Standing Desk

Setup the standing desk yesterday. Pretty cool, cost $35 and took ~30 min to build. Really easy.

photo

Still breaking it in, can only stand for 3-4 hours at at time before my back starts giving out, but will continue working on it.

Would recommend it if you spend most of your day sitting down. If interested, instructions here via Colin of Customer.io.

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Trust in a Consumer Business

I found myself trying out a few of Evernote’s other apps today (Clearly is amazing btw). Despite zero initial interest, necessity, coupled with bad reviews, I still managed to say eh, screw it — and download a few. I figured — it’s Evernote, they usually do cool stuff. I’ll give them a shot.

It made me think of Keep, Google’s new Evernote competitor. While I know very little about Keep, I knew that I had no intention of learning more. It was a strange feeling, given that I have historically been a Google groupie. I’m usually all over their new products and defend shitty ones. After all, they make great stuff and give it away for free! Plus, since most of the web tools I use are already built by Google, it almost always makes more sense to go Google (even if I’m already invested in a competitor) — single login, they already know me, integrates well with other Google services, etc.

But no more. Because of Reader. Every time I use a Google application now, I wonder — are they going to shut this down on a whim? They’ve always been the company that didn’t do that — they built incredibly cool products and they gave them away all for free. Even things that you were pretty sure couldn’t make money. That was the magic of Google. You know they’re using your data — but you don’t care. There’s an inherent trust. You actively opt in to sending back data, sending feedback in, etc. Because you trust that they’ll use that data to build something that makes your life better. Sure, they use your info to make some money — but who cares? It’s not malicious — their products add so much value, and they’re not evil, right? And it’s largely been true.

But in a consumer driven business where you’re using people’s personal information to profit, trust becomes your most important currency.

And they’ve lost my trust. Unceremoniously shutting down Reader to focus (spring cleaning, they called it) was a major blow to their brand. And I’m not the only one that feels this way — Om wrote a great post about it, and there’s a few others as well. I don’t trust them anymore and I won’t invest my time into another Google product and subsequently have to worry about it surviving another bout of spring cleaning.

Goodbye Google Reader

After closing the last work related tab on my browser the other day, I fired up Google Reader to catch up on some news and browse through the latest posts. Ironically, the first thing I saw was this: Google Kills Google Reader.

Now while I lament the passing of Google Reader (and there’s tons of good stuff on why (read here or watch here), I’m not here to complain. I’m fully aware that Google could not care less about how I feel about this.

But, If you’re as dependent on your RSS reader as I am, then what matters is finding a replacement.

  1. Feedly
  2. Prismatic
  3. MsgBoy
  4. The Old Reader
  5. Feedspot
  6. NetVibes
  7. NewsBlur
  8. Reeder

via LifeHacker and Twitter

Now while I’m typically a pretty cheap guy, Google Reader was used so frequently and was such an important part of my day that I am perfectly happy spending a few dollars to get a good solution.

My requirements:

1. Web based
2. List style feed
3. Seamless transfer from Google Reader
4. A team that seems they care enough about RSS that they’re not just going to up and quit. (God forbid I have to go through this again!)
5. Magazine style feed option (I subscribe to a few design feeds, and I like to browse through the images for inspiration from time to time)
6. Similar interface (Learn how to use something new? Ridiculous!)

The first one I found was Feedly. A quick search brought it up (they already had a blog post on it! Impressive), and I was already familiar with Feedly — I tried it out when I was looking for a free RSS reader on my phone (did I mention I’m a cheap bastard?). Turns out it actually works pretty well — looks better than Google Reader, they can do a list based feed and magazine style, their transfer from Google Reader was nice, plus it was on the web and free. It wasn’t perfect, but it checked the boxes.

The other one everyone was raving about on Twitter was Prismatic. So I logged in, created an account, poked around, and left. It looked nice, but I thought they were trying to do a bit too much. While others users might need a place to discover news, I just need something that will take my Google Reader feed. Prismatic gave me too much, and couldn’t figure out how to import in my Google Reader account. (to their credit, the founder responded to my complaint immediately and told me how — it’s actually pretty easy). Still, was a bit too much for me and I couldn’t replicate the feed to what I needed — organizing feed list style by folders and viewing by folder/subscription.

MsgBoy just didn’t work for me. The Old Reader wasn’t allowing any importing (due to to large amounts of traffic). I ended up really liking Feedspot and Netvibes as well (looked and felt just like Google Reader), but Feedly did too, and Feedly looked a bit better.

