Jan 29

highlighter.jpg“then you’ve highlighted nothing,” as my friend Kobe used to say.

This is going to be a visually-painful way of making this point but hopefully it makes the lesson memorable. In college when I would study in a group I would notice that other students highlighted stuff from the chapters that they had read. Nothing wrong with marking up a text book – it generally facilitates greater recall – but the problem was that they would highlight 80% of the text on a page so that when finished, the majority of the book’s verbiage was bright yellow.

The obvious problem with this practice is that it doesn’t get you anything. The more detrimental side effect though is that not only does it not enhance your ability to process and extract meaningful associations from the text while reading, it detracts from your ability to review the text later. Like the fable of the Boy Who Cried Wolf, your brain eventually habituates the highlighting and stops assigning any meaningful significance- it becomes merely a distracting nuisance.

takeaway So how does this possibly relate to situations beyond highlighted textbooks? It translates directly across to how we manage our todo’s and assign priority to tasks. The main takeaway here is this:

However you express priority in your todo list, make sure that only a few items at any given time are prioritized.

I recommend the “dot-size” priority trick if you use a whiteboard or notebook. Anytime you have more than 20% of your items flagged as priority, I guarantee that your effectiveness on tackling any one item will be diluted. The mindset when assigning priority should be “what three things this week will have the greatest impact on advancing our cause?” Notice this is different than “what are the three most pressing items on my plate this week?” The latter is a reactive vs. proactive approach – you can get into reactive mode where you let your todo list drive you. Urgency is completely independent of Importance – but that’s a topic for another post…

Hopefully if you’ve ben able to tolerate the highlighting and have read this far, the message will have hit home and resonate with you. And the next time you find yourself escalating a bunch of todo items, you’ll remember the words of my friend Kobe and know that “when you’ve highlighted everything, you’ve highlighted nothing.

Jan 23

I’ve known Bill, Ben and Rob for several years and it was an honor to interview them recently on how they’ve built their company Leadbot.com from nothing into being one of the major players in the financial services leads industry.  They share stories from the early days and hard-earned lessons they’ve picked up along the way. Imagine the gloom of coming in one morning to find that your ISP had deleted your entire customer database and failed to ever create a backup.  Then imagine the fortitude and humility necessary to rebuild the database by piecing it together one customer at a time from scraps of paper and angry phone calls.  Listen to the street lessons they share from experience on the latest Venturecast episode.

Jan 11

Lon Safko joins the greats (Darwin, Wyeth, Edison) as the newest inductee of the Smithsonian Institution’s permanent collection with eighteen of his inventions. His Apple II computer is on display at Apple HQ as being the first Apple to truly save a human life in honor of his amazing invention that restored the will to live for a C3 quadriplegic.

I had the opportunity to interview Lon recently and ask him how he played the instrumental role in founding the now $5.3BN assistive speech technology industry. Lon shared his view of innovation and stories on the inception of this technology which began in 1984. Many of Lon’s inventions were the archetypes to what we now know of as the Dragon Naturally Speaking product, the original Newton (pda) O.S., “Tool Tips“, X-10 Powerhouse, and Microsoft’s Bob O.S.

From paper models to garden hoses to AI and now the Smithsonian, Lon has had an amazing career. He believes that anyone can train his/her mind to see opportunities and deficiencies in the world and learn innovation using what he calls “The Three C’s.” Listen to his amazing interview (35min – 41MB) on the latest episode of the Grid7 Venturecast series.

Jan 10

1. Loop it or lose it – put your foot down

travelTip-legLoop.jpgWhen traveling alone you will at some point find yourself in a crowded airport terminal or restaurant waiting with multiple pieces of luggage. Professional thieves choose this high-commotion areas to target unsuspecting individuals because there are a lot of distractions and they can quietly snatch a bag while you are preoccupied with something else. When I’m at the gate and I know I’ve got my boarding pass and I’m good to go, I turn on the iPod and snooze before the flight. And under normal circumstances if I were to leave my bags on the ground next to me, I would become a prime target for a thief to stroll by and lift them. As simple as it sounds, here is a technique that prevents this:

Put your foot through the loop or strap. When I lived in Ecuador there was a great deal of bus travel involved and fellow exchange students had their backpacks snatched multiple times. This trick never failed me – in the best scenario it served as a deterrent for the observant bag snatcher and in the worst scenario it simple burglar alarm / leash that kept my bag on my person.

