Sunday, September 27, 2020

New Construction - the nightmare begins.


We pick up the story from the previous post, filled with hope and looking forward to building our dream home. Josh Doyle Homes had become our builder and we had even met the infamous Josh Doyle - which was not a good move on the sales agent's part.

We had sold our house in Saline and made a very nice profit, so we were ahead and things were looking good. The agreement was made to be out of the house by the end of July so we got busy packing.

This big thing happened - Holly graduated high school with honors. Burke and I were so proud of all her hard work, she made honor roll all 4 years of high school. We pulled off graduation and a graduation party, while packing and cleaning. I was also into my second month of recovery from hip replacement, so things were moving slowly.

We made a quick decision to move into Orion Mainstreet, Luxury apartments in Ann Arbor next to the football stadium. We signed a 9 month agreement at an exorbitant price and starting moving right around the fourth of July. We would come to laugh every time we saw Luxury apartments, cause - well that was a joke. More about them later - and there greed during a pandemic.

The timeline was roughly April time frame to be in our new home - so we settled on the 9 month lease and waited. The sales agent assured us we would be in before our 25th wedding anniversary. "Oh no problem - you'll be in WAY before May!" We wanted to have a party in our new house and barn for our anniversary. And thus, the lies and deception began.

I should have turned around and ran when we had our meeting with Josh Doyle. It was late in the evening and we had drove an hour one way to meet him. He was less than enthusiastic and even offered up that this was the last place he would rather be. He was condescending and quite full of himself. It was as if he was doing us a favor by allowing us to buy one of his plans and having him build the home. At one point I even asked him how we could make his life easier during this process? (**Sigh)

The plans were lovely and we were able to find one that suited us. A few changes and we were good. Working with the coordinator on estimating and pricing was fairly straight forward and painless. We added lots of fluff to the contract to accommodate changes and allow us some wiggle room.

We closed on the house and the construction loan and started the permit process. This was July and so far we were behind $50,000 in realtor and mortgage fees. We would spend the next 6 MONTHs getting permits, address assignment and such. The biggest obstacle was our driveway permit. This involved an application, and securing someone to cut down some trees. All of this was the homeowners responsibility. I really felt that we were left in the dark here, stumbling to find our way out. Once the loan was secured and the contract was signed - it was as if we didn't exist. No one checked on our progress, no one held out a helping hand to see where we were at, no one offered assistance. So know this going in - you need to become an expert in permits and site work.

We did not anticipate this and then it was January 2020. Six of our 9 months had already gone by and we hadn't even broken ground. We amused ourselves by laying out stakes and figuring out where the house and barn would be.

Our dream home had started down the path of a full blown nightmare.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Becoming an urban farmer - a new adventure!

 Harwood Farms had it's annual HOA meeting and Burke and I as responsible owners in the neighborhood attended. What we heard was bickering and complaining about how tacky the bird feeders were in the berm. Seriously? At that moment I was really glad I didn't live near the berm - because I'm not sure how bird feeders can be considered "tacky". I left feeling very disappointed and sad.

And when we were planting our flower and vegetable gardens and left our our wheelbarrow overnight to be met with a notice that a fee would incur if not put away, it was the last straw. We have divorced ourselves from the HOA and the neighborhood.

My daughter was graduating high school and I had been selling the idea of moving out to the country - getting 10 acres or so with room to breathe to my husband, Burke. Turns out after all that - the sell wasn't hard. Saline has great schools and along with that came great amounts of property taxes. Plus since we were about to become empty nesters - the great school district was no longer the priority.

We called my niece Amanda who put the house on the market. It sold in 12 days (yea I loved that part).

The search began for the new homestead and we combed all the nearby areas. The requirements were:

  1. Fast internet - I work from home and that was imperative.
  2. Paved road - Somehow driving down dirt roads and never having a clean car again was not very appealing to me.
  3. Natural gas - I often see the white fat belly pigs as I called them and having lived in the country with propane, I wanted to avoid that as well.
  4. 10 acres - Somehow we fixated on 10, not 5 or 6 - but 10.
We started looking for an existing home but always found something we didn't like about it. It was too old, wrong layout - and often slow internet. The hunt took a few months and we came up empty.

