Feb 14

wrinkleResistantShirts.jpgDear wrinkle-resistant shirt technology – I <3 you. I'm letting go of all my traditional button-down ex's. I've told off my ironing board and thanks to you I can now spend an extra five minutes sleeping in every morning. I have no idea how you do what you do but I'm thankful. A Valentine Haiku just for you: Creases are ugly.

But I despise ironing.

With you… irked no more.

Oct 09

This is a free-form brain dump of some thoughts I have after reading Wisdom of Crowds and having been an active contributor to Cambrian House for about a month now. I just now caught up on most of the Primordial Soup podcast episodes (which is excellent btw) and reviewed the current top ten ideas in Idea Warz on the CH site. The idea of CH itself is very similar to what we were after with Grid7 Labs and having first-hand experience trying to do what they’re doing, I feel I have qualifications and context to make these assertions.

Wisdom of Crowds

First off, if you haven’t read James Suroweicki’s book yet, you should. It’s an extremely interesting proposition: the idea that you can collect many independent judgements from a group of diverse members, tally it all up and get a highly-accurate prediction of what the truth really is. What’s neat about WOC is that it can apply to anything- from jelly bean counting to sports games to complex business decisions. We had proposed the development of an app that would enable corporations to conduct decision markets internally and with their customers as a great candidate for a Grid7 Labs project. Inkling Markets beat us to the punch though and it seems they’ve done a partnership with Cambrian House to handle the decision markets under the hood for CH that are used in determining which ideas end up getting built. This all makes perfect sense given the similarity of the Y Combinator concept to CH and knowing Paul Graham’s affinity for incubating early-stage tech businesses. We wish both companies the best in this effort as the developer co-op concept is something we tried ourselves with difficulty.

Getting back to WOC though- the example used at the beginning of the book is a carnival environment where a group of 500 or so attendees is asked to submit guesses as to the weight of an ox. The mean average of all guesses ends up being 1lb. off from the true weight of the ox supporting the theory that many independent judgements from diverse people yield a very accurate prediction. James goes on to cite numerous other examples of situations where this phenomenon has been tested and proven. For instance, the disappearance of a navy sub where the potential resting location of the sub could have been anywhere in a thousand-mile radius in the Atlantic. They conduct a focus group with a bunch of different navy people and submarine-related people in various roles and have them posit guesses as to where the sub went down. The aggregation of these guesses ends up being within a hundred yards of the actual location of the sub yet again supporting the premise of WOC. There are a ton of other examples in the book but here’s the core principle:

In order for the WOC phenomenon to work, there must be four pre-conditions fulfilled for the environment in which the guessing occurs:

  1. Independence – that the judgements be made in a way that doesn’t influence each other
  2. Diversity – that the participants making the judgements be composed of the most diverse possible group
  3. Decentralization – that the participants be able to draw upon knowledge that is obtained locally and not funneled through a central source
  4. Aggregation – that there be a mechanism to capture and gauge all the judgements made

The Flaws with CH

Herein lies the problem with the existing implementation of Cambrian House:

The current system breaks three of the four necessary pre-conditions.

Let me preface the following by saying, I love CH. I love the spirit of this concept of crowdsourced software (deep down i’m really a modern-day hippy- i’ve had a peace sign around my neck for the past 15yrs). And I really like the execution so far on how they’ve told the story and managed to ignite the community behind their drive. The whole Viking / Napoleon Dynamite theme is genius and keeps things fun and engaging when they could easily drift towards sterility and blahness. I want to see them succeed because this is a difficult problem they’re tackling and we struggled with making it work ourselves in the Grid7 Labs cooperative. So this is not a slam at all but rather a collection of constructive suggestions that will hopefully make their system tighter.

