Issue 13 – Are you a winner? Yes! *Olympics edition*
[ Date of this issue is Sunday August 5th ]
Hello Winners! (I am in a gold medal mood)
I hope you all are having a fabulous weekend. We’ve got a ton of great reads again this week, including the full Vanity Fair Microsoft article and a special section on the Olympics (and I feel like I have watched more TV in the last week, than all year). Enjoy!
And, as always, you can find the bonus links on the blog. :)
News to know
- Big Fish Games has announced an $8 monthly gaming subscription service across tablets, phones and PCs that will compete with Verizon’s offering announced last week.
- A first glimpse at the new Digg
- Amazon launches prime instant video for the tablet (Kindle fire and iPad app)
- More Turmoil at Zynga – The recent plunge in share price has set off investor lawsuits and an executive shakeup.
- Wildfire (social media marketing startup) acquired by Google – I wasn’t aware of them but they sold for a rumored $250M, so apparently they were doing great stuff with ad optimization….
Special Section: Olympics!
After officials banned the swimsuit that caused records to fall at the 2008 Games, scientists are back with a new outfit that could break more. While the article was definitely interesting, I think I enjoyed the comments best:
- “I have heard of polyurethane and polyethylene being used to do amazing things as part of next-generation body armor, sports equipment and artificial hips. And now competitive swimsuits.”
- “The simplest solution to this problem is to require all competitors to be completely naked.”
- “Even without clothes, swimsuit, they can find way to modify the body itself with microsurgical interventions to add buoyancy with implanted airtight nanotubes or some other kind of material.” (huh?)
Hydrodynamics of a swimmer – and it was interesting to see the physics and math applied to power and performance.
Every year I look forward to the summer Olympics for the water polo, swimming, and other events with shirtless guys with 6-pack abs (what can I say?). NPR had a little piece on how the athletes get those great physiques, and it isn’t a magic formula – just hard work and healthy eating. Now it is time for me to get off the couch and putting down these caramel crackers.
Leadership – Productivity, Focus, and Prioritization
This is one of the best lists of productivity tips I have seen in a long time. I have summarized them below, but read the list – you will get more done!
- Stop Checking Email in the Morning. The quickest way to time travel into the afternoon is to check email in the morning. Time-box your email.
- Don’t make Guilt Piles. You know that pile of books that you’ll never read that sitting next to the computer you are reading this blog post on? That pile of books is a monolith of guilt. Pick the book or two that you can read this week and put the rest away.
- If it’s important, Schedule It. You schedule an hour for a meeting at work and you show up, why not schedule an hour in your work day to read.
- Measure, then Cut. You can’t decide what to stop doing unless you know what you’re doing.
- Do smaller things. Find a small thing that you can do in a small amount of time and do it. Accomplish something small, anything and that will buoy you forward to the next thing.
- Let go of Psychic Weight. List out all the things that weigh you down and find out how to let them go.
- Schedule Work Sprints. It’s hard to focus all day. Just focus on one thing for 25 minutes. When you’re done, you’ll get a 5 minute break to do whatever you want.
- Stop Beating Yourself Up. Don’t feel so bad about not getting enough stuff done. Eat well, sleep well, say NO more often and try your best. Remember you can always make a small change in your system and try again tomorrow.
It’s an overly simple way of explaining things that are rarely simple. Though with hard work and determination much is possible, the author disagrees with willful ignorance of external factors like natural aptitude and outside advantages.
Stating the problem as the solution is not helpful at all. Might as well also add: “Everything is buyable as long as you have enough cash.” And: “Everywhere in the universe is reachable as long as you have a good enough space ship, lots of fuel, and a lot of time.”
Advice for breaking bad habits and making goods ones is usually accompanied by seemingly-simple “truths” that are much easier said than done. This article breaks down habits into a “habit loop” consisting of trigger, routine, and reward. The idea is that if you can become aware of each part of a habit, you can control it…in theory.
“I’m talking about taking slow, consistent, fearless and focused action.”
Becoming an expert, a successful specialist in your field will not happen overnight. They key is realizing that early, and adjust your game plan to prepare you for the long haul. It requires more than just reading a lot or doing a lot – everything has to be focus on your goal.
- Find your specialty. What are you passionate about?
- Start a blog. Build your status, find a base, and focus on quality over quantity.
- Study every day. Dedicate time to studying, a great creative with your resources. Already follow a blog? Find a podcast.
- Write every day. Turning an idea into text helps you work out the problems.
- Experiment. You’ll never know if an idea might work until you try! :)
- Strengthen yourself. Make skills that will build you success a priority – practice time management and stay current with technical procedures.
- Teach others. Teaching is a great tool for teaching yourself too.
- Ask from others. Interview, learn more, and get on their radar.
