Raw Data By P3 Adaptive
Septic Companions and Breaded Capacitors, w/ Chris Rae
Co-Creator, MyCoast.OrgListen Now:
Chris Rae has had quite the data journey! In his current form, he’s the co-creator of MyCoast, an app that helps government entities clean up hazards on coastlines.
He’s travelled many paths on his journey, from the banking space to working on Excel and other projects at Microsoft and all points in between and beyond! His unique problem solving process is on full display when he tells the story of how he fixed an electrical problem with a piece of bread!
The Septic Companion by Chris Rae
References in this Episode:
The DoughPacitor (aka BreadPacitor) Video
Chasing Company-Submarine and Drones
Rob Collie (00:00:00): Hello friends. Today's guest is Chris Rae, co-founder of Blue Urchin LLC. Blue Urchin uses apps, computers, and the cloud to help government agencies keep the seashore free of hazards like derelict vessels. But that's not how I know Chris, I know him because he also worked on the Excel team at Microsoft. And like so many people that have been on the show with us, he never set out to have a career in spreadsheets, never intended it. In fact, never really even intended to have a career in computers, and yet here he is. He's also a devastatingly successful author having penned the Septic Companion. While we talk about that book and how it got its completely inscrutable name, he seems to think that title makes sense. But even after hearing his explanation, I'm still not a hundred percent convinced that he isn't pulling my leg.
Rob Collie (00:00:51): He's an incredibly entertaining fellow and he's constantly cracking me up and entertaining me every time I open Facebook. Near the end, we even dive into one of those stories that he relayed on Facebook, where he uses a piece of bread to fix a piece of electronics. And it's a funny story, it's a silly story and it's true, but there's also something about the spirit of how he proceeded to diagnose that problem that I think really reflects that curiosity that most data professionals possess. That spirit of, we can get to the bottom of this is so perfectly exemplified in this humorous story. There's even a YouTube video to go along with it, if you're interested. A really funny guy, a really nice guy, we had a great chat, so let's get into it.
Announcer (00:01:38): Ladies and gentleman, may I have your attention please?
Announcer (00:01:42): This is the Raw Data by P3 Adaptive Podcast with your host, Rob Collie, and your cohost, Thomas LaRock. Find out what the experts at P3 Adaptive can do for your business, just go to p3adaptive.com. Raw Data by P3 Adaptive is data with the human element.
Rob Collie (00:02:06): Welcome to the show. Chris Rae, how are you this fine morning.
Chris Rae (00:02:10): I am very well. Thank you, Rob.
Rob Collie (00:02:12): Well, I'm sorry that we pulled you away from the inflating of your boat.
Chris Rae (00:02:19): I keep missing meetings these days, because the job I have does not actually have that many meetings in it, and so... When you work at Microsoft you're just constantly looking at your computer and thinking, "Oh, there's another meeting now, there's another meeting now." But I have meetings once every two or three days, and so I miss half of them.
Rob Collie (00:02:33): Yeah, your head's not on that swivel, you're not as alert to it. Yeah, I agree. When you worked at Microsoft, it was, "Oh, am I missing a meeting right now?" But you also look at your calendar in the morning and get a picture of your day, and if you get out of that meeting habit, you really get out of it. We're Facebook friends, but that doesn't mean that I really know what's going on with you, what is your job these days?
Chris Rae (00:02:53): You're right, we're Facebook friends with capital F's, it's a whole new category of friends.
Rob Collie (00:02:58): It is. Have we ever even been in the same room together, maybe once?
Chris Rae (00:03:01): You worked at Excel the same time I worked at Excel, right?
Rob Collie (00:03:03): No, no, I was gone. I was either over on Bing or on Power Pivot at the time.
Chris Rae (00:03:07): Oh, I wonder if I was in meetings with you too at Power Pivot, that might be true.
Rob Collie (00:03:11): Yes. Yes.
Chris Rae (00:03:13): I worked in investment banking for 10 years in the UK, and then I worked on Excel, and I can tell you how that switch happened, if you're interested, that was another 10 years or something. And then now I run the business with one other guy and we make... Basically, you know these apps that are kind of take a picture of a pothole and send it to the local council and they'll ignore it? We basically make that but for things on the coast. So like tidal flooding and abandoned boats and creosote covered logs and these kind of things, any kind of crap that you'd find that needs to be sent to some state agency, we make the app that you take a picture of it with and we sell it to state agencies.
Rob Collie (00:03:50): Okay. And is that how you market it? This is the picture taking app where you get the pictures, you ignore them, is that the pitch?
Chris Rae (00:03:55): I think this actually is the most marketing that we've done on this. It's all kind of word of mouth, [inaudible 00:04:01], once you get into one of these kind of niche-y markets, then people chat about your thing at conference and then you get a couple of emails from people. So yeah, we just marketed by word of mouth, really, and by not doing a terrible job.
Rob Collie (00:04:10): So is the name of the app ignorecoastalshit.com?
Chris Rae (00:04:13): It's mycoast.org, actually.
Rob Collie (00:04:15): Oh, I was close.
Chris Rae (00:04:16): You're not in a coastal state, right?
Rob Collie (00:04:17): No, no, no, we are landlocked here in Indiana. Although, I mean, I suppose we have like a little tiny corner that's exposed to a Great Lake.
Chris Rae (00:04:23): Yeah, I don't think they're going to pay for it.
Rob Collie (00:04:24): Probably not.
Chris Rae (00:04:25): Where do I live in Washington if I find an abandoned boat, I have to use my app. And actually, I've got to say, we get all these reports as they come in and there are some really nice abandoned boats. Honestly, some of them are just brand new boats. And so Wes, my business partner and I are like, "Oh man, how on earth did that ended up being abandoned?" And I think some of it is uncle Bob died and they sorted out the house and they sorted out the car, and then everyone just forgot that uncle Bob's boat was still floating around somewhere.
Rob Collie (00:04:53): The marina owner eventually just unhooks it from the pier and says, "Hey, whatever happens, it's God's will."
Chris Rae (00:05:00): Yeah, well and some of the abandoned ones are still hooked up and nobody's paid for them for a while. But basically the state needs to get rid of them because eventually they start leaking poisonous things into the sea and that's less good.
Rob Collie (00:05:09): Maybe that's the pivot for y'all is you become a salvage operation.
Chris Rae (00:05:14): It's not so much salvage as theft.
Rob Collie (00:05:15): Okay, yeah. If you did it, here's the thing, you could do it with the state's blessing. These boats are just a problem for the state, right?
Chris Rae (00:05:22): Actually the most common email we get from just random people on our website is, "Can I go and have this abandoned boat?" There's nothing we can do about it, we just send it on to the state agency. But I've seen the state agency responses and basically, are you willing to put up with six months of disastrous legal headaches in order to get a junky, nearly sinking boats? Or do you want to just get on with your life? It turns out you can't just go and collect a boat that you think nobody wants.
Rob Collie (00:05:46): Right, okay. There's no squatter's rights or anything if you go live on the boat for a year?
Chris Rae (00:05:50): I don't know about that part, you'd have to be pretty dedicated to live on like a sinking fishing boat.
Rob Collie (00:05:58): Well, you got to prove that you want it. So this boat that you're inflating today is not of the abandoned variety.
Chris Rae (00:06:04): Not yet, no. Do you remember when, I can't remember if this was the case when you worked at Microsoft, but Microsoft to give you some money a year that you had to spend on things that made you fitter. And the first year you'd buy some running shoes and a shirt or something, and then second year you kind of run out of things to spend this money on. And it ended up that both the wife and I were working at Microsoft and so we had a reasonable chunk of money to spend on things that made us fitter, and eventually persuaded the people who ran this program to let me and the wife use both of our allowances to buy one thing. And we bought this inflatable kayak that I already knew you can fit a motor to. So I bought the inflatable kayak on this fitness thing, and then we took the oars, and then I separately bought this motor and we had this power boat of sorts.
Rob Collie (00:06:47): You don't ski behind it or anything?
Chris Rae (00:06:50): No, it's not that much power, but we flit around in it with the kids. But the kids have got a bit big and they didn't really fit on it, so I bought a second boat.
Rob Collie (00:06:56): A second boat, yeah.
Chris Rae (00:06:58): When you're becoming successful in life, as I am, you can sometimes get a second boat. So I was just inflating that this morning to see if it stayed inflated.
Rob Collie (00:07:08): I was going to say, because you're inflating the boat indoors, it can't be a 25 footer.
Chris Rae (00:07:13): No, this is a big boat, well I've got quite a small house, but this is a 12 foot boat, it's in the back yard actually. I can probably see if it's staying inflated.
Rob Collie (00:07:20): You didn't leave the compressor running, did you?
Chris Rae (00:07:23): No, no, no, I stopped the compressor when you phoned me, and I thought, "Oh bullock, I've missed that thing."
Rob Collie (00:07:29): Let's rewind, investment banking.
Chris Rae (00:07:31): Oh, yeah.
Rob Collie (00:07:32): You left all that glory behind for the life of the rest of us, how did you get into investment banking originally?
Chris Rae (00:07:39): Glory, I did an English degree and at the time McDonald's wasn't hiring, and so my dad said, "Oh look, you like computers and stuff." And I'm like, "Oh yeah, but I didn't want to do the computer stuff for a living, I just kind of do that for a hobby." And he goes, "No, you can come to my office and you do that for a living now." My dad worked for this, he wasn't an accountant, or he isn't an accountant, but he worked for this accountancy company and they basically needed Word macros to do just weird stuff of theirs. And I just went there and wrote some VBA word macros and then they wanted more Word macros and more Word macros. We ended up with this kind of monstrous Word macro project that I was the grand master of. I did that for a couple of years in Edinburgh. And I did some system admin stuff.
Chris Rae (00:08:19): And then I thought I'd go and get more money somewhere else. And I did a bunch of job interviews in London for a variety of things, initially for Word macros, mostly for lawyers. And then I started doing Excel macros interviews for mostly banks. And I basically got a job at UBS because the guy who was supposed to give me a technical interview was off sick that day, but they were in a hurry to hire somebody. So they turned out, we had a little nice chat about where I lived and what my hobbies were and things, and then they offered me a job. And then I was basically doing kind of IT support, but for spreadsheet stuff, but they were monster spreadsheets.
Chris Rae (00:08:54): And I kind of switched from there and I ended up working on the trading floor for the department, and quant departments at investment banks are the people that do the complicated mathematics stuff. And actually at university, part of the reason I ended up doing an English degree was that I failed Math 101 four times in a row. And the last time, I basically started doing CS, but you had to pass Math 101 and I just failed it twice, so then I really actually tried to pass it and failed it two more times. And the guy who was my director of studies was this mathematics lecturer. And he's like, "Chris, I think you were future lies somewhere else." And so I did the English degree, and then of course I ended up working in a department full of mathematicians and me, but both used to keep referring to me as Dr. Rae because they assumed that I had a PhD in mathematics. And I'm like, "I'm just not going to disabuse you of this in case it results in me getting fired."
Rob Collie (00:09:45): Dr. Rae, yeah. So that is of course fascinating, right?