Problem #1: The current Idea Warz implementation allows the rater to see the score once he/she has rated an idea. Bad! There needs to be a “quiet period” where new ideas are rated without divulging their status. It’s too easy to give a thumbs up/down and then immediately change your vote once you see the score. This breaks the first pre-condition of independence because it allows the hivemind / groupthink / herd mentality to skew the results.

Solution: They need to conceal the rating and maybe even the comments for at least the first week that an idea is submitted.

Problem #2: The current participants are homogeneous and consist of the slashdot / digg crowd. It’s not surprising that the early adopters of this thing are highly-technical people. But in order for it to truly work it needs to attract a more diverse group that bring other skills to the fray. I’ve submitted eleven ideas so far, all of which came from the Grid7 Labs project and were the distillation of many hours of brainstorming and working through business models and technical ideas within the Labs team. In the first three days of submitting these ideas, eight of them kited up to the top-twenty out of a total of 2,500 ideas. I was excited about that but then a strange thing started to occur- all eleven ideas were getting great comments but their ratings took a dump. They are all now hovering around the -10 rating (+ scores are better). This is a bit disturbing and after reading the top five ideas just now, here is my hypothesis of what’s occurring here:

In order for an idea to gain traction in CH right now, the pitch needs to be tailored to a slashdotty audience.

Anyone who has made a successful pitch will tell you that the content of the pitch itself is not nearly as important as the level of connection you establish with the pitchee. We learned this through an experiment at our second FastTrac class when we went around the room and had to recite the elevator pitch of another entrepreneur from our class. It was a powerful lesson that your pitch is only as effective as the impression it makes on the listener. The contrapositive to this negative example was the experience that happened only a few days after we launched the JumpBox entity in which we were contacted by someone who had caught wind of what we were building through a friend of a friend and was interested enough to track us down and ask us when he could purchase it (and all this only one week after deciding that we were going to build it).

I imagine the typical CH participant right now as someone who sleeps with his gameboy controller and checks Digg twelve times every hour for the latest AJAX tutorial or YouTube video. There are a ton of intelligent, insightful people in there but unfortunately the masses right now seem to be composed of mostly the slashdot crowd and are basing judgements on ideas solely on the technical “wow factor” rather than the business-viability factor. Having your ideas (essentially your babies) torn apart by this crowd feels a bit like I imagine it would feel to come home and find your pet slaughtered by a roving pack of jackals that then wanders to the next neighborhood in search of fresh meat.

Solution: CH needs to spend some of that VC money to promote this concept amongst the business schools and MBA programs. It’s neat that their community is a global one (good news on the geographic and ethnic diversity axes) the industry axis is hosed and way too skewed towards tech nerds. They need more people thinking about and contributing to the business model aspects and worrying less about the technology. This will undoubtedly be a concern of theirs and surely be addressed some time soon. It would be fairly trivial to run a facebook ad campaign and reach some of the talented students of the various MBA programs to get this diversity in motion sooner rather than later.

Problem #3: And I don’t know how you solve this one but the nature of participants’ interaction with the system is such that it will always be filtered through the CH lens. It can’t be any other way or else the idea becomes loose in the wild and it’s impossible to apply useful metrics to the feedback that gets generated. It’s conceivable that they could use the structured blogging plugins and something like MC Ping to create a specific microcontent definition for a CH idea and then allow people to post them via their own blogs and elicit feedback there and aggregate it on CH via the MCPing notification service, but it seems like they have bigger fish to fry right now with the need for getting projects in the queueu and people contributing to those. They do need to stress the business model aspects of the ideas more. It was suggested in the podcast that they create a separate field for “how this idea makes money” in the idea submission process – this could also be incorporated in the MCD.

Solution: There is no silver bullet for this one unfortunately. They could do the above suggestion with the SB plugin but at the cost of losing the reins on the data and not being able to have the tight metrics on how the ideas are being interacted with. My recommendation on this is to run with the current setup but stay cognizant of the fact that the CH interface itself (as unbiased as it may be) is still a lens that adds distortion to the true picture. They need to try and minimize this distortion as much as possible at all times.

