On Work and Friendship

On Work and Friendship

When I started my own business there is one thing I didn’t consider deeply: Working with friends. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to work with friends in every aspect of my business (co-collaborators, suppliers, and clients.) I’ve also had more control over my mental space and schedule, which—I think—has helped me be a better friend outside of any business considerations.

This month I launched two new collaborative projects through my business Kenny Consulting Group, LLC: Hello Blink Show and OSHdata. Working on my own created free space for me to start these projects with people who I’ve enjoyed working with in the past, whose work I respect, and who I always hoped to work with in the future.

These are both modest projects. It’s fun to be able to come up with an idea and say “yes” when the threshold for success is lower. Because we have other income streams, projects, and ways to pay the bills, we can go for it. We also have time and schedule availability for conversations, not being stuck in a full time job schedule with the typical office requirements, meetings, etc.

Hello Blink Show is a practical business growth podcast for technical people who want to start their own business. It’s co-hosted by Shawn Hymel and I, two people who have done this ourselves. Our technical background is in sales and marketing, which is the focus of the show. Sign up for Hello Blink Show updates here.

OSHdata is a market intelligence serve for the Open Source Hardware (OSH) community. Created by Steven Abadie and I, people who have built open hardware companies, we’ll dig into pricing trends, market size, and more. Sign up for OSHdata updates here.

Friends have helped me grow my business in so many ways: graphic design, legal advice, accounting services, videography and photography, and more. If I’m going to pay someone for help anyway, it’s nice to be able to pay someone I already know who has the expertise, who I trust to do the right thing, and who does high quality work. Starting my own business unlocked this whole support network that I wasn’t able to lean on before. Hidden in plain sight.

I’ve had the rewarding experience of working with friends to grow their businesses. I’ve seen them in a new light, understood much better what they are building, what they are good at, and realized that the things I’ve learned helping grow businesses are often applicable to what they are building.

Tangentially, I have more of a peer relationship with my clients. I am more freely able to provide feedback than with employer-employee dynamics. When all of your income comes from one source, it can feel like you are maintaining a fragile and delicate balance. By having options (i.e. multiple income streams), neither party has excessive leverage over the other. It allows for a greater working relationship of co-equals. In time, client relationships can grow into friendships too.

Of course, all work and no play makes for a dull life. Working on my own has encouraged many positive changes in my life, including improved exercise, nutrition, and sleep. It has also made me a better friend. I’m more available to answer messages, stop by and say hi, and be available when visitors are in town. I feel closer to my friends. Friendship is more integrated into my life, rather than something to “fit in” outside of work.

Prioritizing these things is a choice. But it’s nice to have the choice.

N.B. There are risks to working with friends. You want to be careful to not jeopardize the relationships. So far, we have successfully mitigated these risks by setting expectations ahead of time and maintaining a degree of formality with contracts and communications to make sure we’re always on the same page.

Feature image captured by Jordan Whitt and shared through Unsplash.

Putting Myself Out There

Earlier this year I started my own business: Kenny Consulting Group. It’s been an incredible experience. One aspect that I did not anticipate was how much it would change me.

When working full time for other people, I always held back sharing much about myself, at least the important parts about myself. For fear of getting in trouble, saying the wrong thing, or just not liking how I’m perceived by others. There were a lot of things I held back on, or failed to attend to during that previous period of my life. It was time for something new.

Things got off to a simple start, with a humble desk:

Actually my first desk was my kitchen table. But this is the second version of my desk that features some fancy new gear from Micro Center.

Since starting the business, I’ve progressively been challenging myself in new ways. I’ve changed my nutrition and exercise, my wardrobe, sleep habits, and most importantly I’ve put a lot of time into changing my mindset. Changing how I think about myself and what I’m capable of.

Most of my discussion about these changes has been internal, or reserved for close friends and family. I’ll post some things on Twitter every once in a while, but Twitter is ephemeral and things get lost in the noise. That’s going to change with this blog post.

I’ve been learning so much every day and my life has improved in ways far beyond what I thought was possible. I want to share what I’m working on, in case it helps other people. I want to use social commitment by talking about things publicly to stay on track. And if nothing else, I’m hoping that writing things out will help me process and move forward.

It’s time for me to start putting myself out there.

My New Favorite Tool for Reviewing PDFs

There are tons of ways to create PDF documents for things like marketing materials or sales collateral. Anything from browser-based design applications to word processors and full graphic design suites. There are also tons inefficient ways to review those PDFs as they’re being created.

Here’s the problem: Usually everyone doesn’t have access to the same creation tools (think a small business trying to work with a marketing agency). And even if they do have the same tools, most of these tools don’t have review features.

I found a software program the other day and it’s my new favorite tool for reviewing PDFs. It’s free, open source, actively being developed, and is supported across many operating systems (including Linux): It’s called Okular.

This Post Isn’t For You If…

  • You have so many rounds of back and forth on collateral that it’s clear you don’t have strategic alignment and it’s spilling over into stifling execution. Hate to say it, but the tools aren’t the problem here.
  • Everyone on your team has the same PDF creation tools and those tools have excellent review features that work for everyone involved.
  • You don’t have any use for PDFs in any sales or marketing interaction.

Ways I’ve Reviewed PDFs

Have you done any of these?