Chris Rae (00:09:49): It was cool. Yeah, it was a really interesting job if you were young. I mean, we were basically, I don't know how much you know about derivatives, but I'll give you the one sentence summary of derivatives, they're basically insurance policies. And so the reason derivative started is because farmers want to buy grain feed animals, but they have to buy it this year and they have to buy next year. And they don't care about the grain price, they're not interested in whether it's going up or down and so don't want to speculate on that. So they would buy insurance against the grain price, so they buy options to buy grain for next year for the same price you bought it for this year, or 5% more or something. And then you are guaranteed by the person you bought that option for that they will sell you that grain at that price if you wanted, but you pay a premium upfront to have that option.
Chris Rae (00:10:30): And so derivatives are all just that kind of stuff, like there's people who turn it into finance, there's Chinese people who want to buy IBM shares, but they don't care about which way the dollar is going to go. So they'll say, "I want to buy these IBM shares in yen." And somebody else is going to deal with the dollar risk on this. So if the dollar goes up or down, somebody else is going to take the hedge on it, and I'll pay them a premium upfront because I don't know about where the dollar is going to go and I don't care about it. So we were doing all that kind of stuff.
Chris Rae (00:10:54): And as you can imagine, a lot of that ends up at least being initially priced out in spreadsheets, because once you've traded a few of these or whatever, you have it in some backend system and it's updating every day and all that kind of stuff. But to work out what you're going to sell to someone or to chit-chat with someone about the kind of thing you're going to sell, that all happens in spreadsheets. And so I was making a few of those spreadsheets, lots of actual mathematicians in my department were writing C++ models around off the back of those. Then I wrote the wrapper thing that held all of their models and held this temple of library spreadsheets, and that kind of stuff.
Rob Collie (00:11:22): What was that like in terms of having been someone who had discovered you weren't really that into math? And now here you are surrounded by math people in a department that is essentially doing nothing but math, I'm not getting the impression though, that you were terribly uncomfortable there.
Chris Rae (00:11:40): There were occasions where it became apparent that I knew nothing at all about rounding up numbers, but usually it doesn't really matter. I don't even know why you needed math for a compsci degree, to be honest. Because, I mean, at the end of the day, you've got a computer that does most of this stuff. And as I say, there were people writing these derivative pricing models that were bonafide legit, solid mathematicians, that's the top end of mathematics jobs. But to be able to plug those in and say, "I want to buy this and sell that." You're just messing around in spreadsheets, you're not doing any complicated mathy stuff. And so I generally kind of got away with that. And also the more you are an expert at complicated math, the less you're an expert about talking to derivative traders. And so you often need a bit of a mixture of people who really know how the thing works and people who can somewhat explain it to a normal person.
Rob Collie (00:12:28): This is something that I'm very, very familiar with is that, unlike you, probably, in high school I identified as a math person, I was captain of the calculus team and all of that.
Chris Rae (00:12:38): Oh, wow.
Thomas LaRock (00:12:39): There was no calculus team.
Rob Collie (00:12:41): There was a calculus team, we went to the final four in Florida.
Thomas LaRock (00:12:45): We just had a math club, we did more than just calculus.
Rob Collie (00:12:48): We had that too. I was president of the New Alpha Beta chapter at my high school. And the first meeting I convened, I told her everyone, "Listen, we all know that this is just a matter of padding our resumes for college, right?" And everyone nods. And I say, "So meeting adjourn forever." The sponsor was happy. The teacher was happy. Everybody was happy. That allowed us to go do the serious thing like calculus competitions. My daughter was working on a calculus assignment the other night and I was completely incapable of helping her. I remember it was something that used to be really simple, it was a limit as X approaches, infinity type of thing. That used to be basic. It has no meaning whatsoever in normal everyday life. It is not relevant to anything that I do. There are many, many products that we use that I'm sure weren't possible without calculus. You don't need calculus to operate the product.
Thomas LaRock (00:13:47): You guys are killing me.
Rob Collie (00:13:48): I know, I know. Listen, Tom has an advanced degree in math, right? But even he doesn't use it and he knows it, it's okay.
Thomas LaRock (00:13:54): Oh, I don't use it? I'm just counting the number of times you've insulted me in the past few minutes.
Rob Collie (00:13:59): That's just arithmetic. In second grade, we were capable of counting insults, we don't need scientific notation for this.
Thomas LaRock (00:14:05): Oh yeah, this is not an outlier in any way.
Rob Collie (00:14:08): That's true. That's true. Yeah, you can probably anticipate how many times Rob will accidentally insult-
Chris Rae (00:14:14): I mean, how many times does he normal insult you, probably just extrapolate.
Rob Collie (00:14:16): Yeah, just don't even worry about it, it's just many. Yeah, it's just some number.
Chris Rae (00:14:20): So basically it was a race to [inaudible 00:14:22].
Rob Collie (00:14:22): This has been a theme on this show sort of over and over again. There are so many people who are incredibly competent and successful professionals in data related fields who did not identify like that at all growing up, and I think that's wonderful as opposed to a problem. I had no idea that you were one of these people. I assumed, because I knew that you'd worked in sort of the quant shop at an investment bank, I assumed that you had come up through a math major.
Chris Rae (00:14:50): Yeah, well so did my boss. Yeah.
Rob Collie (00:14:51): Yeah, so there you go, I had something in common.
Chris Rae (00:14:55): Yeah, I was going to head on to the segue for how I ended up working for Microsoft was, back when we shipped one version every three years, we'd get a year into specking the next version and then we'd trot around some PMs around a few customers to see what they thought of it. And then what always happened was you'd turn up at the customers and they're like, "Oh yeah, well, that's really fascinating, but can you fix the following really important bugs that we have for the current versus?" You kind of look them all up and it's like it won't fix. So the Excel team would send people to investment banking always, and the IT people would come onto the trading floor and say, "Look, who wants to talk to Microsoft about Excel?" And so we were the core of heavy use of Excel on the trading floor, so we volunteered to do that.
Chris Rae (00:15:33): And I ended up being our guy who talked to the Excel team, and Dave Gaynor came out with a bunch of people and they chit-chatted to us about the new features they had in Excel, and we berating them about the list of 10 bugs we really want to fix. And afterwards we all went out for drinks and I thought, that'd be kind of fun, I could actually work at Excel and fix these stupid bugs.
Chris Rae (00:15:54): And so I sent an email to Dave Gaynor just because he looked like the most important person there as far as I could see. So I sent him an email and I said, "Look, I can come and work for you if you'd like?" And he didn't reply. And I thought, it's a bit weird. You can't go poaching your biggest customer's employees. And so I didn't think anything of it, it was just kind of a random thing. And then about six months later, I got an email from him saying, "All right, I'm really sorry, this went in my junk mail. And yeah, you should come out and interview." So I came out here, I live in Seattle, I came out here and it was July, it was really nice sunshine, it was warm. There was that Seafair thing where they get boats out.
Rob Collie (00:16:29): Oh yeah. Yeah, and the Blue Angels.
Chris Rae (00:16:31): Yeah, right, right. So it was really nice. The wife came out too, we had a lovely week. We went hiking, we went camping and then I got back home and they offered me a job. It was less money than I was getting paid in banking. I mean, everything's less money than you get paid in banking. And so I kind of thought, "No, I don't know. I don't know if I can be bothered up rooting everybody to do this." And so I said no. And then the wife got a bit fed up with her job, she was actually also working for the same company, but doing other stuff. Our team was in charge of making risky bets with people's money, and her team was the credit risk control department. And so she and I were actually not really supposed to ever talk to each other.
Chris Rae (00:17:04): But anyways, so she got slightly fed up of her job, I got a bit fed up of my job and I emailed Dave Gaynor and said, "Look, you know that job you offered me six months ago?" And he's like, "Oh yeah, okay." And I'm like, "Could I have it in eight months or something like that? And then I'll just take some time off for a while." I mean, I think at this point he's like, "Whatever. I mean, this guy's never going to turn up, so sure. Okay, why don't you do that?" And then so we did that. We both quit our jobs. We drove around Europe a bit, bought a travel trailer, I'd call it a caravan but I think you'd call it a travel trailer.
Rob Collie (00:17:31): I've seen the movie Snatch where they call it a caravan.
Chris Rae (00:17:34): Okay. Yeah, so that.
Rob Collie (00:17:35): I learn everything about your country of origin from Guy Ritchie movies.
Chris Rae (00:17:39): That's both surprising and alarming.
Thomas LaRock (00:17:42): What about Outlander?
Rob Collie (00:17:43): Nope, never saw that. Just Guy Ritchie movies.
Thomas LaRock (00:17:45): Just Guy Ritchie movies?
Rob Collie (00:17:46): Yeah.
Thomas LaRock (00:17:46): Oh, all right.
Rob Collie (00:17:47): Yeah, that's it.
Chris Rae (00:17:49): Yeah, so then I moved to Seattle in October and then it started raining for six months, I want to say.
Rob Collie (00:17:56): Oh, at least, yeah.
Chris Rae (00:17:57): And my wife is Greek, and so that went really well.
Rob Collie (00:18:00): She's used to that, that oppressive blanket of clouds that rolls in and stacks up against the mountains and never leaves.
Chris Rae (00:18:06): In my defense, she lived in London for 10 years as well, so it wasn't like she wasn't going into this with her eyes open. But Seattle is a bit grayer than London, and I discovered the UK you'll have sunny, wintry days a fair bit, but not so true in Seattle, it's really overcast all the time. So at that point I discovered the Greek people were solar-powered and I'd made a terrible error.
Rob Collie (00:18:24): It's an adjustment. I really struggled having grown up in Florida. I struggled the first couple of winters in Seattle. It was rough, I feel it.
Chris Rae (00:18:31): Yeah. I'm from Scotland, so I didn't really mind it, actually.
Rob Collie (00:18:34): It's not that the Scottish weather prepares you for it, it's just the Scottish temperament that prepares you for-
Chris Rae (00:18:39): Well, I think it's all kind of tied in a bit, isn't it? We were camping last weekend, the last camping trip of the year. And it started raining and everyone else there is like, "Oh, great, it started raining." And I'm like, "Don't you think the countryside smells so nice and stuff when it rains?" And everyone's like, "No."
Rob Collie (00:18:59): So that was fun, that transition. At what point in this timeline, did you take the lengthy sabbatical to become a best-selling author of the septic companion?
Chris Rae (00:19:10): It was a bit odd going from the business of financial products to the business of software. Because when I worked at UBS it'd be like, "Oh, this seems kind of fine, let's ship it and we'll just pull it in a couple of hours of it's not working properly." Because we weren't making money off that software, we were making money off stuff we made for that software. So at Microsoft, you can't just ship this bug and hope to fix it and service [inaudible 00:19:30] one, that's not how it works. And so it's a bit weird, we were doing different things that pay the money. That was after a couple of years, once I was working at Microsoft, I was commuting on, do you remember the Connector, the bus that Microsoft provided?
Rob Collie (00:19:45): Yep, yep.