2. Improvise a bag handle

travelTip-improvHandle.jpgUsing plastic bags as carry-ons is just never a good idea if you can avoid it. Not only are they flimsy but they eventually turn your fingers into sausage links if they’re loaded with heavy stuff and you have to carry them far.

If you have no other choice but the plastic bag as a carry-on, or even if your real luggage simply has a crappy handle, snag the cardboard tube from an empty toilet paper roll, cut it longitudinally and clip it over the bad handles. Obviously you can use other material to achieve the same purpose but I’ve found that the TP tube is a perfect solution and is guaranteed to be found anywhere you have a conventional toilet.

3. Ubiquitous travel doc accessibility

If you’re traveling internationally you should have your travel documents on you at all times. This is a no-brainer. I use a leather pouch with a belt loop that flips inside my pants. You should also store a copy of your passport and important docs in another location like your checked luggage while in transit or your hotel room while you’re there.

Another great tactic is to scan all your important credentials and then email them to yourself. Internet cafes are prevalent everywhere but the US so it works fairly well and you can get to your docs anywhere you can find Internet (use an encrypted zip file if you’re paranoid of storing them on gmail’s server). I came up with this idea last year- I happen to use gmail and emailed each scan to myself with the subject “vitaldoc: passport” etc. This allows me to pull up all my critical info by searching my gmail for “vitaldoc” anywhere I am that has Internet. I used this trick at the doctor’s office the other day using my treo’s web browser to get an insurance card I didn’t have in my wallet- very useful.

4. Protect your passwords on public Internet terminals

So how do you safely check email from public terminals while you’re traveling? This technique will not protect you from hardware-based keyloggers but it should defeat most software-based ones. Whatever you do, don’t type your password directly into the password field on a public terminal, rather put the characters you need (and then some) in the url bar and cut and paste your password together piecemeal from there. It’s debatable how effective this technique is as some keyloggers can store things like cursor position and clipboard elements. But, just like The Club (TM), if you make it tricky enough to determine yours over someone else’s, this should reduce the likelihood of someone jacking your credentials.

You can also put in a little time up front, bring a thumbdrive with the portable apps suite installed and setup secure POP to your email using the Thunderbird client (thanks Benny for that suggestion). At that point you also have the portable Firefox browser as well, so ideally with all your passwords stored in that instance you’re not entering them in the browser via the terminal. Just be sure to encrypt the thumbdrive, otherwise in the event you lose that, someone has direct access to all your accounts.

5. Free headphones for the in-flight movie

When the flight attendant strolls down the aisle peddling those $5 crappy plastic headphones that have been worn by 100 people before you, kindly decline, smile and bust out your own set. Airlines make a huge margin on those rental headphones so they’re not very motivated to disclose that every armrest has the standard headphone jack already in it.

6. The iPod hold button goes both ways

If you have an iPod you probably know that you can use the hold button to ensure that you don’t mistakenly bump the control wheel and change tracks or volume while listening to music. You may not know, however, that the hold button serves the same purpose of diabling the buttons when your iPod is off as well. I learned this while tinkering after a trip where I had left my iPod in my pack and found the battery completely dead upon arrival from having the buttons bumped repeatedly and continuously turning it on while it was in the pack.

7. Photos aren’t just for memories back home

If you’ve got a digital camera or camera phone you can use it to snap a quick picture of things you need to remember while you’re there like your hotel room number or parking space. Thanks to my friend Josh for reminding me about this technique. We used this trick extensively on our trip to Playa last year when we were bumped between three different hotels in order to remember our room number each time.

