Zejoop is Going to Grand Prix Sacramento!


What is that, you ask, quizzically – “Grand Prix Sacramento?”

Well it is tournament for the collectible card game, Magic: the Gathering, which is property of Wizards of the Coast, a Hasbro subsidiary. The date is approaching fast, January 17th through 19th, in Sacramento, California, of course.

Maybe you didn’t see this coming but, I happen to be an enthusiast of the game – I am also the best Magic player on the planet – just ask my Magic friends!

As it turns out the Zejoop mission, and mantra, “casual event planning,” and “fun with friends” are highly applicable to the coordination of casual Magic gaming among friends! Go figure; what a coincidence – right?

So, I am going there, and I will be promoting Zejoop for Magic, in addition to participating in the tournament itself!

Check out Zejoop for all your casual event planning needs!

I’m practically overwhelmed, immersed in preparations for the event – little things like testing the application myself, coordinating BETA test among the small cadre of tester/friends I’ve been lucky to engage in the project (thanks guys – Glenn Cuevas and Dave Gerhardt!), and finally – wait for it – I am making customs tokens to distribute at the tournament.

The topic of tokens would be hard to explain to those not familiar with the game, but think of it like this – “promotional business cards, that are useful in the game experience.” Wait, I guess that wasn’t as hard as I thought. Well, now you know.

Here is a teaser of the the printer’s proof – an excerpt; always leave them wanting more, I am told.

looking good, eh?

Just an excerpt – more to come – stand by for followup!

I have several friends to thank/acknowledge, but I will do a right and proper job with that very soon, when I get a chance. For now, however, I do want to call your attention to the blue “Elemental” in the bottom center – that is the beautiful work of my friend, and fine artist, Steve Nakamura – gorgeous work on short notice, with an impossible deadline, all to get it prepped and to the printer in time – but more on that later.

Part of the sexiness you don’t see on this proof is that design on the card-back (lower left corner) includes a QR code. So at the Grand Prix, players can scan, and be directed right to Zejoop where there is a special landing page just for this event! Like I said – sexy – that’s what I’m talkin’ about!

OK, back to work…

King Rat Hat Hack


Sometimes, out of the blue, you may be asked to describe a “hack” you’ve done. A person in my position had better be prepared to answer, and answer good.

I got asked, and here’s how I answered:

As an adult student of ballet*, I was cast several years as the King Rat in the “The Nutcracker Ballet.” The first year, I was unhappy with the company provided costume, in particular, the head; it was poorly constructed out of unstructured felt – clearly a “bad rat hat.” For the second year I was determined to design and craft a superior costume, which I did. The crowning achievement was a hand-built rat head. While the overall result was fantastic, the hack that I am claiming, is the ingenious way I devised to attach the plastic “eyes” to the bulk of the head which was otherwise made of carved upholstery foam covered in gray felt – the binding of these unlike materials was a challenge.

Here’s a detail shot of the eyes after completion:

detail of King Rat Hat Hack – “eyes” – photo credit Michael Jay LaRue

Wondering about a “parts & material list?” – what about “tools?” – here they are:

Parts & Material list:
– 2 “leaf-shaped” eye border bases, cut to shape from black felt
– 2 24 inch lengths of dental floss
– 2 Silly Putty storage container, ellipsoid half-shells, male version, in hot pink
– Elmer’s White Glue

– straight pin
– needle-nose pliers
– exacto knife

Here’s a drawing that may, or many not, help:

Rat Eye Hack Assembly Drawing – part art, part instruction – you decide
(art and photo by Michael Jay LaRue)

Ready to hack some rat eyes? Follow these instructions:

The “Hack”:

– NOTE 1 – repeat these instructions for each side
– NOTE 2 – you may discard or re-purpose the female halves of the Silly Putty containers – they are not needed for this rat hat hack
– carefully center the Silly Putty shell on the black felt eye base
– using the exacto knife, make 4 small cuts in the black felt eye base, approximately 1/8th inch long, corresponding to the 4 interior latch tabs of the Silly Putty shell
– with straight pin held in pliers for safety, heat end of pin to glowing red
– for each of the 4 interior latch tabs on the Silly Putty shell, pierce it with hot pin create small hole
– place Silly Putty shell on black felt base, aligning the materials such that the four latch tabs protrude through, and are accessible on, the reverse side of the base
– thread the dental floss through one of the latch tabs are secure with a knot
– proceed clockwise to each of the other three tabs and thread the floss through each sucessive hole
– while executing the above step, keep moderate tension on the floss so that the Silly Putty shell will be snuggly secured to the black felt base
– repeat this process to use the entire length of the floss
– when complete, secure the end of the floss with a knot at the last used tab, at which point the Silly Putty shell should be firmly attached to its black felt base
– once both sides are complete, experiment to determine proper placement of the eyes on the main rat head component of the costume (NOTE – this can not be empasized enough, take time to place the eyes properly to acheive your desired effect – eye placement is extremely important to fix the personality of the King Rat – one quarter on an inch change in either X or Y, or even 2 degree of angular offset can spell the difference between a “menacing” character and a “silly” character – “silly” may be in order for a younger audience, while “menacing” would be fully appropriate for a more mature audeince – if in doubt, check with the you company’s Artistic Director)
– once satified with the proper placement, apply Elmer’s White Glue to the back side of the felt bottom of the eye assembly and attach to the King Rat hat and allow to dry before use