Chris Rae (00:19:45): Yeah, and so I live in Seattle, but Microsoft's in Redmond. And so I was taking this bus, and it's like 40 minutes or something each way, and you're just sitting on a bus. And I had, for a long time had this, for like 20 years at that point, I'd had this website called englishnumbertwoamerican.com, which I set up, God it'd be mid '90s or something like that. I mean, I wrote HTML in notepad, and it was just a list of British words with American translation. So there's a whole bunch of these things, so I think that might be in the first website. But I wrote this list, and I had sort of been thinking for a while, it got longer and longer and longer, and I'd sort of been thinking for a while I might do something bookish with it, and I'd just used those Connector bus rides to turn it into a book, basically. This is a self-published book, this is as successful a book as anyone could just pay some money and have a book that appears on Amazon.
Chris Rae (00:20:37): But weirdly, actually, I did send it to two publishers before I went down the self-publishing. And they wrote back and they were like, "Oh, here's a bunch of things you could change, and we don't want it right now but if you completely redo it in this way, then fine." I mean, I knew perfectly well... You know what books are like, I'm going to make 15 bucks a year out of this and I'm not going to sit there rejigging it for this publisher guy to have it the way he wants it, I'm just going to do whatever I want. And so I did the self-publishing thing.
Chris Rae (00:21:02): And then there's a little community of people who write British-American crossover things. And I was friends with this guy, he was an American living in the UK, he had written a blog that he turned into a book and got actually published published. But anyway, Mike Harling, I'll plug your book, Postcards from Across the Pond. He wrote this book, so he published it. I think I maybe wrote the back cover blurb for his book or something like that.
Chris Rae (00:21:23): And he sends it to his publisher, and they actually sent me a message, this is after I'd self-published and was selling it linked from my website. They sent me a message saying, "Oh, we'd actually like to publish your book, to really publish it." And I was like, "Oh, that's amazing." And they said, "Pretty much we will publish it as it is. I mean, we quite like it." I said, "That's great. Yeah, I'm happy to switch." And they said, "How many are you selling a year?" And I was like, "I don't know 0 or 100 or something." And they're like, "Yeah, I don't know if we'd be able to sell that many." And so at that point I'm stuck with the position that either I can continue making $200 a year and having a self-published book, or I can make 100 and have a truly published by a publisher book. I just followed the money, too long in banking, I think.
Rob Collie (00:22:10): Mm-hmm (affirmative). [inaudible 00:22:12].
Thomas LaRock (00:22:12): Would this book have the phrase Bob's your uncle and the translation, or is it just words?
Chris Rae (00:22:18): It's mostly words.
Thomas LaRock (00:22:19): Mostly words. So it didn't do phrases or idioms, just words?
Chris Rae (00:22:23): Well, but I did... There's some super common phrases, I'm just looking it up in my own book here.
Thomas LaRock (00:22:28): Okay. So like lift is elevator?
Rob Collie (00:22:31): Can we have like an audio book moment here where, as the author of the Septic Companion, will you read us a passage?
Thomas LaRock (00:22:37): Yes.
Rob Collie (00:22:38): We're here for story time with Chris Rae.
Thomas LaRock (00:22:40): The sleeping policemen.
Chris Rae (00:22:41): The sleeping policemen is in here, this fine book available on Amazon, The Septic's Companion by Chris Rae.
Rob Collie (00:22:54): We'll link it, and we'll of course make it an affiliate link so that we, P3, can make an extra $5 a year.
Chris Rae (00:23:00): You guys could probably give up working at this point, I think.
Rob Collie (00:23:02): Yeah. I mean, once we link it, yeah. That's what it's all about.
Chris Rae (00:23:05): "The sleeping policemen, noun, speed bump. The name probably derives from a time when narcoleptic policemen were employed to slow down traffic." It says here. Some of this book is not factually correct, and I did very little research, because, well these days you could just look it up on Wikipedia and kind of transliterate it, I think that's what you do if you're writing a book like this. But back then I was just kind of making it up all myself really. I occasionally get emails from people saying some of this book is not factually correct.
Rob Collie (00:23:35): So I've always wanted to know why is it called The Septic's Companion? What is that?
Chris Rae (00:23:40): You know this Cockney rhyming slang business, where it's very much a London thing, but it's recognized across the UK, where you have a two word couplet and you say the first word, like butcher's hook is a phrase. And you say the first word, which is butchers, but what you're meaning is a word that rhymes with the second word, which is hook. So the Cockney rhyming slang for a look is butcher's hook, but people just say butchers. So you'd say, "Give me a butchers of that thing." And there's a lot of Cockney rhyming slang something that is actually in quite common use in the UK.
Rob Collie (00:24:10): I have never been more confused than I am at this moment right now. I have no idea what was just explained. I'm more confused after the explanation than I was before.
Chris Rae (00:24:21): How about this one? Do you know the phrase lose your bottle, is that a British thing? It means to give up on something or chicken out or something.
Rob Collie (00:24:27): Well I do now, I didn't know it before.
Chris Rae (00:24:29): Okay. Yeah, I wasn't sure if it was I translated, but that's the thing that most British people will recognize that phrase. That's Cockney rhyming slang because it was bottle and glass and glass rhymes with arse. And so losing your arse, posterior is like losing your ability to do something. Anyway so septic is British slang for American, because septic tank, yank, basically.
Rob Collie (00:24:53): Oh my God damn.
Chris Rae (00:24:54): And it also exists in New Zealand and Australia, Australians call American's seppos, which is like an abbreviation of septic.
Rob Collie (00:25:02): Wow.
Chris Rae (00:25:03): Just in case you thought it wasn't complicated enough.
Rob Collie (00:25:04): We're going to have to just move past this, that this is just a game that is played over in that corner of the world, that makes no sense at all to anyone else.
Chris Rae (00:25:12): I mean, America has its share of weird language things. I think the reason that you don't have more is just that this country is only kind of five minutes old, you've not been conquered by anybody.
Rob Collie (00:25:21): We are five minutes old, and really hoping that we get to be six minutes old.
Chris Rae (00:25:24): I assume I just get to talk as much as anyone in this thing, is that right?
Rob Collie (00:25:27): Oh yeah, totally. Yeah.
Chris Rae (00:25:27): Yeah, excellent. Okay, you know this crazy story that I've told a lot of people about, Kissinger in China, one of the actual good things that Nixon did was improve relationships with China. And when Nixon was visiting [Deng Xiaoping 00:25:38], Kissinger got chatting with Deng through a translator obviously, and they were just kind of making small talk and they ended up chatting about the French Revolution. And Kissinger asked Deng Xiaoping through the translator, what he thought the impact of the French revolution was on Chinese politics or on the politics of Asia, the interpreter translated it. And Deng Xiaoping sat for a little while and then said through the interpreter, "It's too soon to tell." It's this is classic, it's only been a few hundred years, difficult to tell whether that's really changed anything.
Thomas LaRock (00:26:14): That just underscores the long game that China is willing to play.
Chris Rae (00:26:19): Exactly, yeah, right.
Rob Collie (00:26:21): Wow, it's too soon.
Chris Rae (00:26:23): So the Septic's Companion is from the word septic, which is an offensive term about Americans. And somebody pointed out that you shouldn't really write offensive things about the people you're intending selling the book to.
Thomas LaRock (00:26:32): It's not offensive, it's short for yank.
Chris Rae (00:26:34): Yeah, but it is septic tank, which you probably... They could have picked something nicer for a rhyming slang for Americans.
Rob Collie (00:26:41): I would say that in order for us to be insulted, we first of all have to understand that it was referring to us.
Thomas LaRock (00:26:47): Yeah, we're too dumb to know we're being insulted, so that's the first thing.
Rob Collie (00:26:50): No, no, no, no, it's not about being dumb in this case. I mean, this is an inscrutable reference, this is one case where the Americans don't have to apologize for not understanding it, this is just stupid.
Chris Rae (00:27:03): Have you ever heard of James May, he was a guy on this TV program called Top Gear?
Rob Collie (00:27:06): Yeah.
Thomas LaRock (00:27:07): Yes.
Chris Rae (00:27:07): So when I was posing this book, you have to have a blurb from, a kind of endorsement from somebody. And so I got a couple of endorsements from other people in this community of people who wrote things about Britain and America. But I sent a copy of that book to James May and said, "If you want to write an endorsement, that would be great." And he sent me one back and it said, "This would be an invaluable use to any Americans visiting the United Kingdom, assuming they could read."
Thomas LaRock (00:27:32): Wow. He's not wrong.
Rob Collie (00:27:35): Is that on the cover?
Chris Rae (00:27:36): No. Well, I thought that might be pushing it a bit much.
Rob Collie (00:27:44): Do you think more British people have purchased this book than Americans?
Chris Rae (00:27:47): No, I think it's mostly Americans, although it is a bit of a mixture. It's probably like 50 books a year or something I sell now, but of those, I sell like two thirds of them at Christmas time. It's the kind of thing that you buy as a gift for people you don't really like, you haven't got any idea what to buy them and you just buy them like some crap off the internet. But interestingly, I'd like to bring this back to data, actually, Rob.
Rob Collie (00:28:07): Please, let's do that.
Chris Rae (00:28:08): The way it works is that I self-publish it, it goes through this kind of print-on-demand company. And so any bookseller can theoretically just asked for a copy of my book, and select my book from these people and I don't get involved at all. But the only real booksellers that show it are the online ones, because they just get all the books and as soon as somebody orders one, they actually go and get it.
Chris Rae (00:28:27): Now Amazon obviously will have an algorithm for how many of these they need to give in stock, and generally this book will show up as available on Prime and it can be shipped to you. But at Christmas they run that every single year a third of the way through December. I mean, I think I might sell 70 books if Amazon didn't run out of stock of it every single Christmas. And how does your algorithm not work for this? The first year I was thinking, "Oh, BML or something, they're going to catch up." But no, no, every single year they just run out of stock of this book. And of course, because it's a crappy Christmas present you're buying for someone, you can't get it after Christmas... I'll have you know, this is like the 16,000th most popular book in travel/United Kingdom.
Rob Collie (00:29:05): Well, I think they have a filter in their algorithm which is, does this SKU matter, right?
Chris Rae (00:29:13): I'll have you know, this is the 16,000th most popular book in travel/United Kingdom.
Rob Collie (00:29:19): Well, we should introduce you to Bill Jelen.
Chris Rae (00:29:21): I've met him actually on one of these Excel trips, because he was an MVP, right? He was one of the vocal MVPs?
Thomas LaRock (00:29:27): Yeah.
Rob Collie (00:29:28): That's right, and he runs Holy Macro! Books.
Chris Rae (00:29:31): That is quite a good name actually.
Rob Collie (00:29:32): Yeah it is, isn't it? It's something else. It's the kind of name that you hear it and I can tell, "Why didn't I think of that?" Right?
Chris Rae (00:29:37): Yeah, yeah, right.
Rob Collie (00:29:39): But yeah, our book is 100% printed and published through his company, which then supplies the books to exactly the same sort of distributor that you're talking about, who then sells it to Amazon and Barnes & Noble and all of those people. But we don't print on demand, we maintain an inventory. I mean, this could really boost your profits, at 50 to 70 units a year, maybe you could get it up to 90 or 100 units a year by staying in stock during the holidays-
Chris Rae (00:30:04): I'm all ears.
Rob Collie (00:30:05): And you get a larger percentage of the revenue.
Chris Rae (00:30:08): We should get my people to your people about this, I think.
