Issue 27 – Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted on November 20th, by katestull in issues. Comments Off

Hello superstars!

As Thanksgiving approaches, what are you thankful for? I’m thankful for so much this year, especially all of you! Articles you should definitely check out in this week’s TLN: why engineers suck at finding the right jobs, a lesson on free vs paid apps, and a scary look at why passwords can’t protect us anymore. As always, if you have any feedback, questions, or suggestions, feel free to just reply to this note and let me know! :)

News to know



Leadership – Pursue Your Right Job

A framework called OGSM (Objectives / Goals / Strategies / Measures)
OGSM was developed by automakers in the 1950s as a way to “cascade their strategic framework top down”.

  1. Vision and Big Objective. “Vision: what’s your vision of the future? Big Objective: what will happen when you get there?”
  2. Global Objectives. “The planning process starts with a set of objectives that overlap with the corporate vision and Big Objective. Example: achieve scale & create critical mass, drive adoption through great product, find a business model.”
  3. Goals Per Objective. “These goals are specific and have a numeric measurement that determines if you succeeded on achieving your objective. These are more tactical goals you can actually go and execute against.”
  4. Measures. “Measures are how you know your strategy is working. These should go beyond financial performance as every organization aspect is considered.”

Engineers Suck at Finding the Right Jobs
Is your job happening to you, or are you happening to your job? Lots of great advice on designing your career. “Most software engineers I know, are really bad at choosing the right job for themselves. They don’t design a career. Engineers are good at solving technical problems in an objective way, but when it comes to our jobs and future, we seem to struggle.”

And best of all he has some great advice on trust at the end (a subject I have written about too!): A lot of you are doing a great job without the rest of us noticing. If you don’t have a popular twitter account, blog, open source projects, published books or given talks at conferences, it might be hard to get yourself noticed or even know how much you’re worth. Trust is a big deal and if you are considering moving on, you probably don’t want your boss and your colleagues to know.”

Teams & Process – Stables + Volatiles

Stables and Volatiles
I read this article and reminded me a bit of my old post on v1 and v2 developers.  The hypothesis says that there are essentially two types of people:

  1. Volatiles that like to work under pressure, drive to execute and are great with a version 1.  Sometimes the results aren’t pretty and require a lot of clean up after the fact.
  2. Stables are those who will work tirelessly on growth.  They are reliable, calm, and help create predictability in a software process.

In many ways, both types are necessary to create and grow a business; however, as a product becomes more stable and less disruptive, it can be necessary to bring back the volatiles to shake things up and make a big bet.

What can you do?  I think this just about it sums it up:
“Your Stables are there to remind you about reality and to define process whereby large groups of people can be coordinated to actually get work done. Your Stables bring predictability, repeatability, credibility to your execution, and you need to build a world where they can thrive.
Your Volatiles are there to remind you that nothing lasts, and that the world is full of Volatiles who consider it their mission in life to replace the inefficient, boring, and uninspired. You can’t actually build them a world because they’ll think you’re up to something Stable, so you need to create a corner of the building where they can disrupt.

25 Entrepreneurs Tell What They Wish They’d Known before Founding Their First Startup
Thinking of starting your own company? Here’s a look behind the scenes at what a group of founders wishes they’d known the first time around. Top on the list are prioritizing the customer, building an amazing team, and learning how to turn long hours into quality hours.

  • “After working ourselves to a point of being burned out we realized that if we put in 40 x 2 hours the company didn’t move forward 2x faster. The reality is you’ll never be “done” with your work, you’ll never finish all the tasks, build all the features and have the perfect design.”  –Nick Francis, co-founder of Help Scout
  • “The number one thing I wish I knew is that the people around you affect your success more than you would ever imagine.”  –Allan Branch, co-founder of LessAccounting
  • “We built out what we thought was an awesome tool, but nobody wanted it. We wasted about $20k and about 1.5 years. I realized that as much as there is a shortage of tech talent, the hard part isn’t the technology — it’s getting user demand.  –Elizabeth Yin, co-founder of LaunchBit

Splunk: On culture, developer platforms, and commoditization
Splunk (a log-analysis software company) is focused on three main issues to deal with as it takes on a new market, targeting machine-generated data beyond logs:

  • Innovation comes from customers. The author calls Splunk’s change “evolutionary, not revolutionary” and is driven by real customer demand.
  • Going after developers and creating a platform. Splunk wants to be a platform not a program – they now need to reach out to developers instead of the sysadmins they’ve pursued in the past.
  • Entering a broader market, commoditization from below. Splunk faces challenges from existing competitors in the market, along with the growing number of startups and open source projects vying for space too.