Now for the paid options — Newsblur and Reeder. I would love to have paid for Reeder. But I need it to be on the web! So regrettable, had to axe this one as well. And despite all the hype, just really didn’t like Newblur’s interface.

So, ultimately I’m settling for Feedly (for now!) Seems to fit all of the criteria above best, and they have a nice mobile app to top it off. It seems to be the easiest way to continue living in a post Google Reader world.

Damn you, Google. You selfish bastards.

Living Hard Drive Free

After switching machines every 2 months for the better part of a year, I finally bought a permanent laptop. However, after constantly changing machines, this whole experience has made it very difficult for me to keep track of my desktop files — I have folders, files, things downloaded from the web (books/docs/music/films) — and then when I’m forced to a new machine, I have to consolidate all of my desktop files onto a flash/hard drive, and then put it on my new machine.

While this doesn’t sound that bad, when you take one disorganized group of folders and then add another group of disorganized folders to it (often with similar names), and then do it 6 or 7 times, things can start to get messy. For example, I’ll look for a PDF I downloaded — I know it was in my reading folder, but I’ll have to check Desktop/Machine1/Reading, Desktop/Machine2/Reading, Desktop/Machine3/Reading and so on to find it. And that can get cumbersome when you’re doing it all day.

So when I got my new computer, it was a chance for a clean slate — forget all the old messy folders, I can do it right this time. Only download files I actually need, organize them well, and keep as few files on my desktop as possible. As for the old files, I’ll throw them all onto an old hard drive under the folder ‘Archive’. You gotta cut your losses.

But I failed. Ultimately, I started downloading things, saving files, and then creating folders to organize all of this as desktop clutter started to build. And then sometimes I would get that nagging suspicion that I’ve already downloaded this same PDF 7 other times on every other machine and just never got around to reading it. Which means I’ve not only been hoarding files & wasting space, but I’m also violating one main principle of life — not being selective enough about what I let into my life. Either I should’ve never downloaded it (demonstrating poor selection skills), or I should’ve read it already (demonstrating poor prioritization). Both are bad.

My strategy in real life to be selective and minimize unnecessary clutter — lay everything I have out in the open. This way it’s easy to see out what I’m actually using and not using. I can’t hide things in a box in the back of my closet. If it sits there and I haven’t touched it in months, I throw it away. Pretty simple.

So I decided to take the same strategy and apply it to my digital possessions. Minimize the amount of space so it’s easy to manage what I use, and discard what I don’t use. Also I wanted my solution to be in the cloud, because it makes the most sense. With the cloud, I’m actually limited by space (5GB on Dropbox is not a reasonable substitue for my 700GB hard drive), and it’s also accessible anywhere. I no longer have 700GB on my laptop, 1TB on my desktop, 200GB on my netbook and have to organize/maintain all of the different hard drives. My files are all in one place and they go with me everywhere. Machine agnostic.

I don’t want to have to open and fire up a web app every time I want to access my files, that’s a pain in the ass. There needs to be a desktop client as well. With that in mind, the options are pretty clear — Dropbox, Google Drive, and Box. I use all of these already, and so I took a look at how I’m currently using the services, and crafted a way to use them efficiently and mold it to my goal of moving my entire hard drive to the cloud.

Drive has largely replaced Microsoft Office for me. I’m using it on a daily basis for everything – to create spreadsheets, track sales, write copy/essays, track ideas/thoughts/goals, etc. Almost everything I do can be traced back to some sort of Google Doc. So I cleaned Drive up a bit and kept it that way. Drive would remain my main tool and my first option for any type of work.

As I looked through my Dropbox folder, I noticed that most of my folders in there are folders I share with other people. Mostly with me on the receiving end. While I do keep a bit of my own stuff in there, it’s mainly become a repository for shared info that can’t be done in Drive (code, pdf’s, contracts, etc). For the files that are personal, it’s mainly on the go material — reading. It has become sort of a flash drive, but in the cloud. I only have 5GB’s of space, so I can’t have all my files live in it. But the files on it are easy enough to access (Laptop, iPhone, iPad, Browser, and all without connection as well) that I will usually throw a PDF of a book in there before a flight or something. The added benefit is that everyone else uses it, so it’s easy to share files and pass around information. Since it’s only 5GB it can get of control pretty quickly if you have a lot of shared material, I’m going to try to keep it fairly ephemeral. Only books, music, documents, etc. that I need right now will be in there. Immediate consumption. It will conserve space, limit options and increase focus.