What I like about their current setup

For the handful of things that go wrong and that I’m choosing to pick on, I know from experience that this is difficult stuff and that there is a million other things that are going right under the hood in order for them to establish the momentum they’ve built so far. So once again, I applaud CH for telling the story well and creating a surprisingly-good mechanism for aggregating the feedback and using it to determine the winning project ideas.

They’re on the ball with the various collaboration mechanisms in place- Norseforge appears to be built with the same GForge technology that is used to create SourceForge. We explored using this ourselves for G7 but ended up going with a simple Trac/SVN setup using a private Google Groups and traditional IM for real-time exchange. They have an IRC channel setup which is also something we toyed with but never ended up doing. We’re now planning to run an internal Jabber server rather than a private IRC channel but both achieve the same function of having chat that accrues in a central archive. The style of their marketing, blog, podcast, public site and backoffice is pure genius: it’s just the right tone- a ongoing fun yet legit cooperative game showing consistent progress each week and celebrating the small wins. They use fresh and concise writing style and seem to value the same transparency that we did in how things are conducted- they have to in order for it to succeed. They’re setting up an independent “tribal counsel” composed of both members and CH people to solve the inevitable IP disputes that will arise once a project hits and becomes valuable given that it emerged from a stew of ideas submitted and touched by many people along the way. My overall impression is that they’re hearts are in the right place and they’re using agile processes to make things “light yet sufficient” and roll with the punches as they come.

Anyways, this post ended up being longer than I had hoped so I’ll discuss the Inkling Markets stuff at another time. The bottomline here: CH has a good thing going. I have a bunch more ideas to submit and I plan to apply what I’ve learned in the next round of submissions and tailor the pitch more to the slashdot crowd. They have interesting and challenging problems to solve but so far they’re doing the right things, they have money and there is no fundamental, show-stopper flaw that I can see in their model. They will undoubtedly meet the same challenges we encoutered in relying upon labor that is not on the hook to actually deliver but only motivated by promise. My involvement in CH is hobbyist status at this point given the fact that JumpBox dominates 110% my schedule right now but I could see after the JumpBox liquidity event becoming more involved in CH. It’s even possible that the Grid7 Labs team itself becomes dedicated to executing CH projects as a long-term play for recurring revenue and recruiting talent. It’s very consistent with the goals of Grid7 and would essentially mean that our people get to contribute without actually having to host the infrastructure ourselves. Apparently they’re announcing a new Idea Warz voting system this week. I would love to see them work with Luke to incorporate some of the theory from Innovation Games into the next iteration of Idea Warz. At any rate, it will be interesting to see how the CH system evolves to address some of its current flaws.

Sep 27

I’ve had serious lower-back pain lately and after the first night of good sleep in a week, this is my major realization regarding the treatment of this type of problem:

While the injury itself that’s behind the problem may be muscular or skeletal in nature, the systems affected are inter-related and one issue cannot be fixed without correcting the other.

Even if you sit properly in your chair, you’re still sitting in a chair all day if you have a desk job and as Greg says, “our bodies aren’t designed to hold that position for an extended period of time.”

spinalTugOfWar.gifGreg and Michael are the same two guys that fixed my rotator cuff injury back in the Spring. I’ve done three acupuncture and chiropractic treatments for this problem this past week with only mild relief each time, however as I’ve now learned, we weren’t addressing the muscular side of the equation. Yesterday we added therapeutic massage to the regimen and not even 24 hours later I feel 95% improved. Apparently there are two sets of opposing muscle groups that battle over the lower spine and both were having spasms playing tug of war with my sacrum. Moving the bones back into place provided temporary relief but the muscles were undoing the work. By alleviating the muscle strain, the back adjustment seems to have held and my situation is much improved. And yes, that’s me posing in the diagram ;-)

I cannot recommend the services of these two individuals highly enough. When your daily existence becomes eclipsed by a health problem, there is simply no price that can be assigned to the prospect of becoming free of the pain. For me the back problem this past week had become more than an uncomfortable nuisance and was starting to seriously damage my productivity and morale at the office (my co-workers would tell you that I’ve been hobbling around like an old man and I’ve been irritable and unable to deeply concentrate). Thanks to Michael and Greg I should be back in the saddle now.