Rob Collie (00:30:10): Yeah, the publishing department, yeah. They're currently on a supplier trip to Brazil where they're evaluating the paper crop down there, but they'll be back.
Chris Rae (00:30:19): I don't know, maybe your book isn't as eco as mine, but my book is available on Kindle.
Rob Collie (00:30:25): Probably. Was yours written before mine?
Chris Rae (00:30:27): Well yeah, probably. But I mean at the end of the day it's, if you're second you're last.
Rob Collie (00:30:31): Second place is the first loser. A friend of mine at Microsoft used to work for a development manager who'd been an ex-football player at Florida State, and no lie, the front of this guy's house he had a sign over the front door that said second place is the first loser. And whenever the kids came into the house, they had to jump up and touch that sign.
Chris Rae (00:30:49): Wow, my kids are quite young so I'm only starting this kids in sport thing. And I've discovering that what I have to keep my fingers crossed about is that neither of them are any good at any of these sport things.
Rob Collie (00:30:59): Or at least not interested.
Chris Rae (00:31:00): Because then you end up just driving around.
Rob Collie (00:31:02): Let me straighten you out on this. What you're describing is the worst case scenario in my experience. Yes, interested, but not any good means that you're still being dragged around to all these events.
Chris Rae (00:31:13): But you're not going to ones in other states or wherever.
Rob Collie (00:31:16): Oh no, no, no, it turns out that the whole travel sports thing, it's been realized that that's a really, really good business and the more inclusive, the better, right? You can't just have the really, really talented kids because that's a small market, you need all of the kids, right? What you don't want is a kid that's interested in all this, and so you're driving them around and everything, but you're just watching and going, "This is never going anywhere." It deprives you of the enthusiasm that would sustain you while at the same time dragging you out into the same crappy weather over and over again that the future semi-pro kids are also experiencing.
Chris Rae (00:31:48): But then if I got them disinterested and useless, then I have to drag them out the door every Wednesday to this stupid soccer practice that I didn't even want to go to anyway.
Rob Collie (00:31:57): Right, it's a very delicate balance.
Chris Rae (00:31:58): You got to have them good and interested in it.
Rob Collie (00:32:01): You might want to get one of those signs, second place is the first loser.
Chris Rae (00:32:03): I think I like the opposite sign and then try and put them off this whole thing.
Rob Collie (00:32:08): So despite all of the riches brought to you by The Septic's Companion, you weren't one of those people that let success get to your head and sort of get lazy?
Chris Rae (00:32:18): No, I kept working at Microsoft just for the love of the craft.
Rob Collie (00:32:21): Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Chris Rae (00:32:22): Yeah.
Rob Collie (00:32:22): But now we do this other thing, the app and the boat theft.
Chris Rae (00:32:26): Yeah, and it's much better. I mean, honestly, I mean, as I said to a few people, I've only ever worked for companies that have more than a hundred thousand employees or fewer than three, and so I'm missing that kind of middle segment. Well, as you know yourself, you've done the same kind of path, but your business is more successful than mine, but you've got that thing where a lot of what you do in running a business is not really the thing that you thought you were going to do. I mean, ostensibly, I'm kind of doing computer programming in this business, but we're selling to the US government.
Chris Rae (00:32:55): So I spend half my time filling in forms that say, "I don't do any business with Iran." And then going and getting them notarized. And then realizing it was me that was supposed to invoice these people. And I've no idea how much it is for, and I think we only said it in a call and didn't write it down anywhere. Yeah, that's all the stuff about running your own business. Like if you run out of pens, then you have to go and get some pens, it's not like you go to the cupboard at the end of the hall.
Rob Collie (00:33:18): That continues. As you scale your boat confiscation empire, you will discover that that only gets worse.
Chris Rae (00:33:25): There'd be less paperwork in a criminal enterprise, I think.
Rob Collie (00:33:27): Probably. Yeah, that's true. But I mean what you're looking for is one of those state sponsored criminal enterprises. Those are very profitable.
Chris Rae (00:33:35): Oh, so I go and get these boots and then split it with like the State of South Carolina.
Rob Collie (00:33:39): Yeah, that's where the money is. So I encourage you to maybe go watch some Guy Ritchie films or something, get up to speed on what the underworld's really like. You've already taken the first steps.
Chris Rae (00:33:52): Yeah, no, there definitely would be something ramping up if I was to go down this path.
Rob Collie (00:33:55): Yeah, and you've already got some of those relationships with the local officials.
Chris Rae (00:33:59): I already know what my current ledger price is going to be, and that's the hard part.
Rob Collie (00:34:01): Oh, well see, and you say you're not a crook.
Chris Rae (00:34:04): Yeah, that's true. Yeah, I've actually been for drinks with them.
Thomas LaRock (00:34:07): No, I just think the rules have changed over the years and there's more scrutiny on certain things.
Chris Rae (00:34:12): I know. Man, I've got to say, at least all of the government people I've worked with have been squeaky clean about letting you pay for even drinks or food or anything. As I say, the field that I'm in, which is basically sort of coastal hazards, everyone is super careful about not inadvertently taking gifts from people, even when we've tried to give them drinks or food or whatever, they will not do it. So maybe these are the wrong local government people I'm in with, to be honest.
Rob Collie (00:34:35): Or maybe they're just incredibly savvy evaluators of [inaudible 00:34:39], right?
Chris Rae (00:34:39): Yeah, maybe.
Rob Collie (00:34:40): Like, this drink could cost me my job, and all I would have gotten is a drink. If you really want to get serious about this you're going to have to start offering to buy them a seaside home.
Thomas LaRock (00:34:50): No a boat, you should offer to buy them a boat.
Chris Rae (00:34:53): Oh, interesting. Yeah, get them a boat. That's true. I mean the other thing, I suppose they might be thinking, "If I let Chris Rae buy me a drink then he's going to think he can take another six months with this 10 minute project he's doing for us, and I'd rather he didn't feel like he has that satisfaction."
Rob Collie (00:35:07): So without giving away any trade secrets, what's the architecture of your solution?
Chris Rae (00:35:11): It's all on WordPress. The pictures are stored on, there's a DigitalOcean data storage thing, it's basically S3, and we ended up using that after a complicated and painstaking evaluation which revealed to us that we already have logins for DigitalOcean, and so we went with that solution.
Thomas LaRock (00:35:26): That was your analyses, we already have a login, we couldn't possibly create new logins with a different service.
Chris Rae (00:35:33): Well, honestly, I think the amount of our time we would expect tracing new logins would have negated the $5 a month it costs us to store all this with DigitalOcean. Because data-wise, there's not actually a huge amount of data on this, we have maybe 20 or 30,000 reports of anything in the system. And that's three data fields and one JPEG, so there's not really that much data on this.
Rob Collie (00:35:54): Let me help you, put your marketing hat on.
Chris Rae (00:35:56): It's big data actually, sorry. It's a big data project and it's in the cloud.
Rob Collie (00:36:00): Another phrase that you need to get really effortless at dropping, which is, best of breed. Oh, you've got a WordPress S3 DigitalOcean, you went and selected a best of breed infrastructure.
Chris Rae (00:36:12): No, these are premier products.
Thomas LaRock (00:36:14): A single vendor solution.
Chris Rae (00:36:16): Yeah.
Rob Collie (00:36:17): But I think you also need to highlight how you work with unstructured data.
Chris Rae (00:36:21): It's pretty structured actually, to be honest. I mean, theoretically in the comment field, someone could paste [inaudible 00:36:28]. Yeah, and then not that we'd do anything with it, but that would be unstructured data living within our... Yeah, okay, it's unstructured data, it's in the cloud.
Thomas LaRock (00:36:34): No, the image, the image is unstructured too.
Chris Rae (00:36:36): Oh, well, it does adhere to kind of JPEG, but the content of the image there might be a log.
Rob Collie (00:36:43): This is actually one of the ongoing jokes on our podcast that you haven't listened to.
Chris Rae (00:36:47): No, I listen to it loads of times, I know all the ongoing regular jokes.
Rob Collie (00:36:50): Sure you do, sure you do. It's the systems that our business acquires and decides to invest in over time, the various line of business systems. Those definitely aren't the random hodgepodge of systems that you would accidentally just sort of like stumble backwards into adopting. No, those are your best of breed infrastructure.
Chris Rae (00:37:06): This is just my chance to ramble on about anything. When I joined UBS, I was given two computers. So I was on the trading floors, you get your six screens. And I had five screens with this Windows PC, and I have this other screen, it was kind of a big screen. And I got a NeXTstep machine, and they said, "Yeah, so here's your Windows machine, you'll use that for pretty much everything. And here's your NeXTstep, you're going to use that for our risk management platform and a couple of other apps that we haven't managed to port off NeXTstep yet." And it turned out that UBS had double-down on NeXTstep as it's the next big thing, several years beforehand. And for anyone who doesn't know, NeXTstep was the Unix operating system that Steve Jobs did kind of in between Apple the first time and starting Apple the second time. But it wasn't hardware, it was just DOS.
Chris Rae (00:37:50): And so UBS double-downed on NeXTstep, it was completely out of support. Steve jobs was off doing something else at this point, NeXTstep was kind of sunsetted and UBS were desperately trying to move everything they'd written on NeXTstep off NeXTstep, but you still had it for some apps. And what happened was everyone had been given an NeXTstep machine, and then you get a nice big monitor for the NeXTstep machine. But none of the drivers on the NeXTstep machine had been updated whatsoever, and the mouse cursor moved at the same speed pixels per second as it had done on tiny little monitors.
Chris Rae (00:38:18): So on my first day at work, I sit down and I've got a switcher between these machines, and I could switch Windows between the NeXTstep machine. And somebody brought me four mouse mats and I'm like, "Oh, no, it's okay, I've already got a mouse mat." And he goes, "No, no, you're going to tape them together." And I'm like, "I don't know if that's going to happen. And so I crank up the NeXTstep machine, and I'm just trying to get across the screen and I realized, "Oh yeah, I'm going to need these four taped together mouse mats." But the funny thing was that NeXTstep, the development language was Objective-C, which was used on NeXTstep.
Rob Collie (00:38:53): That was the platform.
Chris Rae (00:38:53): That was the only platform that Objective-C team was used on that. So if you were an Objective-C developer, you had got to Objective-C because you were a NeXTstep guy. And so we ended up, at UBS, we had to hire a bunch of these Objective-C developers because there weren't any. And so it's that usual thing where the thing you're working on dies and you're like, "Well, that's the end of that career." And to translate, no, no, they actually the start at the well-paid part of that career. But we had all these NeXTstep developers, and they were thinking, "The end of UBS, that's the end of Objective-C. Once UBS finally migrates off NeXTstep, that's Objective-C." And then of course that happened, so there was three or four years where nobody was using Objective-C, and now it's the primary development language for the iPhone, so these guys have got another entire career that's kicked off.
Rob Collie (00:39:33): Oh, because Steve brought the Objective-C sort of like mentality with him to Apple. Well, for a while there, I was thinking that we would make the joke that if it was only able to be used on NeXTstep machines, that it was probably a better termed subjective seat. But if it's now used on Apple, on iOS development then, well damn.