The King Rat Hat in action on stage – Fear the King Rat! He’ll haunt you in your dreams! (photo credit Robert Salas)

Many chocolate chip cookies have been consumed in the years that have intervened, but if pressed into service, I could still do this role, proudly, from memory – perhaps even blindfolded. Few things in life capture the magic and mystery of bringing a character like this to life on stage – especially in the context of such an iconic role in a cherished and time-honored ballet as “the Nutcracker.” – such a joy!

*(many thanks and much gratitude to Mike and Monique at The Metropolitan Ballet Company in Orange County California, for the opportunity, support, and the memories)

POST SCRIPT: Perhaps a little context is in order. This post is a supplemental response to a question on the application for the upcoming Y-Combinator Winter Session 2014. I have previously committed to apply, and I beat the October 21st deadline by a week, having hit “submit” late last Monday night. This post answers the question that was posed as follows: “Please tell us about the time you most successfully hacked some (non-computer) system to your advantage.” If you are interested in sampling the enterprise for which I am applying  to Y Combinator, please visit Zejoop.



Zejoop – Bravely Building Brand?

In several ways this Zejoop blog is a journal – not just a place to broadcast key events and milestones in the birthing and nutruring of a fledgling startup – it is also a place to capture what is going on day-to-day, and to focus on what areas need attention or work in Zejoop’s so-called “life.”

Zejoop is Becoming a Brand

Zejoop is on its way to “Becoming a Brand!”

I’ll spare you the details of its conception, but Zejoop clearly was born the day the winner of the Santa Clarita Valley Startup Weekend was announced. As a capable aerospace engineer, but novice software developer, I’d liken the development process, since the win to a “potty training” phase. All the while though, I have been aware, and now so more than ever, that Zejoop needs develop an identify in terms of its brand.

So, developing that brand is high of the list of priorities – it is fortunate then that I found a good introductory article to help guide me on that quest. Shawn Parr has written this excellent post – 5 Smart Steps to Building your Brand the Right Way.

His lead-off challenge is this: “WOULD YOU BE PROUD TO WEAR YOUR COMPANY’S IDENTITY ON A T-SHIRT?” Clearly that is an important question. While I won’t recount the entire post (he lays out 5 key steps) here are several of the most relevant to Zejoop and where it stands as a brand today:

“clearly define what business you are in, build a rock-solid platform, (and), tell a compelling story”

As for Zejoop, the business broadly stated is “casual event planning – fun with friends.” This I think is a good start in terms of a mantra/tagline, but I think, ultimately Zejoop is up to something bigger, and I have to clarify and capture that thought rather quickly in the near-term.

Zejoop BETA is a good starting point, but it needs more trial-by-fire and refinement. As a novice developer I know that there are substantial inefficiencies in many of the implementation choices I have made. The good news is that I have learned along the way, and I already know several ways right off, to improve the platform on the next re-factor.

The last is so important – “tell a compelling story.” I have always been sensitive to this and I take it seriously, if for no other reason than that I am already an artist and a musician, and I write and have some exposure to animation craft and storyboarding. The artist/writer in me is raring to go on this part – I think this will be a fun and rewarding exercise, and will help to put a forward looking face on the brand that will become Zejoop.

As I make progress on these various fronts expect update posts –  the path I’m on is journey, and this blog is its journal.


Zejoop delivers Value!

The founder of both Blogger and Twitter, Ev Williams has some great insights to share about providing value on the internet, as captured in Ryan Tates’ blog post at Wired.com.

In a culture of startup enterprise where all too often ideas seem to be generated by “pick a word randomly from list A, and then list B, put them together and that’s your company,” seemingly clever (by chance) or even (silly, by design) concepts can sounds better than the more practical or even mundane sounding ventures. But does that proposal have a real value proposition – does it serve a real need, however mundane? Many times, not.