The question I have is “from where do these problems originate?” I had a major car accident in ’93 that left me with a crushed L5 vertebrae so that’s probably the ultimate culprit but still there is no single event recently that should have triggered the resurgence of problems. My back has been mostly fine ever since the accident with the occasional intermittent, dull pain from long road trips and uncomfortable seating. Being acutely aware of my risk for back issues, I make sure to sit properly in the most ergonomic chair you can buy. The massage guy told me that apparently that’s not enough though, and that sitting uninterrupted for long periods without taking the occasional break to get up and stretch will cause the muscles to strain, which in turn pull the bones out of alignment, which means you don’t sleep well, which thwarts the healing process and creates more muscle strain, etc. Good sleep is so essential to the recovery that once the negative spiral is initiated, it needs an intervention to stop it. The spiral can be avoided entirely by drinking a lot of water and stretching throughout the day.

If you are experiencing prohibitive pain from repetitive strain injury or another work-related stress and are in the Phoenix area, I highly recommend the services of the guys from the CFAM as a measure of intervention.  And for that matter, whatever ails you I recommend you contact the CFAM – here’s a testimonial from a good friend I sent there for her long-term sinus problem and she’s finally found relief. Heck, if you’re outside of Phoenix and your problem is troublesome enough, I recommend you fly here and meet with them. Phoenix is beautiful in the winter!

*One disclaimer here- it should be noted that I did do their web site. I believe the service they do is extremely valuable but I derive no direct monetary benefit from referrals generated via the advice here.

Sep 11

powerNegotiating_cover.jpg“Everything you will ever want is presently owned or controlled by someone else.” Think about it. I just did a second pass through Roger Dawson’s audio series called The Secrets of Power Negotiating and took notes this time in mind map format and made them available for download. This series is an excellent overview of how to improve your negotiation skills. It begins by pointing out that no matter what your job is, you are negotiating for things every day. Roger teaches the twenty tactics, or “gambits” involved in effective negotiations and also how to adapt to the different personality styles and how the different types of power influence us. If techniques like The Fait Accompli and Flinching seem too shady and “used-car-salesman” for you to use yourself, you should at least be aware of their presence. Being familiar with the mechanics of negotiations means you can identify when these tactics are being employed against you and easily disarm them.

I had many take-aways from this series, the first of which was that he copied my header for his cover design. I mean c’mon Roger, I’ve had the purple lightning bolt thing for years now… ;-) But seriously, it was helpful to learn the Bracketing technique, how to disarm a resort to higher authority and how the value of services diminishes rapidly once those services have been rendered and therefore why you should lock down the details up front. Also useful was the trade-off maneuver for getting instant, reciprocal goal concessions to bring negotiations to a close, the Nibbling strategy and the counter maneuvers for the good-guy/bad-guy technique.

For $14, the series is worth the bonus disc alone in which he teaches you how to negotiate your next automobile purchase. For me I disliked the idea that I was at a disadvantage being unaware of these tactics that others could use to manipulate me. Hopefully posting this outline for public consumption is kosher (I’m surprised they don’t have a better synopsis in the Amazon review). In reality, the value of the notes by themselves is marginal since 90% of the effectiveness of using these techniques is in their delivery and you need to hear Roger’s voice to get it right. I highly recommend this series to anyone who needs to negotiate something – okay basically everybody with a pulse… You can download the mindmap below or view the HTML version if you don’t already have Freemind installed. And if you’re not mindmapping, here’s why you should be.