8. Diversify your portfolio

travelTip-passport.jpgWhen traveling in Mexico especially, I will split both my cash and credit cards in two places so that if my wallet is stolen I still have dinero somewhere else. If you travel with a money belt I recommend putting a credit card and a few bills there and leaving the rest in your wallet. Cash is king in an emergency situation but the credit card ensures you have access to larger money if you need it.

Many banks have the ability to issue a short-term, expiring credit card if you know you’ll be traveling. Your money is insured either way if your card is stolen but it’s a pain in the ass to cancel cards if you have any auto debits setup. Plus you’ll be without a card until the new one arrives when you return. Instead get a temporary card that you can use while on vacation. It’s very similar in concept to the tactic in gmail of using youraddress+thisvendor@gmail.com to be able to have a disposable email address for suspect sites you think will be spamming you. There’s also a free service now that does the equivalent for phone numbers – same concept.

9. Skype those International calls

Internet cafes love to sell international phone service because they make a killing on it. Get yourself a skype account before you leave and make your international calls for pennies of what you’d pay in phone charges. You’ll also find it’s more convenient because skype will have your call history stored so you don’t need to repeatedly look up phone numbers and type them in. Plus you generally have to have the attendant at the Internet cafe place the call for you or at least unlock the phone.

10. Retrieve your voicemails remotely without your phone

There are a couple ways to skin this cat. The treo makes it trivial to forward your cell phone to your skype account via the call preferences menu so when you know you will be somewhere without cell service, it’s easy to do ahead of time. Get the skype-in service and you can potentially answer your phone from a computer on the other side of the world and at the very least have access to the voicemails and change your outbound message. If you don’t forward your cell, you can still probably call into your voicemail remotely but I’ve heard people had problems doing this over skype and I know I’ve personally had issues using skype to call businesses with automated phone systems.

Anyways, these are some battle-tested travel tips from someone who has done quite a bit of traveling. Use them in good health.

Jan 07

People that come back from tropical vacation spots occasionally report mild depression upon returning to civilization. The generally-accepted cause seems to be that our society has become materialistic and disjointed. I have a different hypothesis as to what might be the true cause and it has nothing to do with flaws in the congruity of life in big cities.

The trouble with being given a spotlight is that you start to behave the way you think someone in a spotlight should behave rather than continuing with your own voice that got you there in the first place. Granted, this will be breaking my first New Year’s resolution of ditching the first person tense for posts but the realization I had after consulting a very wise woman is that ultimately blog writing is about connecting deeply with others and has nothing to do with tense usage and choice of grammar or even subject matter. If you can write something that resonates deeply with one person, that’s far more important than appealing shallowly to a ton of people. It matters only that the writing stem directly from the center of your chest as opposed to the top of your head. So I want to first tell a story and then suggest an idea for a thesis or dissertation to any graduate student of the behavioral sciences who might be qualified to test this theory and is looking for good fodder for a dissertation.

caboLandsEnd.JPGA friend of mine, Jeff Hausman once said to me upon returning from an extended vacation in Thailand, “Why is it that I feel so depressed by all this concrete and the pace of things here in the US- what are we doing??”

You really have to know Jeff to appreciate this statement. He’s the owner of VanHalenStore.com. I’ve known him since 1997 and he is the largest online retailer of Van Halen merchandise in the world and formerly produced Inside Magazine, the exclusive Van Halen fan magazine (this makes him one of the coolest people ever btw). He is one of the rare people that has made a living doing exactly what he loves and he’s been successful not because he is a genius at marketing or online sales, but because he is arguably VH’s biggest fan and believes in what he sells. Anyways, in October of 2000 he convinced four of us to drive with him from Phoenix to Cabo San Lucas. It was a round-trip of nearly 4000 miles that took three days of straight driving each way on some of the narrowest, most treacherous roads down the untamed Baja peninsula.