We had built our house in Saline and our builder was amazing and within 5 months we were in a new home. They took care of everything and the cost was reasonable - little or no effort. Should we build again?

Browsing through Facebook one day, I came across a builder name in which my niece had "liked" and now it appears in my feed. Josh Doyle Homes - I contacted them. I also contacted my nephew but learned the news that they would be moving to Montana so he wouldn't be available. I really wish the timing could have been better as I would find out in the days ahead with my new builder - things were about be become dire. More about that later.

We had chosen Josh Doyle homes for our next build and set out to find some vacant land. We looked in nearby townships and counties and often found our #1 priority to fall short. Slow or no internet. There has to be something I'm missing.

I sat down at the computer and did some search for rural internet options (cellular or satellite) and found the options were not appealing with data caps or slow speeds. You can't do video conferencing with cellular - or rather you could for about a week, then data caps would apply.

Finally I came across a township that recently approved a mileage to fund a high speed internet infrastructure. Fiber optic usually runs along the street, and cable companies consider it not cost effective to run the cable to the homes - rural = sparse customers. So with the mileage, crews brought the fiber up to the houses - and viola! High speed internet! Lyndon Township in Michigan - here we come! We found one of the few 10 acre parcels that met all the requirements, fast internet, paved road, and natural gas.

Look how happy we are! In June of 2019, we bought the land from Maryann Noah, which had been in her family since Andrew Jackson. She had the original deed from the homestead from Mr. Jackson himself. Kind of love that story.

Anyways - my blog will be about our journey for room to grow, becoming urban farmers, using technology to enhance our lives, and beginning the next chapter of our lives.

And on this day - we were so optimistic about the future and excited to get going.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Misty and Azure

In June of 2018, I purchased Misty from Misty Robotics as a part of a Kickstarter. I'm backer #277 and got the t-shirt to prove it.

I got my Misty on December 4, 2019 and it was like Christmas. It was truly like being a kid again with a shiny reflective toy. I was so excited, I skipped everywhere I went. 

Unfortunately, being a grown up - I had to put her on the back burner with minimal play time until the holiday break.

During the holiday break, Misty and I spent all my free time together - trying things out and getting a feel for each other. I really like her - but I think the jury is still out on whether she likes me. :)

My dog has been getting up there in age. Butters turned 12 last September and lately he's been showing his age. He has more grey now, sleeps more, goes through coughing spells, and his stomach has become very sensitive.

Misty has several QUALCOMM processors and one of them is using Windows IoT. As a Azure Dev, naturally I wanted to experiment.

Isn't he so stinking cute!?
Since I'm spending more time worried about Butters, I would like Misty to look after my dog while I'm away for more than a few hours. Here are my ultimate first goals:
  1. Have Misty roam the house looking for butters.
  2. Upon recognition, take picture.
  3. Text to me.
  4. Sigh of relief that he's okay.
Here's what I've got so far. I went off the beaten path just a tad - but making my way around again.
  1. Misty recognizes me, my daughter and my grandson through her built in facial recognition.
  2. I purposely did not train her to know my husband to test stranger identification.
  3. Upon recognition, she sends a http request with a message (i.e., Hi Tammy) param to an Azure Function using a HTTP trigger.
  4. The Azure function calls to Text to Speech api service with the message where it's converted to speech.
  5. The response is stored in Azure storage container as a blob with content-type 'audio/x-wav'.
  6. Misty calls the storage api where the blob is stored.
  7. She downloads the wav file and plays it.
So really, there is very minimal processing going on in Misty - everything is done in the cloud.

What happens if she doesn't recognize you? Well .... she displays an angry face, growls and says "Stranger Danger!".