Lastly, I have Box. Pretty similar to Dropbox, except I have 50GB of space on there. It’s enough space to amass a good amount of stuff without quickly running out of space. But it’s also small enough that you don’t have a lot of room to hoard. If you’re downloading things as quickly as I am, you can fill up 50GB in a short amount of time if you’re not careful. Essentially only pictures, good books, and archived documents that are necessary will be saved onto there. Only qualified files that flow through Dropbox will enter Box. This ensures that most things in Box will actually be worth keeping — I’ve actually used the file in some capacity (probably read it), and I decided that it was worth keeping. Once in a while, I’ll probably have to go back and clean it out, but with only 50GB of space, it will be pretty quick to see what I’m actually using and not. This way I can start to curate a very high quality repository of information, and since I’ll have actually previously consumed all of the information, it will become a digital extension of my own knowledge.

With this funnel process — Drive to replace Office, Dropbox for keeping immediate files and sharing, and then Box as an archive of sorts — I can more easily reduce clutter and keep only the things that I actually need. In addition with everything I have in the cloud, theoretically, I’m making another step towards being truly machine agnostic. Which is cool, right?

Update: 5/23/2013

Got a new laptop from Coupa the other day, and started working on it with next to zero setup.

I leave my Coupa laptop at the office and my personal one at home. One day at work, I needed a file and looked on my Desktop and — shit, new computer. But oh wait! Found it in Box. Amazing.

Writing

A few months ago, I wrote a post called Experiments. I was going to shift the purpose of my blog to become an idea/experiments driven outlet. The supposed goal was to gain insight about my ideas, learn, and get better at writing.

It all sounded great. This would create a purpose for the list of ideas that was accruing in my Evernote account. I would consistently learn about new things. I would have an excuse to write a bit more. Maintain a backlog of things to build. Checks all the boxes.

In reality, it didn’t work out that way. I found that while coming up with good ideas on a monthly basis wasn’t that hard (and I use the word good pretty liberally here), finding the time to actually test them out was near impossible.

Writing and coming up with the experiments to prove/disprove theories wasn’t hard. My drafts box is full of them. Google up some articles, look at some companies doing similar things, and then come up with some way to test the core theory behind it.

Taking the next step was what the tough part. I simply didn’t have time to build something and get real feedback that mattered every month. In the end, produced very little — a few half baked blog posts and web apps.

Turns out vetting ideas takes time (big surprise). And turns out that it’s not worth vetting ideas for the sake of getting better at vetting ideas. I had no desire to take them anywhere — I was happy with current work, and wanted to finish it out, not jump into some other wild goose chase on whim. This prohibited my ability to really prove/disprove things — frankly, I didn’t really care. I wasn’t going to do anything with it. In reality, I just wanted something to write about.

That’s when I got it. I just wanted to write about something. Turns out I’m just bad at coming up with things to write about. So I read Paul Graham’s post on writing. His point is that you don’t need a well defined thesis or point to write. He compares writing to a river.

The river’s algorithm is simple. At each step, flow down. For the essayist this translates to: flow interesting. Of all the places to go next, choose the most interesting. One can’t have quite as little foresight as a river. I always know generally what I want to write about. But not the specific conclusions I want to reach; from paragraph to paragraph I let the ideas take their course.

There is no explicit purpose. An idea strikes you — just start writing. Let the ideas come out and take you somewhere. You don’t need a well crafted plan of what to write and what not to write. You just let it go where it goes. A lot of the stuff you write might suck and never take you anywhere interesting (I know a lot of mine do!). But you’ll have explored a new area — and once in awhile, you might actually write something worth reading.

Mentors

A few weeks back, I was reorganizing a Google Doc I had with a list of entrepreneurs (both well known and unknown) that I admire. I’ve always figured that I should keep a list of cool people read up on their principles, and then apply the same principles to my life. When my friend Andre looked over at my screen and asked my why I even had this list, I explained. But when he asked, “Does that really help?”, I had no answer.

So I figured I would do some quick research to see if there was any empirical evidence that learning from others (or having mentors) actually had any effect in a professional sense, and if so, was it significant.

While doing some basic research (and by research I mean typing strings into Google), I came across a ton of articles about why you need a mentor, how to get a mentortypes of mentors to have, etc, but few had any real evidence of any correlation between success and having a mentor (at least in a professional sense, lots on mentoring children during development).

