Issue 17 – Are you listening? Plus – innovation, indecision, and imaging a trillion frames per second.

Posted on September 5th, by kate in issues. Comments Off

[ Date of this issue was Sunday Sept 2nd ]


Hello Go-Getters!

We’ve got a really fantastic edition of TLN for you this week – so many great in-depth reads on topics we love like the importance of listening, a look behind the scenes at Stripe, and a study on “noncommissioned work”. As always, send any feedback or guest-posting ideas to


News to know


Leadership – Work, Life, Listen

The Imperfect Balance Between Work and Life

“DIY might work well for hobbies, .. successful work-life integrators delegate like crazy, resources permitting.”

Get comfortable with the idea that you can have it all, but it won’t all be perfect all the time. Understanding that life gets bumpy – and learning from those bumps, working with them and not fighting them – is how we rise above to achieve what we want.


You’re Not Listening

I love this post and agree with so many of the key points he makes. Being a present, engaged listener is such an important part of your job as a leader, and this article nails it. So many great points I want to touch on here, but you’ll have to read the whole thing to dig into the meat of it. Some highlights:

  • Start out slow; it’s tempting to cut to the chase to save time but making smalltalk matters. “Your preamble states your intent: ‘Outside of this door it is professionally noisy. Inside of this room, we are going to talk and listen.’”
  • “23 minutes into your 1:1, you remember an essential part of one of the other disasters going on today and you glance at the clock… and they notice.” Maintaining your mental presence in a meeting validates your relationship with your co-worker and allows the relationship to evolve rather than stay on one level.
  • “Talking about things that appear to have no substantive value to the conversation or the business – that’s ok. Over time, this will allow you to build connective tissue, to further develop your mental profile of this person. When you understand what they really care about, you’ll be better equipped to have bigger conversations, and that is where trust is built.”

I love how he wraps this article up too (with the simple reminder that not talking *is* an option too), explaining that being an empathetic listener can be faked, but the value of committing yourself to it seriously will repay you again and again.


Teams & Process – Cohesive Culture

What it’s like to work for Stripe

Love the transparency and communication in this company’s culture.  Of course it is hard to scale but certainly could make a ton of sense for business units in bigger companies.  Here is a summary of the things like liked from the post:

  • A cc: everyone email culture (people who don’t want to read it can filter)
  • Weekly all-hands to keep everyone on the same page
  • Everyone interacts and supports their customers
  • A strong focus on culture, including team building activities like hackathons, and extra effort for onboarding new hires
  • A desire for continuous improvement, for themselves (like using whitepapers to keep tech skills fresh) and their company culture.

Go Stripe!

And for the techies:  The Stripe team reads whitepapers and you can check out their reading liston github!


Another great case for 20% time – Free Time Frees Innovation

A recent study explores how “Noncommissioned Work” (a term borrowed from Daniel Pink) to offer some explanation for why these programs yield innovative ideas.  The reasons:

  • Noncommissioned work offers autonomy. Evidence indicates that employees are more motivated to work on projects and more creative in their work when they’re given freedom to set their schedule and structure their tasks.
  • Noncommissioned work reduces incentive salience. (now that sentence is a mouthful) While a final conclusion is up for debate, there is a strong line of research supporting the concept that extrinsic rewards such as bonuses and prizes actually decrease the creativity of the intended individual.
  • Noncommissioned work increases risk-taking. At its heart, innovation requires risk-taking.


Career Development – Innovation and Indecision

7 Ways Conferences Cause You to Innovate

There are a lot of benefits to conferences – staying up on trends, meeting other people in your field, and providing inspiration.

This article covers a few good reasons – which is great fodder as a reason, but also a good reminder of take aways to pay attention to when you are attending.

  • You may discover your tribe, and your tribe helps you grow. “I belonged, along with thousands of others, to something we believed in. Those conferences kept a vision of what we stood for palpably ALIVE and as result I poured my soul into my tribe for 15 years.”
  • Your standards get challenged and raised. This is such an important part of the conference experience – seeing things you hadn’t imagined before and getting to meet the people who came up with them.
  • Your wildest creative nature gets shoved in the right direction. These environments let you break out of the norm and devote yourself, even briefly, to the ideas that excite you while surrounded by the best people to help you make them happen.


How-to get that guy as your mentor

If you know you need a mentor, but you don’t actually know how to do it, this article breaks it down step by step from making an introduction to establishing investments and equity.