As much as I wish it wasn’t true, I have to agree with this article. There is very little to be gained by telling the whole truth when you depart a company. Wise words: “Just say positive things. Negativity is not going to help the company now or later.”
Tech – API Standards and App Dependencies
A good list of potential worries along with some useful tips for how to plan and prevent them.
- A tech titan moves into the space. “Take solace in the fact that you can move faster and be more creative than a giant corporation. Focus on what you can do that they can’t.”
- A buggy update to your app. Do testing and review with beta testers and software before a release (think shrink wrapped software). “Take the beta label off your product and keep an open, honest, and humble channel of communication with your customers.”
- API anxiety. External dependencies can always be problematic since you lose control. Always have a fallback plan in the event the API changes its terms or becomes unavailable. “If you’re relying on an API for a specific piece of functionality, make sure you have an understanding about how it works and create a plan to bring that functionality in-house if needed.”
- Platform shifts. It always sucks when your platform adds new “features” that aren’t compatible with your app. “The best thing you can do is install beta versions of their OS updates early and often and always develop against them.”
- Tracking the numbers. Knowing how users are interacting and engaging with your app. Just be careful of becoming too obsessed with the numbers. “There will always be rises and dips, but the idea is to just take a more general view and see how the overall product is being received and seeing how a longer term”
This is exciting since browsers are going to give developers more insight into the user experience with performance and timing APIs. It seems like collecting user data from browsers is in the near-future, which could be very powerful in multi-device or specific user situations. Here is one inspiring example from the post:
“The Page Visibility API allows for programmatically determining the current visibility state of the page. Developers can use this data to make better CPU- and power-efficiency decisions, e.g., throttling down activity when the page is in the background tab.”
Best practices on web semantics and html tags (worth referencing so you don’t hurt your SEO page value).
Process – What are product managers anyway?
It always seems like people get product, program, and project management roles confused, and each title can mean totally different things in each organization. I loved this article though, because it distills the key roles for any product manager working on a web product.
- Relationships: “The product manager forms and maintains the extensive network of relationships required to make sure the team understands problems so that it can propose, prioritize, design, build, and test the right solutions. For this, you need diplomacy, time, and communication skills.”
- Data and communication: Leadership is about keeping everyone on the same page and that means sharing the right information to the right audience in a medium and form they can use and understand. The specific areas cited: research, analysis, reports, presentations.
- User stories: “The product manager’s main deliverable is the user story.”
- Minimum viable product & road maps: In addition to creating the user stories for the current product (and defining what features make up the MVP), it is also necessary to track and prioritize future stories for future releases.
- Kano Model. The article also references the Kano model as a framework to select and choose features. Breaking features into 3 categories: basic, performance, and delightful.
This is a useful, fresh perspective on workflow design that can accommodate many screen sizes and new features. The plan: start with content, design for mobile, and keep things inter-operable. The lessons:
- Laser focus: create meaningful content and services.
- Orbit around data: create data that is interoperable, with multiple forms of access.
- Universal content: think about how your data is structured and stored. It needs to go anywhere.
- Unknown vessel, identify: rather than reacting to a specific device, classify device types which take into account future devices.
- Command your fleet: don’t target specific devices, but device capabilities.
A great article on making time for your priorities, and dealing with the day-to-day issues that often gets in between a company and their goals.
- Identify and focus on your biggest priorities. Commit your energy to projects that are going to make an impact on your business. Prioritize the biggest goals of your organization so that time is spent doing work that creates the most value; even if that means reevaluating how you were doing things before.
- Write down and complete two objectives every week. Completing a goal brings satisfaction. This simple truth is essential to creating positive momentum among your team – make it a priority to have two things to show for your hard work, rather than getting caught up in the day-to-day emergencies that sidetrack your team.
- Outsource non-core work. “Domestically, and across the world, there are businesses that can take on your non-core work and do it faster, better, and cheaper than you can.” Take advantage of your team’s talent, and free them from the nonessential tasks that just have to get done.
Will Android ever overtake Apple’s iPhone? This author poses that so much of the debate comes down to apps. From my own experience monetizing Android is often harder, testing apps on Android is more difficult, and promoting apps is a harder – so it definitely seems like there are some merits to this argument.
Tech Giants Near a Landmark Jury Trial Over iPhone and Android; Is It Innovation or Litigation? This trial is particularly interesting because a win on either side will have far-reaching implications for any product company. I plan to follow along as things happen, and for those of you who want more on this case check out this article on PC World that contains the actual jury instructions.
This is the full Microsoft Vanity Fair article, I reference in an issue a couple of weeks ago.
The whole post is pretty interesting and has some shocking facts & great quotes (my favorites of which I pasted in below).
Ultimately it ends with the question should Microsoft stay whole (or break off into pieces), and is Ballmer the right person to stay in the driver’s seat?
And for those interested, Page 4 talks about stack ranking.