And it was a pilgrimage of sorts for all of us – Benny, Brad and I had just come out of working for a company called ProScout. Avery was in a transitional phase at Nortel and Jeff was flexible through the nature of his business to be able to take two weeks off and go to Mexico. The moons that were each of our lives were in proverbial alignment to facilitate this trip and it felt like one of those Stand By Me-type transformational voyages we all needed to take.

CaboArrivalAtOffice.JPGThe trip was in every way an epic adventure. We saw terrain and people that few others will ever see. When we finally arrived in Cabo we pulled up to this beach bar called “The Office” (still fresh out of our cube farms, the irony was laughable). We promptly grabbed a metal bucket of coronas, filled the bottom 1/3rd with sand and floated out into the ocean bobbing up and down on the swells that rolled in off the Pacific. It is a gem of a memory I keep tucked away and to this day draw upon it in moments of great stress.

Mexico is a “heat sink for stress” – it melts it away and puts even the most neurotic person into a relaxed state of mind. Mexican locals in the towns we visit don’t know the meaning of hurriedness there. The rest of that trip we spent lounging on Land’s End, taking water taxi’s, sea kayaking around the point, playing guitar and talking about the things that good friends can talk about under the stars in a foreign place. It was epic and it unwound us all.

caboWaterTaxi.JPGLike all amazing journeys though, it had to come to an end. We were there for twelve days and on the final day (once we had convinced Brad that he could not in fact smuggle the stray puppy that he had found back to the States), we guided Jeff’s Bronco onto Interstate 1 and began the long drive back up the Baja to Phoenix. We each took something different from that trip but what was consistent for all of us was the grounding effect of extracting ourselves from the rat race, transplanting to a seaside town and putting life in slo-mo for awhile.

Upon re-entering the States, Benny Brad and I took desk jobs, Avery returned to his Nortel cubicle and Jeff to his basement. Subsequently, each of us experienced a period of depression as we re-integrated to the concrete sprawls of our respective hometowns, Phoenix and Dallas. We talked about it and tried to put our finger on the cause- the conclusion we all came to was that it had to do with temporary shelter in a responsibility-free, stress-free environment and snapping back to the reality of the grind of daily work in a more-material-oriented society. With hindsight having made several extended trips to various seaside towns in Mexico since, I have a different theory to explain the depression and it is as simple as this:

When your body acclimates to a tropical climate (humid and fresh sea air) and a healthy diet (organic produce and mainly seafood with high concentration of OM-3 and OM-6 EFA’s), abruptly transplanting to a locale with poor air quality, zero humidity and a EFA-deficient diet causes jarring changes in one’s chemistry and effects manifest as depression. We mistakenly attribute the resulting lethargy to the hustle & bustle and materialism of our home surroundings and ponder whether the US is going to “hell in a hand basket.” I’m suggesting that the depression can be attributed to simple Pavlovian classical conditioning with the body chemistry changes being the true culprit and us subconsciously pairing the stimuli of our home surroundings with the behavioral response we experience from the chemistry change. If this is in fact correct, then the effects can be easily mitigated with an air purifier, humidifier and dietary supplements to approximate the tropical environment.

CaboBungalow.JPGAnyways, that’s the gist of my theory. Of course I have no scientific basis to substantiate any of this but it’s a best guess based on past personal experience and could be fairly easily tested with control groups. It would be great to see some grad student pick this up and do it as a dissertation – I will gladly volunteer to be one of the subjects if needed ;-)

I throw this out there because depression is an ugly thing and I have personally brushed with it on multiple occasions and would love to get to the bottom of what causes it. If you’ve ever experienced the “Post Tropical Vacation Blues” – leave your story here in a comment and maybe a medical researcher will latch onto this idea and test it. The bottom line- by chronicling your experiences, your physiology and the relevant variables, patterns will emerge that give clues as to the true underlying causes. Cheers to a depression-free world and to the day that mental conditions are understood with the same clarity as physical illnesses.