A Tool for Mapping Your Goals and Resolving Career Indecision

Taking mathematical approach can give you insight into which direction you really want to go in.

  • Set Objectives – Figure pros and cons; think internally and externally.
  • Evaluate Alternatives Against Your Objectives – Judge the possible outcomes and assign them ratings in a matrix.
  • Subjectively Quantify Performance – Give each point a weight, and calculate how alternatives stack up against each other.
  • Interpret The Results – Use the matrix to give you some insight into the path for you.


Tech – Context and Consequences

20 controversial programming opinions

I actually agreed with quite a few of those – although like most technical approaches/decisions/paths it all depends on the context of the situation….

For example:

  • Less code is better than more!
  • Getters and Setters are highly overused.
  • “Googling it” is okay!


[ deep thinking ]

// this section will be a great reminder of how much you don’t know…
// and don’t we all need to be reminded of that now and again?

Efficient Subgraph Matching on Billion Node Graphs (via Microsoft Research)

And for the experts – an advanced graph theory whitepaper that just sounds like a fun problem (and this is what I think of when it comes to big data problems).  I wonder how much of this could apply to search, relevancy and data mining….


Is a federated Twitter even possible?

I liked this post because it poses an interesting question about software architecture and tradeoffs.  “The qualities that make Twitter interesting are direct consequences of its centralized architecture.”

I love pondering these problems and scenarios.  Twitter is a type of “big data” I find fascinating – there are many thousands of tweets per second streaming in, being sorted and updated so when you go to my twitter stream or search for terms in the tweet it all shows up quickly. It is fast, real time processing and I am consistently impressed when I learn about all the smart things that make it possible.


Damn Cool Algorithms: Homomorphic Hashing

I love this post – the author (Nick) takes a complicated whitepaper and explains it in a simple way that is easy to understand. A homomorphic hash function computes the hash of a composite block from the hashes of the individual blocks. With a construction like this, we could distribute a list of individual hashes to users, and they could use those to verify incoming blocks as they arrive as in a peer-to-peer network.


Deconstructing the database

This is a talk by the guy who invented Clojure on the complexity of database


[ Tech Interview Questions ]

Bookmark worthy:  Machine Learning textbook for students and researchers (via Google Research)


Product – Remember The Customer

Being Real Builds Trust

Authenticity is important, but speaking clearly is also key.  When it comes to your website and product make sure your content speaks your customers’ language.

The mantra to follow: if your momma can’t understand the words on your website, why would anyone else?


Illustrating the Big Picture : Journeys, Experiences and Interactions

I came across this article from another great article on usability and finding the right  product/market fit, and I loved the idea of mapping a customer’s journey with your product/brand/organization over time.  There are some great examples and guidelines in this post to help you discover pain points and opportunities; and while I haven’t tried this approach I plan to do so on my next UX project.


[ Mobile ]

The Fall of Angry Birds

This is a great post on how to make money with iOS apps.  It is hard to believe that 18 of the top 25 grossing of all iOS apps are Free To Play Games (72%).

And despite the large variety of genres, they all have a similar monetization strategy: “they each have lots of in app purchases and they encourage the user to buy stuff (a call to action).”


Quick Bytes

[ Links I liked ]

Imaging at a trillion frames per second [ TED talk video ]

Have you ever wondered what the fastest thing in the universe would look like in slow motion? Researchers from MIT’s Media Lab have used femto-photography, an imaging technique so fast, to create slow-motion videos of light.  Amazing.


What Happens to Stolen Bicycles?

Bikes are one of the four commodities of the street — cash, drugs, sex, and bikes… ”

Yeah, I’d equate bike riding with sex and cash. ;)
This was an interesting article analyzing the risk/reward of bike theft.  My best idea: decorate your bike with your name and address – personalization to the point it sticks out and *might* be harder to sell on the streets.


Up and Down the Ladder of Abstraction

“It’s unacceptable that our tools for understanding game worlds outperform those for understanding the real world.”

This is a fantastic (albeit long) tutorial on how to use interactive visualization for exploring, understanding, designing, demonstrating some systems.  If you work in games (or aspire to work with games) this is a must read.


[ Inward Focus ]

No Email

Life is all about priorities, and I know I am guilty of using email as an excuse/distraction/form of procrastination.

“If I’m trying to code I never stop to go and play video games but I did stop and check my email because I could justify it as work (‘work’ that is both significantly easier and provides a quicker dopamine hit than trying to solve a hard problem).”


