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The Last Four Years: A Retrospective

The Last Four Years: A Retrospective

Once upon a time, I documented my professional life religiously, then life got busy, as it does, and the digital manifestation of my existence fell by the wayside. I can assure you that though my virtual presence waned, my corporeal form continued to do all 

#Developer: Autogenerating (and Formatting) Table of Contents in Powerpoint using Macros

#Developer: Autogenerating (and Formatting) Table of Contents in Powerpoint using Macros

You can take the consultant out of a development role, but you can’t take the developer out of the tech consultant So when my work-partner said “I added a slide at the beginning of this deck, can you update the seven table of contents slides 

Instagram: What Happens When Instagram Goes Down

Instagram: What Happens When Instagram Goes Down


I tried to post a picture. Failed to upload. I tried again. Failed to upload. Tried again. Finally uploaded!

Checked it 20 minutes later: 19 likes. Checked twitter to see if there were any #InstagramDown posts and:

In honor of the July 3rd Instagram outage, let’s take a second to talk about how you can find out if Instagram is down, if you should still post if you can, and what ‘being down’ actually means.

1. How can I identify when Instagram is down for a lot of people and not just me?

Sometimes you have a bad internet connection, and sometimes it’s really just not you. But how do you tell the difference?

My first step is usually to go to Twitter to see if people are complaining about it. So many people do this that it’s almost a joke at this point.

There are also several accounts on Twitter that cover this topic:

My second step is to go to Down Detector which is a website that allows people to report website errors. There are always some errors being reported, but if there are thousands of errors being reported suddenly then it’s probably a bigger problem.

2. Okay, Instagram is down, how does this affect posting/engagement levels?

Let me tell you, an outage does not increase engagement

The screen shot on the left was posted (unknowingly) during the outage. It was also my first sign that something was wrong. For two reasons:

  1. Typically the first ten minutes of a post have the most rapid engagement, for my account that means around 10 likes/minute.
    By the time this screenshot was taken I would have expected closer to 150-200 likes, not 19
  2. The first ten minutes also usually has the highest ratio of impressions to likes, then over time the engagement rate usually closes out around 8% (impressions are the 1014 and 196 numbers in the screenshots)
    Having 1,014 impressions and 19 likes is a 1.8% engagement rate, which is highly abnormal behavior (see in the right screenshot that initial engagement is 37%, this is more typical).

As soon as I realized there was an outage, I archived my post and decided to repost the next day when people would be more likely to actually see the content.

24 hours later the post is at 2.5k likes, an engagement of 7.6% and has been performing well. I doubt that it would be doing as well if I hadn’t decided to archive it.

3. Great, don’t post during outages. Got it. But why do outages happen in the first place?

Unfortunately (and fortunately) our virtual worlds rely on technology in the real world. This means that the things that lets you post photos, comment, upload stories, and keep yourself distracted at work all rely on real-world-infrastructure operating correctly.

Here’s a Kindergarten-level explanation on the tech behind these websites

All applications (web, mobile, desktop, whatever) are created by developers (read: humans) who code them to do what they’re supposed to do. Think of it like writing an essay for machines to read.

These applications are then put on servers (read: really big computers located around the world) and are made accessible to everyone through a variety of technologies

Why the technology matters

There are a couple overarching reasons why a website that’s active might be having issues:

  1. A server crashed (or became inaccessible)
    Servers are just big computers. Much like people, they can get overwhelmed if too many people are trying to access them at the same time. Unfortunately, this isn’t always something that companies can prevent (especially if they don’t own all of the technology that they use).
    From our perspective it’s similar to dialing a phone number that doesn’t exist, you likely won’t get a response and you won’t know why
  2. Someone made a bad update
    Developers are people too, and sometimes we make mistakes. Someone might have deleted a line in the code they shouldn’t have, or forgotten to run a test to make sure everything works.
    It takes time to fix these kind of problems. You have to first find them, then figure out what the solution is, then actually fix it, and then share that fix with the rest of the world.

Why is this worse for big companies?

The bigger you are, the more that people are paying attention to you and the longer it takes to fix things.

Scenario 1: My website can be down for a day and no one in the universe will care about it but me (I know this because it has been down for a day and no one complained).

If Instagram is down for 30 minutes they’ll have 10,000 tweets and damage control to do. People are asking them what happened. people are angry, people are foretelling the company’s utter demise in the next 6 months.

Scenario 2: If my website is down, I can fix it in my own sweet time (because of Scenario 1), and the fix is usually as simple as re-uploading a file and I’m good to go.

One person, one file, one environment, no problem.

If a website like Instagram or Facebook goes down they have an issue because they have massive amounts of code that is touched by dozens of people (I assume) every day that’s going through multiple environments (read: it has to be loaded on several computers) to eventually get to the state that you see it in.

The level of effort there goes from finding a needle in a pincushion to trying to find a needle in a haystack while people are yelling at you about how silly it is that you can’t just find it already. I am not envious of those teams.


First of all, if you think that there’s an Instagram/Facebook/Social Media outage, there are a few places you can check to verify that it’s not just your internet being awful. If you’re someone who cares about engagement rates, you should probably not post during this time if you actually want people to see your content. Finally, try to give tech companies a little grace during outages. The companies are made out of people who are trying to do their jobs and make mistakes, they aren’t trying to ruin your lives.

This is the best technical explanation I’ve seen so far for the July 3rd outage.