In December 2000, Microsoft had a market capitalization of $510 billion, making it the world’s most valuable company. As of June it is No. 3, with a market cap of $249 billion. In December 2000, Apple had a market cap of $4.8 billion and didn’t even make the list. As of this June it is No. 1 in the world, with a market cap of $541 billion.
Exhibit A: today the iPhone brings in more revenue than the entirety of Microsoft.
To date, Bing has lost about $6 billion for Microsoft; add in the earlier search products and the amount of money poured into the effort rises to almost $10 billion.
More employees seeking management slots led to more managers, more managers led to more meetings, more meetings led to more memos, and more red tape led to less innovation. Everything, one executive said, advanced at a snail’s pace.
(and of course this quote makes me want to abolish all managers in my future-yet-to-be-started company; which is very ironic given my current role)
Don’t limit your thinking and ideas.
“The tyranny of category is when we think a thing is only what we have labeled it to be. A master of taxonomy and judgement has the illusion of expertise, since they choose what label an idea, or a person, is given.”
[ Geeking Out ]
A hacking expert has launched a $200 password-cracking tool that makes it easy to decipher Internet traffic sent through a widely used method for securing businesses communications. He says he’s doing it to call attention to the need for better security, but we will see what happens.
An iPhone without the cost of the iPhone? FreedomPop’s $99 iPod touch case.
Who knows if this technology can achieve what it claims, but it would definitely be interesting if it could.
[ Wordly Reading ]
Bruce Schneier always seems to be the voice of reason when it comes to security and privacy. There really is no reason to be afraid of movie theatres, cars are more dangerous by the numbers. “People tend to base risk analysis more on stories than on data. Stories engage us at a much more visceral level, especially stories that are vivid, exciting or personally involving.”
If you want to change the culture, change the stories.
And there are several government initiatives underway to help with just that: Viral Peace helps to discourage younger ones from joining the terrorist groups via social media and online communities. At DARPA, Narrative Networks is a program that “looks at how stories affect the brain and human behavior, with the goal of finding ways to present narratives that help persuade people not to become terrorists.” At the end of the article there was also a nod to some of the newer developments to help, including:
“Think fast: U.S. soldiers may soon be able to use a new technology called Sentinel, binoculars connected to a computer that would actually speed up the brain’s normal thought-processing so threats can be identified more quickly.”
I had no idea what was involved in shipping and driving semi-trucks. It is short and worth a read, since doing so will make you way more empathetic to those larger vehicles on the road. (link via the Way Back Letter)
[ Useful & Productive ]
This is a short post the highlights new research on the power of taking a break and allowing your subconscious to work through a problem. One key part of the research though, was that you *knew* you would be coming back to the problem. The recommendations:
- Prepare. Another boost for the incubation effect comes from preparation. If you’ve looked at the problem from more angles before you start incubating, there’s more chance your unconscious can give you some answers.
- Short breaks. Even relatively short periods of incubation can be successful. Studies have found that 30-minute incubation periods can be superior to 24 hours.
“We work harder to achieve a goal as we get closer to it”
This post highlights research done on loyalty cards and purchasing frequency. As people get closer to the goal, they move faster; implying that one can manipulate our actions (or the illusion of progress) by moving the goalposts.
Worth bookmarking: Ask YC Archive
A handy list of all the “Ask YC” threads from hacker news, organized and reviewed by topic and quality.
This is a great article – I still can’t believe how many companies focus more on time clocks instead of results.
This article has 3 simple but effective ways to change a habit:
- Make a specific action plan. Good habits require planning, so we need to break them down into actionable steps.
- Anticipate challenges. As you work toward a goal, you need to prepare for potential problems you’ll encounter.
- Stick with it (there are no 30-day guarantees). The time you need to commit depends on three factors: how difficult the new habit is to do, how often you do it, and how much it clashes with your current habits.
Free ebook: Organizing digital information for others.
Lots of good guidelines and best practices organizing content - it is quite long but there is some great tidbits throughout. The doc covers lists, facets, trees, metadata, taxonomies, and how to test your implementation (and I learned a cool new trick called card sorting!).
[ Just for fun ]
Creative block? The site Help Me Be Fucking Creative has some suggestions.
Answer: $682,450,750 and the figure includes $600 million for reconstruction of the Wayne Manor and Bat Cave destroyed in The Dark Knight. If you take out those expenses, and you can be Batman for a very reasonable $82.5 million (which includes Alfred).
How much does an illegal party organized through Facebook cost? Apparently $280,000 in Germany. I wonder if it was worth it?
Check out Twitter’s new digs! They are pretty….
“If I have the belief that I can do it, I will surely acquire the capacity to do it, even if I may not have it at the beginning.” — Mahatma Gandhi
That’s all for this week! See you next Sunday. :)