12 Negative Thoughts Holding You Back

“I don’t have time to dream.” – The real tragedy in life doesn’t lie in not reaching your dream; it lies in having no dream to reach.  Devote yourself to an idea you believe in.  Follow your gut.  Overcome your fears.  Work on it.  Struggle with it.  Smile about it.  Make it happen.


[ Geeking Out ]

GPS vs WiFi: The Battle for Location Accuracy Using Yelp Check-Ins

Yelp data shows the location accuracy of iPhones, Androids and iPods (hint: don’t bother checking in with an iPod)


Magnetic Vortex Reveals Key to Spintronic Speed Limit

Small, fast data storage is the key to the next generation of mobile devices.  And every data storage medium today involves some sort of compromise:

  • DRAMs are very high density, cheap, but need to be constantly refreshed and as a result have higher power requirements.
  • SRAMs on the other hand, do not need to be refreshed and are the fastest semiconductor memory, but they are not as good as DRAMs for large blocks of memory because their silicon area footprint is much larger.
  • Of course there are various formats of PROM, like Flash, that hold their memory without power, but those technologies tend to be expensive and relatively slow.
  • Hard disks are the lowest-cost methods to deliver mass storage, but spinning disks are less reliable than the semiconductor alternatives.

A new technology called “spintronics” may have be a solution since it relies on electron spin rather than charge to acquire, store, and transmit data. Very cool.


We probably don’t need to worry about this just yet, but hackers could use brain scan devices to steal secrets from your mind.


[ Wordly Reading ]

A New Sincerity

A brilliant article (and link to video at the end) on sincerity, truthfulness, politics and media, and technology craftsmanship.

“We need to get past our current cynicism and ironic detachment, drag the best out of the ideologies of the last hundred years and form something entirely new out of them” – sincerity based on truth and facts.

Not like in media and politics where “sincerity is now simply about arguing earnestly for what you strongly believe. But it’s belief unsupported by facts in defiance of knowledge and information.”

I enjoyed this post and I think “Cock-fighting on the Hindenburg” is the best description of our culture I have heard in quite a while :)


How Paperbacks Transformed the Way Americans Read

If you think ebooks are turning the publishing industry inside out, that’s nothing compared to what paperbacks did – it is hard to believe that 70 years ago publishers thought paperback books would destroy the industry.


[ Just for fun ]

How Storms Got Their Names
In light of Hurricane Isaac some fun facts on storms: “Until 1979, storms were named only after women. When the ladies complained, men’s names were added into the mix.” Who knew?


WTF – One interesting marketing strategy: In India, Businesses Named After Hitler Defend Their Decision
And they are not just using the name – check out the dotted “i” in the picture. (thanks to Ian for the link)


Want to jump 9ft into the air?  Check out this new pogo stick!
Scientists have reinvented this classic toy to send adults bouncing more than 9 feet into the air (with flips and tricks).  They are hoping to create a new extreme sport like skateboarding and snowboarding.


Trivia:  Why do cat’s purr?  It has to do with their laryngeal muscles contracting….


Can’t Define The Cloud?

Maybe everyone you work with thinks the cloud is old news, but based on a survey of the general public… And did you know people actually thought that stormy weather could affect the “cloud”?  Crazy!

  • 54 percent of respondents claim to never use the cloud. 95 percent of those people actually do.
  • 22 percent of respondents “admit that they’ve pretended to know what the cloud is or how it works.” 14 percent have pretended during a job interview.
  • 56 percent think other people are pretending to know what it is, too.


[ Useful & Productive ]

Productivity: What Successful People Do With The First Hour Of Their Work Day
Breaking some long-standing habits and picking up new ones can kick-start your days. Even if the first one is a little hard to imagine — no email?? We’ll see…:)

5 Ways to Find Time for Exercise
It’s easy to find reasons not too, but as little as 10 minutes of exercise can do you body good! Try:

  • turning off the TV
  • getting off the Internet
  • making your transportation your exercise (aka – walk to lunch instead of driving!)


On a diet?  Stay away from those cereal bars.
They look healthy, but this new study shows they aren’t much better than cookies.  If you are going to eat the calories then I would stick to donuts and cake – at least those feel indulgent (and who doesn’t love some cake?).


“The only thing that makes one an artist is making art.” – David Rakoff

That’s all for this week! We’ll see you back here next Sunday.





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