The essay I’ve referenced offers a more fundamental view; one that gives hope for the prospects for startups that target more every-days needs. The article is short a one, and I encourage you to read it for its merit, but I wanted to call attention to it for its relevance to the formulation of Zejoop as a value delivering brand. (Zejoop Wins SCV Startup Weekend!)

The most important quote is this:  “Take a human desire, preferably one that has been around for a really long time…Identify that desire and use modern technology to take out steps.” In my thinking this relates to Zejoop because, as a casual event planner, it does not scream “drop-dead-sexy” on casual observation. It does however address a human desire – to have fun with friends – and uses technology to fulfill its purpose. Although it seems mundane, it is useful and will provide value. Several distinguishing features will increase the likelihood that users will in fact be able to have fun with friends more easily and with fewer frustrations.

Zejoop solves real problems – problems that people encounter when they try to plan their activities using email. Real-time status, and auto-cancel if desired conditions are not met, are both features that deliver value.

Sounds good? Why not try it? Visit Zejoop and start planning now!

Zejoop solves real problems.

Use sunscreen and sunglasses to have fun in the Sun – use Zejoop.com to have fun with your friends!

A 4 year degree; are you sure?

Everyone has to choose for themselves, but it it not a decision that falls in the casual category in terms of importance or of likely outcomes. Should your life planning include a 4 year degree or not? For me the choice was easy – a college degree, in a substantial, challenging discipline was the way to go – a life event and accomplishment I wanted and needed, not only for who I saw myself as, but what I saw and wanted for my future. I have never regretted my choice to pursue, and to persevere, to earn a BS in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Maryland.

Big things come in small pacakages, especially when it comes to SW Dev workstations

Many hours of learning and coding – building a future – happened here.

However, for the modern person, facing this juncture today there are options for education, and let’s face, for “life preparation” that are viable. Today any person, can learn any thing in this vastly interconnected world. No information is more than a Google search away. Furthermore availability and affordability of, MOOC, for Massive Open Online Courses, means a person can get access to world class curriculum from institutions like MIT and Stanford , just to name a few. Read the article, http://www.fastcompany.com/3015303/the-10000-technology-degree, for just one approach on how it can be done.

Why, you ask, is this relevant to Zejoop? Well because I personally have benefited from MOOC, specifically Udacity, in my quest for learning software development – skills that I have needed, to supplement my engineering capabilities, in order to build Zejoop. I have taken Python and Functional Programming using Python from Udacity, I have benefited immensely.

Next thing I might do, regarding online learning, is maybe I will learn to dance, just like this girl did. It’s all there, online – no kidding I think that video is great – what an inspiration.

Now, back to Zejoop software development – hey, wait – where’s my coffee?

Zejoop Dives in! – Parties at Be Great Fest 2013!

I heard about Be Great Partners and their Fall 2013 Be Great Fest from a friend, and I made a last minute decision to join the party last Tuesday night, September 17th, 2013. Boy, am I glad I did – it was great! They chose a world-class venue in the Pacific Design Center. Throw in an open bar (countered with a $20 Uber, ride home safe credit – good move!), great DJ, and Wolfgang Puck catering and what’s not to like? To commemorate Zejoop’s attendance I took an artsy selfie in the lobby (nice turn of the phrase, eh?)

Zejoop has fun at Be Great Fest!

Zejoop.com and the Be Great Fest – an artsy selfie in the lobby!

The party also showcased many of the startups already in the Be Great Partners family – from “real convenience, true comfort” underwear (meundies.com) to aerial drones (skycatch.com) – there was a lot of fantastic energy, talent and accomplishment on display!

Last but not least, I’ll have to say the hosts themselves were great. I introduced myself to Lin Miao, Managing Partner, and we had a great five minute talk – not bad for a crowded, energy-filled room – conversation competing with the DJ. That got me an introduction to Startup Ambassador Emily Alfstad with whom I also had a great conversation.

With the great impressions and take-away I got from the event I’m wondering if Be Great Partners and Zejoop might be a good match. With Zejoop just entering BETA test, the time is right – gotta start thinkin’ bout these things!

First Full Round Trip!

Last Monday represented an exciting milestone for Zejoop; the first full round trip of a meeting that was planned and held using Zejoop while in Beta test. Here is the celebratory snapshot, taken with me (big-head) and Erick Arndt (big-smile and sunglasses) of SCV Startup fame:

Great things are happening in the Santa Clarita Valley startup scene. With the growth of our startup community and culture it is not a matter of if, but when, one of our budding startups hits it big! I’m putting my money on it being Zejoop, but, isn’t that, after all, the very definition of “bootstrapping?”