably related to flow, but in this case I’m concerned about the tear-down time to leaving flow. In other news we missed our Alpha launch last Friday, but we are hot on the trail and should start deployment again on Wednesday. So much glue, so little time!

4 February 2011

Upverter: Porn Star Interns

 We are getting to the point where we need to hire people, and are very excited to start growing the team. And a big part of our longer term strategy will be to use interns. But we have a problem. No one really knows who we are, and a lot of the really good co-ops mistakenly think that working for Google or Facebook is the best thing for their career. I have a lot of friends that have written on this subject already, so rather than lament the broken I’m talking about our little hack here at Upverter to try and fix the problem, for us at least. Check out the Upverter Blog to read the rest.

2 February 2011

Furiously Deep

 I have been just furiously deep in hack mode lately. And I apologize for going quiet on the wire. We are getting really close, but we still might not make our Alpha launch on the 4th. Fingers crossed! Back to work!