Chris Rae (00:39:53): Yeah, and it's a weird choice, it's an old language. If somebody had said, "What language is Steve Jobs going to do for the iPhone?" That would not have been in the top 50 ideas that anyone might have had. But it's what ended up happening.
Rob Collie (00:40:04): It's hard to imagine Steve having an opinion about a programming language.
Chris Rae (00:40:08): I don't know if it was him, but at least some part of what he'd been at NeXTstep, I assume he took some people between these companies.
Rob Collie (00:40:14): Yeah, it's probably the people that went with him, yeah. That's probably true.
Thomas LaRock (00:40:18): You're joking. Right? Because Steve had an opinion about everything.
Rob Collie (00:40:21): I think an opinion about a programming language would have been in some way beneath him.
Thomas LaRock (00:40:24): No, it seems to be right in line with his control of everything. Remember how he was like, "We're done with Flash." He wasn't really removed from a lot of these decisions.
Rob Collie (00:40:34): So say you're done with Flash, and to say that we're going to use Objective-C-
Chris Rae (00:40:38): To Tom's point, it is a language you can control, right? Because I mean, if it's only your platform it gets used on, nobody's going to update it without you knowing.
Thomas LaRock (00:40:47): Exactly, that's really what it is. Yeah, just like controlling the app store-
Rob Collie (00:40:51): Proprietary.
Thomas LaRock (00:40:52): Proprietary, absolutely.
Rob Collie (00:40:53): Okay, I could see him getting behind proprietary for sure, no two ways about it. I get that, right? But it's not like he had an opinion about the way that Objective-C did their data typing.
Thomas LaRock (00:41:02): No.
Rob Collie (00:41:03): That would be a little off-brand for him.
Chris Rae (00:41:04): No, if he thought about that he probably wouldn't have used it.
Thomas LaRock (00:41:10): Probably not, right?
Rob Collie (00:41:11): So any other sort of funny data or Excel related stories?
Chris Rae (00:41:16): Oh, I lost the company a fair amount of money on it's spreadsheet, if you'd be interested in that? Do you have Excel people listening to this, because this is a bit Excel-ish.
Rob Collie (00:41:24): We have plenty of Excel people, yeah.
Chris Rae (00:41:26): Yeah, so basically dividends are an important part of pricing anything like stocks or stock options or whatever, because whenever a dividend comes out, the person who owns the stock is paid a dividend and then the stock price goes down by the amount that the dividend was because you could have bought it the day before and got the dividend, so that all gets kind of factored into the stock price. And when you're doing derivatives, dividends make a big difference because they'll jump you over some threshold that you now have to actually fulfill this contract. I'd say dividends are really important in stock pricing, and what you sometimes sell are derivatives based on indexes, so you would sell S&P 500. So people will buy an index, which is basically like buying every single stock in an index. So when you say we want our portfolio to represent the S&P 500, what you have to really do is buy every stock in the S&P 500. And so you want to buy derivatives based on that, then you need to work out what they're worth with all of the dividends and all these stocks.
Chris Rae (00:42:17): And so in a normal stock you'll get a dividend every year or maybe more often than that, but that's probably it. And so we had an array formula in the spreadsheet, which was, we have a function built in out of this database we had of dividends, and we had an array function that pulled in far too many of them, like 20 rows of future dividends, when in reality you probably only got three or four. But the problem with array formulas is you can't have them kind of extend indefinitely. So you have to make it too long and then refer to too big an array.
Chris Rae (00:42:45): And what happens when you trade an index is all of the dividends turn into the appropriate index proportion of that dividend. So if Apple is 10% of your index, then your index dividend is Apple dividend times 10%, and then all of the other stocks at 10%. Well, there's a lot of dividends in that list. And so if you do, say for example, a 20 row array formula, you may only get a couple of weeks of dividends on the thing you were pricing that's five years out.
Rob Collie (00:43:13): Okay, yeah.
Chris Rae (00:43:14): And then your sales person might trade that thing based on that price, which was surprisingly competitive. And then once you've traded it, you might realize, "Wow, we sold this awful cheap." But then some people might start hunting around as to why we sold it off cheap. And then they might turn up at my desk and say, "I'd like to talk to you about this array formula that we just lost $200,000 from." A sorry, a sad afternoon, because it was pretty rapidly obvious... We're basically typing an index saying hit refresh dividends, you see it fill the whole thing and you're like... Oddly enough, thank God I'd written at the top of the spreadsheet, "This is not for pricing indexes." And so it wasn't my fault.
Chris Rae (00:43:59): And honestly, one of the things I wanted to do in Excel was to have this concept of a structure inside a cell. So what I would really like to have is have cell one be the dividend array. And then I can say, "Equals R XLL DLL wrapper function [this cell]." Which is in fact like a whole structured array inside of that. And inside that cell I'd have our array formula return to all the dividends, but you never have this problem of having to extend arrays. And it's a constant problem you get in Excel with all sorts of stuff. It's just when you have pieces of data like length and, it's just a shit show. I mean, I really like Excel, I've worked in Excel, but it's derived from a product that was made in the '70s and it doesn't work well in determinate length of data.
Thomas LaRock (00:44:41): So did you ever just consider to use the correct tool for what you were trying to get done?
Chris Rae (00:44:46): What was the correct tool for what we were trying to do?
Thomas LaRock (00:44:49): Something that would work with arrays. I don't know, Python.
Chris Rae (00:44:52): Well, but these are guys who came out of university with MBAs and they're going to be derivative traders, they don't give a flying fuck about arraying.
Rob Collie (00:44:58): That's fine. That was one of those Cockney rhymes, right? That wasn't actually the F word, it was meant to rhyme with buck, like pass the buck.
Chris Rae (00:45:04): It's from fuckwit and then bit is the word, so they don't care a bit, is what I'm saying, yeah. So everyone says this in the UK, it will be fine on the BBC, I think. I mean Tom, the truth is, these people are not interested in learning a programming language. Excel, has this glory of kind of casual obscenity to it that it looks like anyone can use it. Everyone can get to grips within 10 seconds with what Excel basically does, and you can get someone going, and then as things get more and more complicated, you get to a point that man, you really should have written this in something else. But you started off in Excel, because it's so easy to start off in Excel. And so it's just so easy to say, "I'm going to do one of these and one of these and I'm going to have those together. Now I've got a derivative product."
Chris Rae (00:45:45): And there was always a pressure in the bank, because we have lots of these kinds of errors. Not only things that we've done wrong in spreadsheets, but also just we didn't lock the spreadsheets down enough so people would just change one formula in a whole segment, but it turns out all the other ones were the same. And we would constantly have whole arrays of data where one of the formulas was different because some of the thought that was going to change them all. And we actually wrote a bunch of tools to check... You highlight an array and it's like, "Tell me what I've screwed up in this array."
Chris Rae (00:46:10): And so everyone wanted to use Excel, and so they did use Excel. And then the truth is that we ended up, you can price things pretty quickly because people are like, "Oh, this thing you sold us last week..." Which is a thing we had a whole risk management system for.And this other thing, we wanted to get a rough idea of, what if we combine those two things, what would that cost? And so you obviously do that in spreadsheet, it's the right place to do it.
Chris Rae (00:46:28): But then they say, "Oh, actually we might trade that." And then at that point we tried to never actually risk manage our spreadsheets. So when you'd sold a product, and somebody has to find out every day how much of IMB stock do you buy or sell in order to fulfill this derivative in two years, that would all happen in this backend system. But there were a number of cases where people had done things in Excel that weren't... They'd used add-ins for getting data from somewhere that nobody had written into this backend system yet. And so we ended up having some things that got risk managed off Excel, and I hope nobody from UBS is going to come and have me assassinated now.
Chris Rae (00:47:04): But we also had some things that got risk managed of Mathematica. So we would take Excel models and turn them into Mathematica, which is kind of a bit more of that, like what I was talking about, that kind of structured thing, you're not going to fall off the end of an array. And one of the other guys on our team was building quite a lot models in Mathematica for things that couldn't quite be built into the risk management thing. I mean, you're right, that that is a very chunky way of doing these kinds of things, but I do think it's kind of the right way. And I wish there was a product that was a bit like Excel but a bit more well suited to this kind of thing, I think.
Rob Collie (00:47:32): Excel is working on becoming that product, as you're aware.
Chris Rae (00:47:35): They're trying, it's just, as we all know there's a lot of history there, and you've developed this new feature and it turns out it doesn't work in Excel for macro language. People always used to, when I was going around customers, people were always worried about when we were going to get rid of VBA, even then it was 10 years old, and I was 20 years old. And it was never a good programming language for anything, it was just a thing that got kind of shoehorned into office before our time. And I always said to people, "You're right, and we would love to get rid of VBA, But what you need to look at is Excel for macro language." And so we've taken out the UI to create Excel for macro language, we did that ages ago. But you could still run Excel for macros in Excel when I left in 2014 or something like that. And I said, "If you're worried about VBA being got rid of, you just keep an eye on Excel for macro language, because when that goes, you've got another 20 years."
Rob Collie (00:48:21): I don't see VBA ever going anywhere. Let's circle back to Tom's point for a moment. Tom, you know the answer to this, right? By the time you get into something like array formulas, you have reached a point where there is a far more elegant tool for that part of it. Array formulas are, I think the single most difficult and abstract thing in Excel.
Chris Rae (00:48:43): And useful to be honest, but yes.
Rob Collie (00:48:45): Super, super useful. The array formula crowd really, really, really needs to meet DAX's X functions, because, oh my God are those great.
Chris Rae (00:48:54): Not that you're biased at all.
Rob Collie (00:48:55): Well, I'm only biased of having used them both.
Chris Rae (00:48:58): No, I thought you've worked on them.
Rob Collie (00:49:00): No, I didn't have anything to do with the DAX language. I wish that I could say that I did, but I didn't. And honestly, even the X functions in DAX, those trace their lineage to the X functions or the similar iterator functions that were already in MDX that I never was able to learn. So the vast majority of array formula problems are just thousands of times more elegant, higher performance, everything if you implement them in X functions, there's almost like an entire business model of going and helping the array formula crowd at investment banks adopt the DAX X functions.
Chris Rae (00:49:33): The DAX functions, you have to run them on PivotTable or structured data of some sort, right?
Rob Collie (00:49:37): They run across tables of inputs. What really matters is the inputs, the flavor of output can be in a cube formula, for instance. If you wanted to tie it back into a regular Excel model, the cube formula can be the way to get them back into the grid on a cell by cell basis.
Chris Rae (00:49:53): Can I put like a bunch of numbers in column A and then in column B use a DAX function to do something with them? Because I don't think I can.
Rob Collie (00:50:00): No, you really can't. There's a refresh problem there. You need to be refreshing the data model from that range, and then it would work, right? The biggest problem is that is not integrated with the calc chain, the Excel calc chain and the DAX calc chain don't listen to each other for notifications.
Chris Rae (00:50:18): I see, I see. Yeah.