  • Emails that are hundreds of words long
  • Dozens of messages in chat or project management software
  • Conference calls, walk up interruptions, or meetings for verbal review
  • Indiscernible red ink markup on a printed document
  • Scans, faxes, or even photos of red ink markup on a printed document

Physically marking up a printed document has been my go-to in the past. If you are like I was, maybe you are Too Busy™ too and one of these methods works best for you. After trying Okular, it’s my new preference.

Okular Screenshots

Here’s a simple demonstration of the review tools within Okular, using a freely licensed PDF from Creative Commons about their six licenses for sharing work. Screen shots shown running on Pop!_OS Linux in Okular Version 1.3.3.

Special thanks to the KDE community for creating and maintaining this program. Curious to try it yourself? Download Okular.

Why I Like Okular

Okular is free, open source, and multi-platform. It has a few simple tools that do their job well with practically zero learning curve. It contextualizes edits within the work itself rather than separating them away.

Crucially, it supports asynchronous and remote collaboration. It has no live chat, activity tracking, real-time comment bubbles, and there’s nobody “in the document” with me. Just me. With time and space to think.

Another reason I like Okular is going through edits takes some time (versus scribbling in red pen). This is a feature, not a bug. The deliberation that comes with using the tool undermines the almost God complex I’ve previously felt when reviewing and approving collateral.

Just last week I was working with a designer on a product specifications sheet. I retracted several edits I’d initially logged after realizing what the designer was seeing when they first created a draft submitted for my review.

Retracting edits almost never happened when I was on past red ink power trips.

On net, I’ve found Okular makes creating PDF collateral more efficient. This comes in-part at the expense of the reviewer needing to be more deliberate. This trade-off is totally worth it.

I love creating and using PDFs for sales collateral and marketing materials. They work. So I’ve spent a lot of time creating PDFs over the years. What do you think? Do you have any tools you recommend?

Learning Spanish on Linux

I’ve had a long-time personal goal of improving my ability to talk, read, and write in Spanish. This year, I’m doing it. Here are resources you might also find useful too, with a specific focus on tools for desktop Linux users.

Configuring Your Keyboard

If you are like me, your keyboard probably has a U.S. English layout for the keys. This means you’re going to need a software fix to easily type accents and other special characters in Spanish, like ñ.

This is shown below in Pop!_OS 18.04, which applies to Ubuntu 18.04 and possibly other Linux distros with GNOME. Regardless, you should be able to find how to do this on your operating system with an online search.

  1. Go to Settings
  2. Click Region & Language
  3. Click + to Add
  4. Click More
  5. Search for Spanish
  6. Select and Add Spanish
  7. See the keyboard selection (top bar)*
  8. See the Keyboard Layout**

* In Pop!_OS (and I think GNOME in general), you can quickly switch between keyboard selections with Super + Space Bar.

** Select the Keyboard Layout menu and hit different keys, they will change color on the screen to indicate when you are activating them. Depending on the physical keyboard layout on your computer, you may need to go back to Step 6 and select a different layout option.

Next you could buy physical stickers for your keyboard. If you are going to be writing a lot and are only used to the U.S. English layout, this is worth considering. There are a lot of options, but Keyshorts looks interesting. (I haven’t brought from them and don’t have an affiliate link.)

Web Translation

WordReference is by far the most helpful online translation tool. While it won’t help with whole-phrase translation, it provides contextual meaning for different words and I highly recommend it. You can also configure translation shortcuts into your web browser through WordReference in Firefox, which is my browser of choice. The shortcuts are convenient and totally worth setting up.

There are other online translation services that also have mobile apps. An open source option is Apertium, which also has a desktop application (see below). The most popular (in the U.S.) are probably Google Translate and Bing Translator by Microsoft. Pretty serious caution on using these. They’ll be helpful for getting the gist of phrases, but they can be inaccurate.

Desktop Translation

The most mature project that seems to have the most traction is Apertium. There are many different ways you can install Apertium on your computer. (Apertium also offers a web service, see above.)

The other option I found is GNOME Translate, however I ran into the same bugs others have reported in LaunchPad that haven’t been addressed in years. My assumption is that this is an abandoned project for the time being. It’s apparently a GNOME interface for libtranslate, which you may be able to make use of.

Linux Translation Communities

There are many active Spanish translation groups and efforts in the Linux community. These resources, especially the ones with glossaries, are helpful for seeing how certain phrases are translated/interpreted:

I hope this is helpful. If I missed something or there’s something you’d like me to look into further, please let me know.

Refreshing The Site

The last time I considered this site’s design it was just a placeholder for basic information about me on the Internet. Since then I’ve started working on a few projects and I’m planning on blogging, so it’s time for a refresh.

Here’s what’s new:

  • Theme: Chose the Libre 2 Theme by Automattic (the company behind WordPress).
  • Dark Color Scheme: Light-on-dark is easier on the eyes, consumes less battery, plus I just like it more.
  • Spanish: Started translating parts of into Spanish and will be doing more of that as I work on improving my Spanish.
  • Consolidated Navigation: Simplified navigation and moved from tabbed, left-column sidebar to simple top-bar.
  • Updated Footer: Added blog subscription and copyright/license information to the footer so they’re viewable across the site.

If you have any thoughts on the new design — in particular if there are ways to improve accessibility — I’d appreciate your feedback.