Here’s a screenshot of the main branches, each one representing an audio chapter in the series:


Happy negotiating!


Sep 05

They are very versatile devices and while I’m fairly sure they could launch rockets with a little modification, they cannot be submarines. I learned this the hard way this weekend when mine decided to take a dive. It was the most expensive swim I’ve ever had but the silver lining of this cloud was the process for restoring the data the next day on the replacement device. I gotta hand it to Palm- it could not have gone any smoother. Every setting, application and piece of data (calendar item, contact, memo and todo) was fortunately backed up to my mac and upon syncing (s-Y-n-c’ing) the new treo for the first time, it functioned precisely like the old one. A few years ago this event would have meant a catastrophic data loss and hours of re-entering the numbers that I had a paper backup for. Today it was literally the time necessary to activate the phone and sync it once. Kudos to the folks at Palm for a sweet restoration process!

Tagged with:
Aug 08

Notice I didn’t say “bad” – just weird. There’s actually not one thing I dislike about the Macbook – in every respect it’s superior to my Inspiron and OS X just feels more stable. If I was rock climbing and I had to choose between my Mac or my PC to belay for me, there’s no question… and the only “ugliness” I’ve encountered in this process so far has been related to trying to get some of my must-have windows apps moved over and working under Parallels. The “weirdness” is really more a function of being used to the windows way of doing things. Let me explain.

The GoodMacGoodWeirdUgly.jpg

What I like so far:

  1. It just works. It can’t be said any simpler than that. Apps install with one click on a Mac and I haven’t once found myself sitting with crossed fingers waiting for the little hourglass to go away. I’m told by a couple seasoned Mac veterans to be sure to store all my stuff in my home directory so that in the event I ever have to reinstall the OS, I can rebuild from scratch and all the data and applications will be untouched. Try that on a PC… If you have every had to “start from scratch” on Windows you know that you can lose two days of productivity to get back to square one and there’s no way around it since data is strewn all over the registry and in various system folders. Kimbro tells me he has been rolling his home directory for the last five Macs he’s had and it’s worked every time – that’s a comforting feeling to have that kind of portability for setting up future systems.
  2. You don’t need as much screen real estate. I was running WUXGA on my Dell before (1920×1200 pixels) – I figured moving from that resolution down to a constraining 1280 x 800 would surely leave me feeling cramped. Nope. Exposé owns my bones- you can fly around with plenty of windows open and be just as productive only with less screen to work with. Apparently Mac uses a vector-based GUI rather than Windows raster-based system so things can be re-sized in either direction (zoomed in or out) to achieve better usability for sight-impaired persons or cramming maximum windows on the screen at once for the 20/20 neurotic programmer.
  3. Think different – there is really something behind that tag line. The things you find yourself missing from Windows evaporate once you get the Apple method. Note- I am G-R-E-E-N at this point with OS X and the UNIX command line but I can see the power in becoming proficient with the low-level OS features. It’s like being able to open the hood of your car and change your own oil and tweak the carbs once you know how things work. My PC’s “resting heart rate” when I ditched it last Friday was 658MB of RAM on start-up… it took six minutes to boot up and before I could do anything the OS was consuming 1/3rd of the available RAM and running 80-some-odd processes — and I had the max amount of RAM in the machine, 2GB! Contrarily, the Mac boots error-free in about 30secs each time. Granted it’s a fresh system at this point but booting my Windows machine always seemed like a crap shoot to see what error messages I would get each time.
  4. It’s the little things. Who knows how to measure this effect objectively, but in the same way that using mindmapping as a note-taking style makes me feel more unbounded in my thinking, working on the Mac the past few days I feel less like I’m shackled to a computer and more like I’m using a natural tool to amplify my talents. And like it or not that’s important. It may sound like wishy-washy, koolaid-drinking Mac talk and I don’t know how you quantify/qualify this effect but if the sum of all these tiny comforts translates to a more pleasurable experience while working on the computer, then you will be more inclined to fire it up and do stuff in your free time rather than shudder at the prospect of having to go back to it. And in the end, it’s not what you can do with a tool, it’s what you will do with it that matters. The response I would anticipate from a die-hard windows user is “but I can do xyz too!” Maybe so, but if there’s any friction associated with the task, the real question becomes “will you do it?”