Rob Collie (00:50:19): That would be amazing if we ever got to that point, but a lot of these things could be done potentially end to end in the Power BI environment without ever having to run into... But now you're running into the same sort of thing, which is, "I've got to leave Excel." And there was a reason why I was in Excel in the first place. And we're talking about in some ways, not the last mile, but a critical sub component of a model, it's not the whole thing. The net benefits of using Excel for these problems, including array formulas and all of their gotchas and complexity, and also, frankly, inscrutability, you really can't watch an array formula evaluate.
Chris Rae (00:50:53): That's true. I wished they'd done some more tools. I mean, I wrote tools at UBS to try and help people with some of this. Like, why is my spreadsheet going slow was a good one, and that kind of stuff,
Rob Collie (00:51:01): Because you used array formulas, is the answer.
Chris Rae (00:51:03): Well, yeah. And there's a bunch of ways that array formulas work that really are horribly ineffective, just because you need to keep things working from versions ages ago. All of us who've worked on this, there would be a new glorious fast way of doing this, but unfortunately it's going to break these spreadsheets that somebody saved from 15 years ago that are business critical and they're going to have to patch as soon as we sent it out, et cetera.
Chris Rae (00:51:24): One of the reasons that people are all using Excel for this is not only because of Excel itself, but because everything has an add-in for Excel, like you've always got external data coming from somewhere and everyone makes an add-in for Excel. You get your FX rates from an add-in that the company matrix sell. You get your Reuters data. You get data from other indexes. Because each stock exchange will often have its own data retrieval system to get stock prices, and so you would need all of those plugins. And somebody needs to make those in whatever system you're doing your pricing in, and that, really the only thing that they all make for is Excel.
Rob Collie (00:51:57): Chris, do you still have friends working in that environment, people that you know? Are you getting any signals? I imagine that there are now Python libraries and our libraries for integration with these same sorts of services. In the same way that Excel became a center of gravity for add-on writing, are your friends seeing R and Python and things like that kind of leaking in around the edges? I mean, Mathematica, if you were using Mathematica back then...
Chris Rae (00:52:21): So the truth is that I don't talk to anyone about that kind of stuff, but my friends were slightly in an odd situation because we were the quant department rather than the trading department, so they were all kind of programmy type people anyway. So they were all doing what you think would be a good idea, but it's the traders that are tougher. And I bet you there's a whole new generation of people going into derivatives training that actually can write programming languages, at least enough to get their work done, much more than... This was 20 years ago when I started doing this, but I think you'd be surprised as to how much of it still happens in Excel.
Chris Rae (00:52:49): Because often you'll be like, "Oh, okay. I got something vaguely working." You're a trader, you've got something vaguely working but you have to send it to the sales guy. You can't send the sales guy your GitHub. He needs to just be able to double click on it in his email and see a number and then change this other number and see what that number does. There's a lot of reasons that this still happens. Yeah.
Rob Collie (00:53:10): So I just want to take a moment here and marvel at the contrast in something in particular. So again, we're coming back to this topic, did not enjoy Math 101.
Chris Rae (00:53:19): Right.
Rob Collie (00:53:19): That was Chris Rae's experience, did not enjoy math 101, okay. And yet, just for replay of bits and pieces of this conversation so far, Objective-C, you seem to have some opinions about that language. VBA, you had some opinions about that language as well. This idea of storing an array, an entire array in a cell and passing that around as like a first-class object, these are very technical opinions.
Chris Rae (00:53:47): No, these all have more to do with the English degree that I got than they do with math.
Rob Collie (00:53:50): Well, explain.
Chris Rae (00:53:51): What's an array and a sale got to do with mathematics?
Rob Collie (00:53:54): Okay, but what does it have to do with English? I mean, so here's the thing-
Thomas LaRock (00:53:57): It might have words in it.
Rob Collie (00:53:59): You would agree that the default belief, the preponderance of belief in the world is that these things have a lot more to do with math than they do with English?
Chris Rae (00:54:10): Right. And I think, in my experience, I would say it's true that to be a computer programmer's computer programmer, like the guy who writes algorithms for stuff... I've got this friend who used to work for Pixar rendering stuff, and now he works for Google Maps on routing stuff. These are programmer's programmers who are inventing algorithms and things, and doing things with matrixes and log space. Those guys will benefit from having both sort of skills in mathematics, but also the kind of brain that is good at mathematics.
Chris Rae (00:54:37): But I think these days, and really consistently all the way through, there's lots and lots of room for programmers who are not quite as sort of methodical and mathy focused as those people. I mean, you need those people to create the algorithm. I mean, we all know these days programming is mostly about finding things that other people have done and sticking them together. And frankly, by the time you are writing a sort of algorithm, you've screwed something up because you shouldn't be making anything where you have to do that. I think there's lots of different types of computer programs. And I mean, I've basically been a computer programmer for 25 years, but I've just not been that mathy type of computer programmer. And most computer programmers are not really, you're making databases and sticking things together and writing PHP and other non-glamorous languages. I know you want this to be true, Rob, but I just don't-
Rob Collie (00:55:24): I don't, quite the opposite. But by playing devil's advocate, I think we tease it out more, right? It's like, there is a myth, and it's a very, very, very durable myth. And I think it traces back to high school and it traces back to university, as you would say, not to the real world, but it traces back to school. When I would stick my head into the computer lab in high school, the faces I would see sitting in there were largely the same faces that I saw in the physics class or in the calculus class. I didn't see the people who were in the humanities class in there, but then the real world happens and it's different.
Chris Rae (00:56:03): Well sort of. Although I think it's also time. I mean, I think what computer programming meant twenty years ago is not the same as what it means now. I feel like the people who were writing computer programs, say 40 years ago, were optimizing memory users, they were minimizing the number of clock cycles they we're using for a particular algorithm. They were messing around with these real kind of low level type things. And computer programmers now, they tend to be much more people who know about the business that they're actually trying to work in and are just trying to use the computer to get something done for their business, because computing has got so much easier. The base level that you get when you start programming computers, it's just so much harder.
Chris Rae (00:56:39): When you and I started programming computers, the base level you got was assembler and you were writing things that were compiled into assembler. Now the base level you get is libraries for recognizing glyphs on your camera screen. And that's the case of like import this, take a picture of your glyph, and now you've done that. I mean, I don't have any idea how that works, but people are just sticking things together more. And that's great because now this means that everybody can more and more use computers for their kind of stuff. But I do think that skill set is a bit different as well as the kind of perception of what was needed.
Rob Collie (00:57:05): Yeah, I completely agree, and that's been a theme on this show that you've listened to every episode of.
Chris Rae (00:57:09): Yeah, yeah, episode eight was really good.
Rob Collie (00:57:12): That was a real zinger. So this notion of a hybrid person who knows the business but also has the technical skill to execute, is the most valuable thing going. That's the present, that's the future, that's kind of everything.
Chris Rae (00:57:23): And it's great because it means that people who are subject matter experts will do computer stuff. I'm fed of people in Silicon Valley revolutionizing some industry they've never heard of just because they can make a website and there's other people who can't. I mean, you don't know anything about that, and now you've decided you're going to revolutionize it. I mean, it's complicated. And you see all these startups who start with, "Oh, we're going to take out the middleman and blah-di-blah." And then it turns out, oh yeah, that actually was more complicated than you thought it was and there was a reason that middleman existed, and then you go bankrupt, but by that point you've sold your company to some other company. But then hopefully we get to the point that subject matter experts are going to revolutionize their industry by using computers.
Thomas LaRock (00:57:54): These types of functional analysts have existed forever, somebody who can do tech and somebody that can know the business, look at the character in Office Space, he has people skills. I mean, they've always been around. But here's the best example I have for what you just said about Silicon Valley. It was a couple of years ago, it was a ride sharing. And the person, this executive, I think, they were dreaming of the perfect ride sharing journey where one person would get on and then in the middle of that journey, they would stop and pick up another person, and then the first person might get off. And so this journey of never ending, this ride share journey of people getting on and off, and somebody just goes, "That's a bus." You've just invented the bus, and you think it's revolutionary.
Chris Rae (00:58:43): But they've got an app. They've got an app. [crosstalk 00:58:47].
Thomas LaRock (00:58:44): They've got an app.
Chris Rae (00:58:48): They've got $6 million in venture capital funding. They've got these amazing tables that go up and down.
Rob Collie (00:58:55): They've never seen a bus.
Thomas LaRock (00:58:56): And they're panting for the likes, I need four stars.
Chris Rae (00:59:00): I mean, and also, we're all computer people, and we've all sat in bars with people who are trying to find an industry to revolutionize, busting off app ideas about things you don't know anything about. That's not how this is supposed to work. I'm not supposed to say I've bought a taxi, what could I do with it? You're supposed to have decided what you're going to do before you go off.
Rob Collie (00:59:24): Plus the dirty reality is that even if you have a really good idea, a really good idea is worth next to nothing, it's just so worthless.
Chris Rae (00:59:34): We've all had those.
Rob Collie (00:59:35): How do you get from that idea to a reality that the market accepts it? And even if ultimately there is a real product in this space, how do you make sure, or service, how do you make sure that it's you and not some second mover that out executes you? You mentioned that you were potentially the first website in that burgeoning industry of English to English translation, and now you've been out hustled, out competed by the new breed-
Chris Rae (00:59:58): But I'm still going. I get hundreds of hits.
Rob Collie (01:00:01): Well, yeah hundreds. But they didn't go brick and mortar like you, you went into physical goods with the book.
Chris Rae (01:00:06): Yeah, I was going to revolutionize that web industry.
Rob Collie (01:00:09): Yeah. I mean, you had a really good idea, and you even pursued it and reduced it to practice and still got left behind. It takes more than that.
Chris Rae (01:00:20): Yeah, that's true. I mean, I think there's still an awful lot of just startup nonsense, but you do see more startups that are being made by people who are addressing an actual need that they knew about. They bought this thing on the internet and then decided to revolutionize the industry that that thing was in, because something about their buying experience was unsatisfactory or something.
Rob Collie (01:00:37): Our company essentially comes from that. I had been on all three sides of the business intelligence triangle. I had been building the software. I had, believe it or not, also hired a consulting firm to execute on that platform for us, that's something I got to do when I worked briefly for that five minutes I was over on MSN. And then now the third side is, running a consulting company, right?
Rob Collie (01:01:02): And so very much filling that practical need as a subject matter expert, like seeing how the industry needed to change and all of that. But still the startup crowd, when we start talking, if I talked to Silicon Valley types, right? So often without even realizing it, they'll just make some comment, "We'd never go into any sort of labor intensive, people intensive business. We don't want that, that's a terrible business." Without realizing that they're talking about me. There's something really satisfying about running a business like this and starting a business like this, so many people, including the people who work for us, lives are so greatly improved and we get to make a living at the same time, it's awesome.
Chris Rae (01:01:47): It's nice making stuff that people use, this is why you and I were working at Microsoft too.
Rob Collie (01:01:50): No one's ever going to be a billionaire in this business.
Chris Rae (01:01:53): That's just such a weird ephemeral moment in this kind of whole industry, where people are being made billionaires for things that were [inaudible 01:02:01] ideas, that they had an exit strategy for and that kind of stuff. 50 years from now, that's not going to be happening, it's going to be some other thing that's going nuts. It was oil a hundred years ago. We all happen to work in this field, but it's turned out to be the thing where people could make lots of money, and it was just super lucky, but you don't have to do the whole Silicon Valley nonsense.
