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11/15/2005

Up and About

Filed under:Camera Phone — eric's phone @ 9:00 pm

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Somebody up and decided she’d had enough of this crawling business.

20051115180006.jpg

11/8/2005

Egads! What’s been going on?

Filed under:General — eric @ 5:13 pm

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So where have I been? Well, besides watching Vivian grow up before my amazed eyes, I’ve been cloistered these last few months, coming out only to go to work, sell vegetables on Thursdays, and get groceries.

Why, you ask? Well, here’s the deal. It all comes down to money. As it turns out, the machine that goes “ping” really is the most expensive machine at the hospital, and when Vivian was born, she got three or four all to herself and Chris had a couple hooked up to her as well. And we were in the ranks of the uninsured. All the fine folks knew that, and cut us all the breaks they could, so the final bill only came to about forty-five thousand dollars. So… how to pay for it all?

Maybe you’ve heard — hospitals have gotten very aggressive of late collecting debts. They can and regularly do garnish wages and seize houses to make sure they get theirs. The payment plan they offered made me laugh and laugh: “one quarter now, one quarter next month, one quarter the month after that, and then the final quarter the month after that”. So, here’s what I did. I sat down with some nice folks in their billing department and explained that I’d love to pay my fair share, but there was no way I could under their terms. If they pushed, I’d gladly declare bankruptcy to protect my house. But, if I found a way, what would they take if I paid in cash? Six weeks of negotiations later, and they agreed to wipe out a full half the bill if we paid cash. Many (though not all) of the individual doctors involved agreed to the same deal. So… where to come up with a bit over $20K?

Credit Cards. Yup, big fat cash advances from all of the banks that would issue us credit cards. Given the interest rates being offered last fall, we came away in pretty good shape. $20K in debt gone, the risk to our home and paycheck largely gone, but still a mountain of debt. (And why credit cards? Mostly because it was a: fast, and b: unsecured debt, shielding our property)

Even with half the debt gone, that was only a temporary solution. We worked like mad to bring our income up to match the payments, but when the introductory rates expired, we were only treading water. And, with the changes in how monthly payments are calculated coming up, there wasn’t any way we could have continued, even paying only the minimums. And on top of that, the changes in bankruptcy law would have left us stuck for a long, long time.

We came right to the very edge of declaring Chapter 7 bankruptcy before the deadline, but we found a last-second way to finance the debt in a way that would allow us to pay our fair share of the machine that goes “ping”, but it’d still be a lot of hard work.

So that brings me to what I’ve been up to. Trying to make money. You all know that I’ve got a great job that pays decently (and now, after witnessing my drama, even offers health insurance) but not great, so I’ve got to look elsewhere for income. The farm has turned a profit for the last few years, but that’s not a great return on my labor. But there’s a lot of demand for quality web development, and that I can do.

So I did what anyone in my shoes would do. I learned a new language.

I’ve gotten to be pretty good at PHP, a computer language used behind the scenes for many web applications. Most everything you’ve seen me involved with has been done in PHP. It’s really a great language, but writing web applications in it is just too darned slow. It just takes a lot of time to design, code, test, and deploy, and I wanted something stronger, faster, better. Enter… Ruby on Rails.

I won’t get into details, but suffice it to say that now that I’ve learned it, it’s just the best thing ever. I can write great integrated dynamic web applications in a fraction — maybe even a tenth — the time it used to take me. Getting comfortable with it took a while, mostly because it’s new and not entirely the easiest to set a web server up to use it, but now that I have it’s like the gates have been opened. I’ve got several projects in development now and one nearly done. I work a lot and sleep little, but I see a way out, and I can get there from here.

And that’s what I’ve been up to.

Take a look at my first project. It’s a full website for the Broad River Watershed Association, a non-profit land trust for the river I live on. The BRWA is an all-volunteer member-driven community organization, and the website will serve as a public front and the organization’s office, where they can keep track of the membership roster, plan events, create newsletters, and so on.

And the best part (for me) is that to a great extent, all all-volunteer member-driven community organizations have the same needs, so I can repackage what I’ve done and market it to other groups in need. I’ll show you other projects I’m working on as they get closer to completion, but should you not hear from me in a while, you’ll know what I’m doing.