Just in case you're lost and would like to be more lost - here is a list of the SDK's/Extensions that I used.
  1. Azure Storage SDK
  2. Azure Tools Extension
  3. NodeJS
  4. Azure Function App - HTTP Trigger
  5. Text to Speech APIs
  6. Visual Studio Code/Azure Functions for VSC - great for debugging issues.
Once I got this working, I tried to train Misty to learn my dog's face using her pre-built facial recognition software. But alias, she can only recognize humans through her existing facial recognition software. 

So .... this will be one of the next problems to solve. I'll need to use Azure Cognitive Services computer vision to take a picture of him and send for recognition and analysis.

I also just started playing with the her built in navigation capabilities, so she can travel around my apartment in the search of Butters.

Here's a video of her recognizing me (cause I'm sitting in front of her), responding visually and saying my name. Kind of lame in itself, unless you understand what's behind it.

But ... baby steps. Here's some code sources to get you started.

I started with this great tutorial written by Chris Meyer. Chris goes on to do some computer vision stuff which is next for me. He also does a great job in the actual walk through of setting the Azure Function up.

And here's mine so far. Here you'll find all the files you need for Misty and Azure. Most of what I changed was using the BlobService to store the speech files instead of converting to base64 string and streaming back.

I'm really thinking maybe Misty needs a tutu or something. I feel a fashion design coming in her near future.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Happy New Year!

It's been almost 2 years of sabbatical from my blob and I figured it was time to start it back up again.

There's been lots of changes during that time personally and professionally. So, if you don't mind, I thought I would walk a little down memory lane.

I started 2017 out with a new job as Director of Software Development for Dynics Corp. The job was a dream job for me. Dynics began a software startup within the company and I got to lead. So much to do .... building a team, processes and customer relationships. I had 2 really great bosses, Ed Gatts and Jeffrey.Smith who believed in me and helped me to grow. I got to do amazing things which included mentoring.

They are a great family owned business and have some pretty great hardware and software solutions. You can check Dynics out here.

In October, 2018 I lost my Dad suddenly and my daughter Jacqueline got married to her soulmate, Jade. All within 2 days of each other. It was an extremely difficult time in my life and I wouldn't wish the struggle on anyone.

May of 2019, I underwent a total hip replacement in my right hip. I had been suffering for years with osteoarthritis pain and it finally got to a breaking point. The surgery was a relief and it's been a good recovery.

We sold our home and starting the journey of building a new home on 10 acres. I'm very excited for this and can't wait to finally move out of this apartment.

Our youngest daughter went off to University and is beginning her new journey as well. Burke and I .... have a empty nest.

June of the same year brought an opportunistic knock at the door. Microsoft was at the door and I opened it. With that came amazing pay and benefits. Finally my pay was corrected and I was making what the male counterparts were.

It's been an amazing career start with the culture shift of Diversity and Inclusion at Microsoft and the daily conversations about understanding our differences - not just cultural or gender, but thought process and that we all process information differently. I feel like I'm not invisible anymore and I know that IF I feel that I'm being perceived as invisible - that it's OK to lean in and be me.

Not only am I adjusting to the cultural shift, but learning new technology. Out of the gate, I studied for and received my AZ-203 - Developer certification for Azure. I'm very proud of that badge - it took a lot of hard work to go from on-premise technology to cloud, and I'm very excited about it all. Next is the AZ-400 - DevOps.

I love working with new technology and my new customers, participating in learning events and providing learning opportunities for customers. I'm going to my first "Ready" conference in February and I'm looking forward to it. I have a great boss and teammates, every one is ready to offer a hand and a smile.

I'll sum up my first article of 2020 with the addition of Misty to our family. I ordered Misty as a part of a kick-starter back in June, 2018 and I finally received her December, 2019. 

You can read more about Misty here. So the journey begins with Misty. Over the next few blogs, I'll be writing about this technology and playing with AI and Cognitive Services with Azure.

I'm looking forward to 2020 and what it brings. Excited and hopeful for the New Year - a little apprehensive for our country, but looking forward to life with my friends and family.

Happy New Years! Hope everyone achieves their goals and gets to live their best lives.