Jan 04

I´m sitting here in an Internet Cafe on the last night of our yearly 2wk holiday break in Playa Del Carmen with all the shopping and packing done for a flight home tomorrow. I figured this is the perfect excuse to take a minute to do the ’06 Kernel Dump and reminisce this trip.

THE SURREALITY OF THE PAST MONTH

I received some of the greatest Christmas gifts of all time this past month-

  • JumpBox landed half of the investment we were seeking to move the company forward.
  • This blog was accepted to the 9rules network.
  • My brother announced he´s having a kid.
  • My idea for the Virtual Render Farm made it to the finals of the Cambrian House tournament (winner announced tomorrow)
  • The local media in AZ (newspaper, ABC news station and FM talk radio station) each have requested interviews regarding the last post I made.
  • I made a pinkyswear with a girl I care very much about.
  • To top it all off, this morning I got a taste of the extreme sport I’ve been wanting to try for a year now called Kite Surfing and it´s every bit as amazing as I’ve imagined it would be.
seanKitesurfing.jpg

It’s a bit surreal sitting here pulling up the business section of the 9rules website almost 2000mi from home and seeing Scrollin´ sandwiched in between Guy Kawasaki’s and Kathy Sierra’s blog – two personal heroes who I’ve been reading daily now for over a year. Anyways, I made a New Year’s resolution a few days ago to come strong this year with quality, solid writing deserving to be placed alongside these superstars. This means probably cleaning things up a bit and dropping the first person tense but I’m thinking it’s still kosher to reserve the personal style for the Kernel Dumps so here goes…

NEW YEARS RESOLUTIONS

-Get JumpBox cashflow positive
-Write more better
-Lose the weight I gained on this trip
-Record the Cold Turkey Stasis album
-Simplify

I have a handful of others but those are the top five. What are yours? If you believe in the power of the open source goals meme, publish yours on your blog and then leave a trackback.

PLAYA´S EVOLUTION

Our favorite place on earth, Playa Del Carmen, has undergone some interesting changes this past year – namely a TON of development. We heard from a couple people that said this is the fastest growing city in the world right now for it’s current size. I would not be surprised. There has been a frenzy of development since our trip here last year. While it bodes well for local businesses, it´s sad to see the arrival of the corporate chain establishments.

It’s understandable why a place as magical as this one continues to draw enormous crowds this time of year (especially given that Denver is under 20′ of snow in some places right now). I’ve got great photos from this trip that will be up this week along with a post soon that explains a striking correlation I discovered today between entrepreneurship and the sport of kite surfing. Playa diffuses stress like no place I’ve ever been and I could write a page-worth of commentary on our trip, but in the interest of the new spirit of brevity and given that pictures are worth 1000 words, I´ll leave the Playa summary at this.

MUSIC FILM BOOKS PODCASTS

Music – all you need to know is Mike Doughty’s new one. Wow.

Movies – Cars and Primer

Books – I killed a ton on this trip. Crichton’s latest, Coelho’s Devil and Miss Prym, Scott Adams’ God’s Debris, The Prophet by Kahil Gibran, and Hackers and Painters by Paul Graham

Podcasts – check out the 43 folders podcast with David Allen, the latest couple from Venture Voice with the guy from Kiva.org and Jay Addleson of Digg and the Fresh Talk podcast.

IN STORE FOR THIS YEAR…

We’re heads down on refining our virtual appliance offering for JumpBox to make it THE simplest way to solve business challenges with hassle-free deployment of virtualized, open-source software. We’re maintaining the mission of Grid7 to help people Build Something Bigger by continuing to deliver more quality audio interviews with local AZ entrepreneurs in order to share the wealth of experience from people who have been able to make their ideas reality. I have a handful of personal goals, the top five of which are listed above but the underlying thread of it all remains the same as last year- laser focus on the things that are most important. The mantra for this year I’ve decided is Rock steady. We got JumpBox off the ground in ’06 and rocked it in many ways and we’re planning to do more of the same in ’07. Happy new year all and may you rock steady in your pursuits in ’07 as well.

-sean

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