Chris Rae (01:02:18): I was asked by my wife's boss's boss, actually at some social event... My wife is now working at Microsoft, I think might get her on here at some point, because she actually does do data things. And her bosses both asked me what the exit strategy for my company was, and I mean, this is a two person business where you take pictures of logs and report them to the local environment agency, we're not about to be bought by Oracle. And I don't have an exit strategy. To me, if I had an exit strategy that would mean this business wasn't doing very well. Who on earth rates the success of what you're doing by how quickly you're going to sell it to someone else and run away?
Rob Collie (01:02:49): It's echoes of the financial crisis, right? The late 2000s financial crisis. It's like, we will initiate these financial deals, but immediately sell them off as security so that someone else is holding the risk, right?
Chris Rae (01:03:04): Yeah, right, right.
Rob Collie (01:03:05): And, it's like, "Oh God, no, we would never hold these things for more than a millisecond."
Chris Rae (01:03:09): Yeah, well I suppose I was involved in that industry a bit.
Rob Collie (01:03:14): Maybe, maybe. Well, you voted with your feet, I'm sure it was an ethical and moral decision to leave that all behind. And fundamentally, the vast majority of those business models are like, "How do we get the people out of the equation?"
Chris Rae (01:03:26): Right. But people are really how you made the money. I mean, there's a very short period where you can make money by churning through compute time. Soon everyone's going to do that and that's not going to make money anymore. It's people that make you money.
Rob Collie (01:03:37): I guess the goal is trying to become the new infrastructure, in the same way that like the power companies and utilities and all of that, the software world offers the opportunity to be a private infrastructure that is essentially of public need, right?
Chris Rae (01:03:56): And it's true. And actually, honestly my current business is sort of that. I mean, we sell it to states on an annual subscription basis, and so the goal with this is, you do a bunch of work up front and then in year 10, you will hopefully be doing not as much work, but still making the same money. I did think that about year three, but now I'm in year eight and I'm thinking it about year 20.
Rob Collie (01:04:15): Okay, I'm sure you remember the podcast we did with John Hancock?
Chris Rae (01:04:19): Oh, that was a good one, yeah.
Rob Collie (01:04:20): He founded a SaaS company that sells to government agencies, and he's based in your neck of the woods. They're software, first and foremost, they have a freemium model where they give away a version of their product, but the freemium version of their product catches child predators.
Chris Rae (01:04:38): Whoa, that's a bit of a dark free version.
Rob Collie (01:04:40): Right, it's not the typical loss leader. But again, I'm just recapping the show that you listened to, so you know all of this.
Chris Rae (01:04:46): Yeah, I actually made notes, I've got them somewhere.
Thomas LaRock (01:04:48): Somewhere.
Rob Collie (01:04:49): But yeah, so honestly, I think you're the third person we've had on the show who's built a SaaS product that is sold to government agencies. Derek Ricard also, emergency reporting is targeted at emergency service departments, like ambulance, paramedic, all that, all over the world.
Chris Rae (01:05:07): Are these people all similarly old? Because I do think there's an age element to this. And I think younger programming people are going for more glamorous, exciting things that might make lots of money. And older people, I'm mid-40s, I'm not that old, but I'm old for a computer programmer. And the older people they're looking for just steady, easy-going, it brings in money every month. And conversely, a thing that our customers value a lot is that we've been doing this for eight years and we're going to keep doing it. You see this all the time that everyone wants an app for stuff. People will hire a consultant, they'll make an app, the consultant will go away because the apps finished. And then six months later there's an IRS update where the app doesn't work anymore, and they can't hire the consultant because the consultant's disappeared or isn't interested in doing it or et cetera, and then your stuff kind of falls apart.
Rob Collie (01:05:48): Well, no, they executed their exit strategy.
Chris Rae (01:05:50): Right. But I think it takes a while to build up relationships in government like this. And actually my business partner has worked in this field for 20 years now, so he knew these people well before I did. And we don't make anything super exciting, but we make something predictable and we're find-able on the phone and we'll support things after we've finished it, and the government customers like that stuff. One of the things with government customers is that they often can't find funding very easily. They'll fund something via some grant that they got from some agency or some other part of their own company or something, but then once that's done, you can't just pull money out of the kitty to do some more work on it. You need to go and apply for another grant, and that's not going to be for 500 bucks. So they slow machinations of government mean that they do want people who are going to kind of stick with them in the longer term, and accept that, yeah, I'm not technically being paid for this, but they're going to subscribe next year.
Rob Collie (01:06:39): Integrity and commitment, again, that's not where you get the most multiple on your exit strategy.
Chris Rae (01:06:43): No, but it's a job.
Rob Collie (01:06:45): It's a job and it feels good. It scratches a lot of other itches that I think are just as important, more important. It turns out not everyone can be billionaires, there's not enough room for that.
Chris Rae (01:06:54): Yeah, that's true. I mean, I have got two boats, as I mentioned.
Rob Collie (01:06:55): So we can't let this recording end. I know that you're a busy man and you've got wall to wall meetings stacked up behind this, but there are a couple of things we absolutely have to talk about, otherwise I will feel like we've really failed. So first of all, I'm glad that we were able to have this friendly conversation because it's one of the last times that we will ever be friendly with one another, given that we're about to enter into competition in the hotly contested startup market of what you call Breadpacitor, but what we know to be Doughpacitor on our side. Can you tell the story of how you came around to this first mover, but going to ultimately fail to succeed in the face of competition, this Breadpacitor?
Chris Rae (01:07:42): Did you sign the NDA, I did send it through.
Rob Collie (01:07:45): I don't remember seeing that.
Thomas LaRock (01:07:46): I don't sign NDAs, sorry.
Rob Collie (01:07:48): But he knows that, he's listened to all of our podcasts, he's heard us talk about how we don't sign NDAs.
Chris Rae (01:07:53): Yeah, well I'm going to assume you use some discretion here, but just between-
Rob Collie (01:07:57): FriendDA. No, we won't tell anyone.
Thomas LaRock (01:07:58): A friendDA, I love that.
Rob Collie (01:08:03): I didn't make that up. I heard it recently, and I'm like, "I'm using that from now on."
Chris Rae (01:08:06): I don't have an electronics background, but I do have a radio-controlled submarine, a little one. It was on Kickstarter, it's this company called Chasing that make submarines. You know DJI, the drone company? They make some really fancy ones that you can use for actually making films, but they also make ones you can afford to use in your backyard. And so this Chasing company is a bit like that, but for submarines. So they make ones that you can use to inspect an oil rig, but they also make a couple of cheaper ones, it's one that's only cheap if you're actually a person who owns a yacht. But then there was one that they put on Kickstarter, it was like 300 and something bucks, and I backed it on Kickstarter. And the way it works is you've got the actual submarine device, there's a cable that goes to this floating buoy, I call it buoy, I think you'd call it buoy, and that's not in my books. It's this cable that goes to this buoy on the surface, because you can't transmit radio waves through water, so-
Rob Collie (01:08:54): Just stop, we should make very clear for our American listeners, there is not a male human child swimming around on the surface-
Chris Rae (01:08:59): Oh no, it's a male human child, actually. Yeah.
Rob Collie (01:09:04): ... with a cable.
Chris Rae (01:09:05): There's a cable that sticks into the male human child. You can put Water Wings on them.
Rob Collie (01:09:08): How much do you get on a charge of the buoy?
Chris Rae (01:09:11): It's two bowls of cereal and you're pretty much good for an hour to two with the submarine. Yeah, so that bit floats on the surface and then you connect to that on your phone via Wi-Fi and you get live video from the submarine, it records onto an SD card, or onto something that's in the submarine, and you drive around the place. And so I've been messing around with this here in Seattle, and I have kids, because you don't want to be an adult is going around and playing with a toy submarine on a crowded beach, it makes you look like some sort of dweeb. And so I was hoping that I'd be able to take the kids and then it would look like the kids were playing with it, but my kids actually, it turns out, are not interested in any of the things that I'm interested in and don't want to play with this remote control submarine. And Seattle, there's not that many exciting things you can go and look at under the water, so I kind of did my fill of things around here.
Chris Rae (01:09:55): We had this lucky trip in the middle of the pandemic where we went to Europe, obviously I'm Scottish, and I mentioned that my wife's Greek, so we were going to Scotland and Greece. And of course I was going to take this submarine to Greece because her parents live kind of near the sea and you can kind of mosey down to the ocean, also them being Greek they kind of spend a lot of the evenings arguing with each other, and so I could sneak off with my submarine. The first night I sneaked off with my submarine down to the sea and it died.
Rob Collie (01:10:22): You flew internationally with a buoy in your luggage?
Chris Rae (01:10:26): Yeah, with a buoy in my luggage, I risked a lot. And this is actually a little bit complicated, because my wife decided that this was a trip we were going to pack lighter on, and caught me packing this submarine. So I used up some birdie points to get the submarine to Greece, certainly, but then it died. And so I thought, "Well, I can't get any spare parts, it's not a big company. So I'm not going to get any spare parts in Greece, and so it might just try and fix it." And I was pretty sure that the part that died was the buoy part because the connector was wiggly, I thought maybe water had got into it. And it's not openable, it's been glued together. I hacked it open with a saw, and I thought, you could still use the submarine if you don't put the buoy in the water, you've just got the length of the cable.
Chris Rae (01:11:03): I hacked the top off it, and I realized it had corrosion on the motherboard. And so I did a bit of looking on the internet and they said, "Oh, you can just use distilled water and a toothbrush." So I bought some distilled water, and I stole my sister-in-law's toothbrushes. I said, "Have you got a toothbrush I could use to clean this thing?" She's like, "Oh yeah, sure." So I started cleaning this thing only to discover that this toothbrush was covered in toothpaste. If that had been my family, they'd have assumed that, "Oh yeah, you need a toothbrush to clean some mechanical thing." First of all, I covered the motherboard in toothpaste and then worked out how I was going to get rid of that.
Chris Rae (01:11:35): And then I cleaned all the corrosion off and I plugged it in and it still wasn't working, but it was not working in a kind of different way. And because I had taken the top of this buoy thing off, I was messing around with it, and I had discovered that there was a capacitor in there... When you plugged it in, there was obviously a power light on this PCB and it would flicker. And I thought, I bet that's not supposed to flicker. And there was a capacitor, it was the only component on there apart from chips, it was this capacitor. And I was messing around, I thought it must be a power regulator or something. So I was trying to wiggle it, see if it was not connected properly or something. And as I was touching it, the light was going on more solidly on the board.
Rob Collie (01:12:08): Just when you grabbed the capacitor?
Chris Rae (01:12:10): When I was wiggling the capacitor in my fingers, and I thought, "Well, it must be a loose connection or something like that." Well I got to the point where I could lift it up on this capacitor, so it [inaudible 01:12:18] loose connection, it was kind of flickering less. So I thought, I wonder if it works. So I kind of cranked the thing up, starting my phone, held onto this capacitor, if you hold onto it quite tight, the light would actually go pretty solid and you'd get a green light on the submarine, which meant it was ready to go. And sure enough, I connect to Wi-Fi, sat in the room we were sitting in with it running for half an hour taking video just in the room, but with me holding this capacitor.