Instagram: The 25k Plateau

Instagram: The 25k Plateau

Over the past few months (if I’m being honest, the past seven months) life has done what it tends to do: it’s gotten really busy Between traveling for the holidays, a new project at work, planting a garden, and other things that have made my 

#Developer: Reimagine Communities 2018 – The Full Retrospective

#Developer: Reimagine Communities 2018 – The Full Retrospective

I recently visited Capital One’s Conference Center in Plano to attend the Reimagine Communities symposium on the topic of Harnessing Technology to Increase Access to Opportunity. If you missed my last post with an overview of the symposium, you can check it out here. In this post, 

Instagram: How to Send a DM

Instagram: How to Send a DM

In this blog I’ve covered different types of social media platforms, what different kinds of interactions mean, and what kind of messages won’t get you replies. In this post I’m going to outline what a DM (direct message) is and how you can actually send one. According to my Google Analytics statistics, this is something that a lot of people are curious about.

You asked, I deliver

First of all, what’s a DM?

A DM is a private message between you and a single user or group of users

Can I send a DM to a user that doesn’t follow me?

You can DM anyone you want, but if you haven’t interacted with that user before it’ll show up in an outer-inbox (message request center) where that user can then filter what messages they see and get notifications for.

There are a few features in this outer-inbox that your normal inbox doesn’t have:

  • All images are initially blurred out, allowing the receiver to guess if a photo is explicit without actually having to see the explicit photo
  • Temporary videos aren’t visible unless a person accepts the message
  • Once a user has sent a message once, no more notifications are sent (sending many messages at once won’t increase your chances of getting their attention)
  • After a month, any messages that are still in the outer-inbox disappear. This means that if you haven’t gotten a response within 4 weeks, you probably won’t get a response to it

Once a user has allowed messaging from a person, the only way to disallow that is to block the user entirely. All future messages will show up in their regular inbox.

How do I send a DM to a user?

You can send a DM in a variety of ways and they’ll all go to the same place. If you can’t find a way to message the user, they’ve likely turned off or limited messaging permissions.

Sending a DM through a person’s profile:

Go to a user’s profile and click the ” … ” at the top right of their profile. If you’re on iOS a list of actions will pop up. At the bottom of the list will be a “Send Message” option which you can click.



Sending a DM through a story:

When a person posts a story there is an option at the bottom of the screen that allows you to send a message related to that story. This will send your message to them with the story as reference (so they’ll know what you’re responding to). If you don’t see this option, it means the user has disabled messaging on stories.

Sending a DM through your messaging center:

You can go to your own messages by clicking the paper airplane the top right of your screen. From there, click the + sign and you can search for any user and send them a message

Go to your inbox and press the + at the top of the page



There are lots of ways to reach people via DM. Whether you want to respond to something they posted, ask them if they’re open for collaboration, or you just want to introduce yourself. If you’re messaging someone you don’t know for the first time, remember that there are humans on the other side of the screen.

Instagram: Getting a Cease and Desist Order

Instagram: Getting a Cease and Desist Order

24,522 Followers Things that make my list of “unpleasant but necessary things to deal with” include: taxes, insurance of all kinds, making doctor appointments, and anything involving legal action. Which is why when I got an Instagram message from an account telling they had a 

#Developer: Reimagine Communities Symposium 2018

#Developer: Reimagine Communities Symposium 2018

As a born and raised Alaskan now living in Texas, I get a lot of questions about why I came to the Dallas area and why I’ve chosen to stay. Though I initially moved south to attend university as a student, I’ve stayed because of 

Amazon Reviews: Vine Voice and Unusual Reviewing Activity

Amazon Reviews: Vine Voice and Unusual Reviewing Activity

Amazon Ranking: #12,153

I purchased a beard-care gift-set for my bearded male associate, and after two weeks (and several tests of the product) wrote an extensive amazon review detailing the loves and eh’s of the product. I went to press “submit” and an Amazon error message popped up

This seemed odd, as I’ve had reviews that were flagged before (for language the algorithm didn’t like) but I’ve never had a review stopped dead in its tracks.

So, why wasn’t this review accepted?

After a little research and poking around, I discovered that this product had been reviewed by a significant number of people tagged as “Vine Voice Reviewers”. This is something that I had heard of when I first started researching Amazon reviews but hadn’t until this past week when a commenter on this blog asked about them.

BBC wrote an article back in 2016 about Amazon’s end to incentivized reviews (aka the Vine program) but it looks like they’re starting to bring it back full-force. A Vine Voice is someone in Amazon’s reviewing program that receives the product for free. This program has been established since 2007 but honestly I thought it was dead until now. Maybe the products I usually buy don’t participate in the program, but this one certainly did.

The product had 23 reviews written in the past month, with 22 of them being the “Vine Voice” reviews. As I was allowed to review a different product I’d ordered, my guess is that Amazon prevents people from reviewing products that have a suspicious amounts of reviews on them – even if the reviews are from people who are in Amazon’s own reviewing program.

Since Amazon reviewers have long been limited to 5 unverified reviews per week, I’m wondering if those reviews left by the “Vine Voice” customers don’t count as verified purchases since they were incentivized, and if a certain number of unverified purchases on a product’s reviews could potentially prevent genuine reviewers from leaving their comments on the product because it looks suspicious.

All speculation, but anything’s possible.


Tried to review a product and couldn’t. My current running theory is that Amazon flags products with a certain number of unverified (or incentivized) reviews over a certain time period, preventing anyone else from submitting a review.

Programming with the Sphero BOLT

Programming with the Sphero BOLT

My first exposure with robots was at an engineering camp I attended when I was 15, and let me tell you: it was not love at first sight. I loved the programming aspect of it (that camp was also where I was introduced to programming),