The Weird

Okay so now for the things might weird you out a bit in the move if you’ve been on Windows for awhile:

  1. No right click on the touchpad (see below – thanks Bakeshizzy!)- you have to use “ctrl” to get the same contextual menu. Or just use a mouse with right-click.
  2. Tabbing to a checkbox field on a web page doesn’t work (see below – thanks Martin & Jolyon!) – odd behavior but I’m used to tabbing through the login fields for instance and hitting spacebar to fill out the checkbox. Doesn’t behave that way on OS X for some reason, it sends you to the URL bar in the browser.
  3. The touchpad feels strange – at first, but after even a day, going back and using a windows touchpad feels extremely twitchy and difficult to control.
  4. Ejecting images – Each time you install something on a Mac it typically mounts an image and you either drag the app or run an installer. This step will feel completely foreign to windows users but you’ll get over it quickly when you realize setup is hassle free and doesn’t require a five-step dialogue to work.
  5. No Delete key (see below – thanks Peter!) – that’s right. There’s only a backspace key on the Mac. Perhaps there’s some secret key-combo to getting the functionality of the delete key but there’s no specific key to delete stuff to the right of the cursor.

The Ugly

Again, the only ugliness has been related to getting the crucial parts of my windows setup moved over.

  1. Virtual PC does not yet run natively on Intel Macs. I have a VPC instance that mirrors my production server and I develop against that to test and then use SVN to move the code live and it works everytime. The problem is that right now the only option for running this VPC on my Macbook is to run it under Rosetta which is an emulator in itself. So it would be emulating an emulation – very Malkovitch Malkovitch. No desire to go that route. The options now seem to be either recreating the production instance under parallels or waiting for VMware to arrive (which was just announced this morning by the way). I tried using Acronis True Image to port my whole laptop over to a Parallels instance and it failed throwing some kind of boot device error. I haven’t actually tried using Acronis from within the VPC instance to do the same but supposedly it works.
  2. No easy way to transfer files to the parallels instance – it seems you have to do a crazy tapdance in windows networking to make a simple file share to be able to pass files back and forth to the parallels instance. VPC had some built-in tools to make it a simple matter of drag-n-drop to move files into the virtual instance. It looks like I will be fighting with the loopback adapter interface in Windows again to get this working…

UPDATE – of course not five minutes after I publish this my friend Benny points out that Parallels has the same toolkit upgrade for adding an easy method of sharing files with Mac OS X. It’s not the same drag-and-drop simplicity but basically it’s a suite of add-ons that get installed under XP that automatically share your My Documents folder with OS X. Very cool.

So there you have it- the good, the weird and the ugly. My PC instance actually runs way faster on the Mac under Parallels than it did on my Dell. Go figure. I’m looking forward to learning the in’s & out’s of OS X and all the productivity-enhancing tweaks that can be made. At the trebel suggestion of Kimbro, Benny and Max, I’m running with Adium, Quicksilver, and OmniOutliner. The other stuff I’ve added is Flash 9, Firefox, Skype, Palm Conduit, SVNx, Mac the Ripper, Aqua Data Studio, Chicken of the VNC, RDP client, Freemind, Eclipse, Kismac, iShowU, Stuffit Expander and Google Earth. The Time Machine feature in Leopard that they announced today seems valuable. We’re running a Mirra backup appliance in the office so we basically have that functionality now plus their service has a web accessible recovery option to restore your files remotely. I’ll write more about that setup later as we use it. Let me know if I’m missing any must-have Mac apps.

preload preload preload