Category Archives: observations

Will changes everything

I recently went on a beach vacation, but unlike most normal people who turn off their brains, drink a tall one, and stare at the ocean, I only did the last two.

And this got me thinking, how did the palm trees first get to this remote and isolated island? Well, the coconuts must float, and here they were bobbing with the rolling waves.

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Free college advice you didn’t know you needed

College advice is a lot like good parenting advice:

  • You have to take it for what’s it’s worth,
  • There are just as many approaches and theories as there are quacks professing them,
  • It all seems so obvious in retrospect (retrospect here being once you graduate from college or become a parent).

It is the very special time of year when college acceptance letters come a-fluttering in. Hopes are dashed, dreams are buoyed, and some life plans seem irrevocably derailed. I imagine there a kind of novel finality about them that to many of high schoolers comes for the first time as a reality of “odds”.

For the record, I do not remember exactly what I felt when I opened mine 14 years ago. Chances are 14 years from now you won’t either.

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Please let your product passion endure

There is a natural continuum between an uncompromising idealism of a starry-eyed, first time founder, and a jaded cynicism of someone who has already found a winning formula and is prepared to apply it indiscriminately. I’ve seen an expression of both extremes of passion in my conversations with founders,  managers and product people, and I’ve seen it come across vicariously through the product itself.

What so often begins as a passion for a product and exceptional user experience turns into a passion for profit. I am struggling to express what, if anything, is particularly wrong with this tendency. After all, everyone needs to make a living, and passion alone cannot buoy every single product. It’s brutal out there, and when the money runs out, it has the inevitable effect of also smothering any passion to make something great.

But the converse is also true. I feel like far too many products and far too many judgements never leave the dollars and numbers dimension. There is almost a criminal lack of concern for the user experience or user value, and this comes across as wholly unjustified and offensive. The respect for the user is gone as soon as the product person starts saying things behind the user’s back that they wouldn’t say to their face.

It’s especially disconcerting when an attempt is made to make the business piece fit while the product vision hasn’t had a chance to take flight or even fully form. And I really wish there were fewer of those personally gut-wrenching moments when I see passion compromised for something not worth the paper that business model spreadsheet was printed on.

In case of emergency, press this button

Spending four days without power last week left plenty of time for quiet reflection. One thing I thought about during this lull was our society’s reliance on critical infrastructure and the products and services we’ve built around it. There was a great write up last week musing, among other things, about our willingness to pay high multiples for essentials in times of crisis. I could have made a similar case about hot water and cell phone service, but as I thought about it more, I kept coming back to the same question:

What defines critical infrastructure, and how do we come to rely on it so much?

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Common Sense Is A Trap

When was the last time you paid for an idea? I know, I know. Who does that? The information wants to be free and most good ideas are already on the Internet or Wikipedia. A lot of these ideas are public knowledge. Humanism is an idea. Free choice is another idea. Constitutional monarchy is an idea. Individualism is an idea. Why would you ever need to pay for them? Continue reading

Thinking of Going to a Hackathon?

Hackathons are the new black. They seem to be all the rage these days and everybody seems to be doing it. I, for one, always wanted to go to one but never had the chance until two weeks ago when I attended Angelhack NYC.

What finally made it possible for me was a fortuitous combination of: (1) a free weekend, (2) a moderate ticket price, and (3) an event with decent reputation. So if you want me to come to your next hackathon, you know what you need to do. Don’t overcharge and make it good.

But I digress. How to put together an awesome hackathon is a topic for another post. For now I’d like talk about my personal takeaways – what went right, what went wrong, and what I could have done differently to get more out of the event.

If you are a first-time hackathon attendee, I sure hope you’ll find this bit of anecdotal observation useful. If you are feeling impatient, feel free to skip ahead to the summary section below.

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Mission Statement – Keep and refine project ideas

When I am mulling over a new idea, I find that writing the idea down is a useful exercise for it forces you to structure your thoughts, to tease out the essentials, and to do away with obtrusive chaff and filler. Words lend substance to thoughts and grant them a measure of permanence.

Having a handle on this phase of idea elaboration allows one to explore the very nature of what your mind can vaguely frame. Words on paper are all about precision. When writing, you make a conscious choice to use one word and not the other. You make a conscious choice not only about the choice of words, but also about their number, the voice, and the pace.

It’s not only about communicating the idea to yourself, once written down an idea as it would have been communicate to others. It is the message that fills the gap between a mere thought and a full-on action. “Why on Earth am I doing it and what I intend to do” begs a precise and deliberate answer. To execute an idea before putting down the mission in words seems grossly misguided.

Because I believe it helps to set things in words before they are set in stone, on paper, in ink, in oil, or in code (and in the fine tradition of computer engineers building tools to scratch their own itch), I and Tyler Hughes (who has graciously volunteered his time for this project) have build Mission Statement.

Because it’s not the thought that counts, it’s the message…