Chris Rae (01:12:39): And I thought, well, I've got a proof of concept now for her to fix this thing, whatever on earth is wrong with it. And I just need to work out... Because you need two hands to control the thing, and the children are even less interested in just sitting, holding a capacitor. And the wife, I did actually ask the wife, but she said some words that I'm not going to use on your broadcast. And so I thought, "Well, I need something that's going to replace my finger and it's better." And I thought the things that I might be doing are, I know that I'm not fixing this loose connection, but I'm wondering if I'm earthing it or something like that. So I got a spoon out of my mother-in-law's kitchen, and I put that on it, it didn't seem to make any difference, it was as if I was doing nothing. And I thought, "Well, it's something to do... Maybe it's the heat." Right? So I kind of left it in the sun for a bit, and then that didn't help.
Chris Rae (01:13:22): And I actually put it on Facebook, you probably saw this Facebook thread. I put it on Facebook saying, "I've recently ended what I can do with this buoy, does anyone have any ideas about how I should really fixed it?" And I was like, "If I hold it up to my hand, it works and if I tried all these other things, it doesn't work." So I thought, "I've got some smart friends." So it turns out they were all completely useless. They're like, "Ah, capacitors are complicated things." And nobody really gave me any advice at all.
Chris Rae (01:13:42): So I closed Facebook, and I just went looking for other things that might be like my hand. So I actually got a piece of raw chicken out of the fridge, but I realized it's quite wet, raw chicken, right? And so I was going to flop this onto this motherboard and I think it would cause other things. So I just put it in a plastic bag and I put it on the motherboard over this capacitor., It didn't do anything at all, so it really had to touch it. So the raw chicken was out, and I got a banana and I tried sort of squishing the banana onto the capacitor, well that didn't do anything. And then I got a piece of bread, there's loads of bread in Greece. So I go a bit of bread, just a chunk of a loaf of bread, I got a picture of it somewhere. Well, actually I made a video of this whole saga that I posted on some ask electronics thing on Reddit. And then I get the adoration of my kids, because I might get another 10 views. So it's over a hundred views now.
Chris Rae (01:14:27): Yeah, so I've got this piece of bread, stuck it on it and it actually worked for a while. 10 minutes I managed to run it again in the bedroom, took video, but then it stopped and I couldn't get that piece of bread to work anymore with it. And I noticed it was a bit warm and I thought, "Okay, well I've got the solution here, so I just need to productionalize it." And so I got a bottle cap and I stuffed a whole bunch of bread in that. And then I wrapped it kind of with tape such that there was still a hole for the capacitor. I found if the bread was wet it made a big difference.
Chris Rae (01:14:51): So I think that was why the piece of bread didn't work. So I drink some water, distilled water because I'm a professional here, I put some distilled water into the bottle cap thing and then I plop the bottle cap upside down on top of this capacitor and the submariner worked for like half an hour. And so I could actually go out and take little videos and things, and then it would die again and I'd have to take the bread capacitor off and put a little bit more water in it and then I'd plop it on again and I'd get another hour out of it.
Chris Rae (01:15:15): And so this all works pretty good. I mean, it was a bit of a hassle because sometimes you have to put more water in the bread and sometimes it'd be a bit windy and it would knock over the buoy and the bread would fall off and I'd have to go and find it again and put it on. But it worked pretty well until actually the last day I was in Greece when it died completely, and there was quite a lot of burn marks on the bread. And there were also some marks on the PCB that I think were from bits of wet bread that had fallen out of the bread capacitor and maybe damaged the PCB, so it's probably not returnable at this point.
Thomas LaRock (01:15:45): You invented toast.
Chris Rae (01:15:47): It's a not effective way of making toast, I got to say.
Thomas LaRock (01:15:51): It's not efficient.
Chris Rae (01:15:51): No, it's like Timbits toast kind of thing, I could do.
Thomas LaRock (01:15:56): I'm just thinking that there might be a way for us to take this and get some VC money.
Chris Rae (01:16:01): No you're right. And I mean, as they say in start-up land, pivot. So I could pivot onto toast.
Rob Collie (01:16:08): Just a chunk of bread fixes your remote control submarine?
Chris Rae (01:16:13): I think with this particular project, that strategy is definitely to exit.
Rob Collie (01:16:19): The exit strategy here is just to exit. It's...
Chris Rae (01:16:23): Man, yeah, but I've already done this video.
Rob Collie (01:16:25): Now that you have shared all of this, and a copycat startup with a much more compelling name.
Chris Rae (01:16:31): What's your story in this game? Are you also involved in submarine repair with bread?
Rob Collie (01:16:36): Doughpacitor is already a thing, I incorporated Doughpacitor last month.
Chris Rae (01:16:40): So you didn't come up with any idea at all, you're just stealing mine and using a different-
Rob Collie (01:16:43): Oh yeah, I'm just going to out-compete you because I have a better name.
Chris Rae (01:16:46): No, I appreciate you're candor.
Rob Collie (01:16:48): Totally just stealing your public domain Facebook idea, I'm funded by Zuckerberg.
Chris Rae (01:16:52): Yeah, no, I'm sure you are. Yeah, yeah. Have you got nice tables that go up and down?
Thomas LaRock (01:16:57): See, it'd be better if he said you were funded by Wonder Bread.
Chris Rae (01:17:00): Oh yeah, you can revolutionize their whole industry.
Rob Collie (01:17:02): The whole gluten-free movement is really threatening the Wonder Bread company, they need to pivot, they need to pivot into submarine repair, yeah
Chris Rae (01:17:10): This might work with gluten-free.
Rob Collie (01:17:12): All right, so here's my other question for you, in the last 10 years, what's your turnover rate on automobile?
Chris Rae (01:17:17): I see where you're heading with this, and I have actually not owned that many cars. How many cars have you owned in your life?
Rob Collie (01:17:24): I don't know, it's probably around the order of six.
Chris Rae (01:17:27): Okay, well, it's more than that. Yeah. Maybe I've been hanging around with too many car racing people.
Rob Collie (01:17:31): The thing that always blows me away is that when you're acquiring a car or thinking about acquiring a car, it's always at a price point that I didn't even know you could get a car.
Chris Rae (01:17:42): Yeah, I've been into cars for a long time. My mate Jan was into cars and built... My dad's just actually recently built a car from scratch, that you can buy plans and you will go off and build this car. It was actually just after he retired, and I think my mother agreed to this concept because she thought my dad was going to get these plans, he was going to work on this in the garage until he died. And it was going to be a reasonably good investment, and she would not have to put up with him fumbling around the house getting under her feet. But my dad being somewhat good at this kind of thing and being retired, knocked out this car in six months. My mother thought it was the biggest waste of money ever. But actually it turns out that he finishes it, he did a really good job of it actually.
Chris Rae (01:18:17): And then he of course got on the internet, there's forums for these build your own car things, and most of them are being built by people like us who are middle-aged with jobs and kids and things. And they've got halfway through this project and stalled, they got stuck on something. And so my dad ended up being one of those guys on the forums who's just like, "Oh, I could just come and help you with that for a week." And so I can send you a picture of these too, but these are three wheeled cars, so they're a bit odd. It's like a motorcycle engine in the front, no roof, that kind of thing. They look a bit like an old Morgan, if you know what that looks like. And the people who make these are usually a little bit eccentric, and so he's been going around Europe, staying in castles and fancy chalets, [inaudible 01:18:54] eccentric old men who are building these cars that have got stuck on it.
Chris Rae (01:18:57): So he's off doing that kind of thing all the time. Most of my family have had this long interest in cars, and I've been racing cars for, well, 10 years since we came here, and other kinds of racing in the UK. And I've also been buying weird cars. I have of course a 911, which I bought when it was eight years old, eight years ago. And I paid $39,000, so that car was twice as much money as I'd ever spent on any other car at all. And all of our friends now, they're like, "Oh well, you've got that fancy Porsche." And I'm like. "That SUV you're driving around in was like $48,000. You don't even know what color it is." So I just have not spent large amounts of money of cars, but have gone through some kind of weirdish ones.
Rob Collie (01:19:34): You're a very entertaining Facebook read. It doesn't matter what you're up to, I don't have to be into it to appreciate the eccentricity of it, right? I'm like, "Oh, I can relate to that. That I can relate to."
Chris Rae (01:19:48): 10 years ago, Facebook was all... You go onto Facebook to see what people are doing. Like, they went camping with their kids or they've done something at work or something like that. And now Facebook's all just, here's something you want to read for your betterment. And, here's an argument I'm going to start with people. And also the things people talk about themselves on Facebook are always unambiguously positive things. It's like, "Oh, I'm so honored to have taken part in this thing, and years of hard work." But I'm not sure that people posted, "I actually fell down a flight of stairs this morning while trying to put a sticking plaster on my knee." That's much more interesting, that makes me feel better reading [inaudible 01:20:23]. So I feel like you should just put on things that you're doing, whether they went well or badly, and don't put on things that you think other people want to read. If I was in charge of Facebook I would change it so you cannot post links on it anymore. Why is that particularly good?
Rob Collie (01:20:36): I think I share that belief. I try... First of all, if I don't post very much on Facebook anymore.
Chris Rae (01:20:41): I like your output too. I mean, I'll do some fluffing here.
Rob Collie (01:20:43): I appreciate that. I mean, it's like, if I'm not contributing-
Chris Rae (01:20:46): Especially your [inaudible 01:20:48].
Rob Collie (01:20:48): ... if I'm not contributing to the mirth level of the greater picture when I'm posting on there, that I don't really want to be on there.
Chris Rae (01:20:57): Yeah, then it's not something people are going to want to read.
Rob Collie (01:21:03): The pictures of my ridiculous looking helmet that I got to ride our scooters, the before and after. Like, "This is the helmet before the 30 minute first ride on the scooter, and this is me in the hospital after the 30 minute first ride."
Chris Rae (01:21:15): Yeah, that's A1 Facebook content, in my opinion.
Rob Collie (01:21:18): Well, Chris, I know this has been a real honor for you, longtime listener, first time guest, that kind of thing.
Chris Rae (01:21:25): It's been my dream ever since I started listening to this to really take part in it.
Rob Collie (01:21:29): Yeah. I really have appreciated it. I learned a lot about your background I didn't know. You might be the clearest example yet of the contrast between, not into the math, not into that stuff, but really into this other stuff.
Chris Rae (01:21:41): Right, and I have hope for people who are not into math but like computers.
Rob Collie (01:21:44): That's right.
Chris Rae (01:21:45): You too could be as successful as I am, have an inflatable boat and a book that makes you a hundred bucks a year.
Rob Collie (01:21:50): Two inflatable boats.
Chris Rae (01:21:50): Two inflatable boats, sorry. You're right, as of this morning, yeah, yeah.
Rob Collie (01:21:55): I really do appreciate you taking time to spend with us, it was great catching up with you.
Chris Rae (01:21:59): Yeah, you too. This was just a lot of fun.
Announcer (01:22:01): Thanks for listening to the Raw Data By P3 Adaptive Podcast. Let the experts at P3 Adaptive help your business, just go to p3adaptive.com. Have a data day.
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