Then I found this article (embedded below) that did an actual study. The study notes that there are two types of mentors: career related, and psychosocial. Career related support is the traditional definition of a mentor– the mentor helps the mentee with sponsorship, exposure, visibility, coaching, protection, etc. Psychosocial support is the type of support that addresses interpersonal aspects of the relationships and helps with a mentee’s sense of confidence, identity, and effectiveness as a professional. They studied this against objective career outcomes, which are more tangible things, such as promotions or compensation and subjective career outcomes, which are the intangibles, such as career satisfaction, turnover, etc.

There were 5 hypothesis in the study:

  1. People who have mentors do better than those without.
  2. Career related mentoring is positively related to career outcomes.
  3. Psychosocial mentoring is positively related to career outcomes.
  4. Objective career outcomes will have a stronger relationship with career mentoring than with psychosocial mentoring.
  5. Subjective career outcomes will have a stronger relatinshiop with psychosocial mentoring than with career mentoring.

The results: Hypotheses 1-3 received full support. Hypotheses 4 & 5 received mixed support.

There are some things in the study that I don’t fully agree with, but overall, the takeaway is that people who have mentors do better than those without.

Overall, I’m satisfied with knowing that there is some sort of proof that those with mentors (formal or informal) have a higher rate of success than those without. What I would still like to see is a study on the differences between formal and informal mentorship, as well as a study on how many/what type of mentors is optimal. I didn’t spend a ton of time looking, but if anyone has anything related, let me know.

Turning Billboards into Movies

Last week I met with Mike Alfred of Brightscope for some feedback on a project that I demoed at Startup Weekend, Movie Roundtable. It’s a platform to discuss movies, tv shows, and media in general. We had a great talk, and there were a few key takeaways from our conversation– the idea wasn’t big enough, and if I’m going to go through the pains of startup, I might as well have a larger vision and aim a bit higher. Made sense.

After bouncing some thoughts back and forth, Mike brought up an interesting point– how often do you see someone in a movie and kind of recognize the person but don’t really know who it is? For both of us, it was fairly often. Currently, I go to IMDB, look for the character, click on his/her page, and then go through his/her filmography to find out where I know this person from. Not the smartest way to do it. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could just tap on the person (assuming we’re using an iPad), and their filmography pops up? Then you can figure out who it is, put that nagging voice to rest and continue watching the movie.

Now while we both agreed that it would be cool, it’s not the most useful application. What would be cool though, was to make the movie experience as a whole interactive. How else can we use this (interaction with a screen) with movies & tv shows? Screens have traditionally been static. Our interaction with a screen is either with remote or mouse– tools that help us interact with the screen, but they’re just not as intuitive as tapping, swiping, pinching, etc. With the advent of smartphones and tablets, we can now interact with the screens in front of us. The media we watch has yet to catch up though.

What we envisioned was an entirely different media experience. Instead of searching through IMDB to find out who that actor is, trying to remember what car the movie star was driving, or what clothes they were wearing, what if you could just tap on that amazing suit Daniel Craig was wearing in Skyfall, see the price, and buy it right there? Movie stars have always been used to advertise products, but it has always been indirect when in film. We’re used to seeing stars on billboards, magazine ads, tv commercials, etc. But rarely do we inquire about the products advertised to us in the film.

The reason is that identifying a product is easy through print/tv ads. Identifying products/clothes during a movie/tv show, not so much. The advertising done during a film is largely ignored by the viewer. But the potential is enormous– what if you could click on Daniel Craig’s watch (I know I keep going back to James Bond, I just saw Skyfall) and buy it? Or if there’s a group of girls sitting around watching Gossip Girl and they can buy the clothes that Blair/Serena are wearing while watching the show?

I think there’s a ton of potential behind it. It’s an idea that provides value to everybody– advertisers, viewers, and even movie studios. Advertisers gets better use of the products they put in movies & a measurable return, viewers can view/buy products they like by just lifting a finger, and studios can charge for “ad space” in the movie & encourage a second viewing from the viewer (can’t do this in theater, has to be on tablet/iPad).

The next step is to build a prototype and test the idea. After doing some research, I have a few ideas on how to build out a prototype, although none are easy. Technologically, this is new territory for me (considering my only experience so far is Movie Roundtable). I have an idea on how I would tag clothes/faces/products (involves breaking down the film frame-by-frame, matching taps to seconds to frames to tagged products) and a general idea of how the user experience would be. Realistically though, it’s all a bit out of my range from a technical standpoint. So we’ll see what happens.