Tech – FizzBuzz, fuzzywuzzy,and Fountain Codes

Speeding algorithms by shrinking data
When it comes to big data most people are focused on the algortihms that makes things fast. This group of researchers took a different spin to make big data small.

“MIT researchers take the opposite approach, describing a novel way to represent data so that it takes up much less space in memory but can still be processed in conventional ways. While promising significant computational speedups, the approach could be more generally applicable than other big-data techniques, since it can work with existing algorithms.”

Although after reading the paper – it seems like a way of employing aggregates or run length encoding to GPS data – so while novel for that application (and potentially others) the real advantage is thinking about big data differently.

Fountain Codes and how math makes networks faster
Get ready to be smarter. I had never heard of Fountain codes, until Bryce sent me the following: Leapin’ lizards! This is a damn cool way to transmit large documents in a lossy wireless environment. Trades a decrease in theoretical bandwidth for an increase in effective bandwidth. Now that’s a neato trick!

(The second link is a bit easier to grok than the wikipedia page linked first)

Message-Oriented Programming
I am seeing this a lot more recently as more programs are becoming event-based and focused on the flow of data and interactions.

“As Joe Armstrong put it in Coders at Work, “You wanted a banana, but what you got was a gorilla holding the banana and the entire jungle.” Other parts of the system can grow to expect this baggage, making it harder to swap out the module down the line. […] Designing around the messages, rather than the objects, brought my whole system into focus.

And if you want to be down on OOP some more check out this post, “Object-oriented programming isn’t the fundamental particle of computing that some people want it to be.”

The Internet is not a black box. Look inside.
As it becomes easier and easier to write code and build great looking apps using frameworks and tools, I have encountered more people who don’t really know what is happening under the covers. Dig deeper my friends – you can almost always figure out anything by looking inside the box.

Bookmark me: Useful Talks And Videos From Web Design Conferences
A long list of different sites that are cataloging slides and talks from web design conferences – there were some I didn’t know about like Organized Wonder and ConFreaks (but beware, clicking on these links can result in hours of lost time).

FizzBuzz Still Works
Tech hiring — a justification on the importance of candidates being able to write some basic code in an interview.

“After a fair bit of trial and error I’ve come to discover that people who struggle to code don’t just struggle on big problems, or even smallish problems (i.e. write a implementation of a linked list). They struggle with tiny problems.”
If you are interviewing, it is worth getting comfortable enough to do some whiteboard coding.

Unifying Programming and Math – The Dependent Type Revolution
Even though I understand types and logic, some of this still seemed a bit too theoretical to be immediately useful.  However, I figured it was worth sharing, since it is interesting and could be more practical in the future.

“Due to a recent advance in mathematics called Homotopy Type Theory, programming and math are about to be unified on a practical level in a way that will fortify their strengths and overcome some of their respective weaknesses.”

Regex magic
Before clicking through guess what the following regex does: [ -~]

7 Python Libraries you should know about
A good list of lesser know libraries:

  1. pyquery (with lxml) – for parsing html fast
  2. dateutil – making dates easier
  3. fuzzywuzzy – fuzzy string comparison
  4. watchdog – monitor file system events programmatically
  5. sh – allows you to call any program as if it were a function
  6. pattern – “Data Mining, Natural Language Processing, Machine Learning and Network Analysis all in one”
  7. – makes file navigation easy

20 All Too Common Coding Pitfalls For Beginners
Excellent article on programming mistakes: “I’ve never made a stupid programming mistake.” Definitely worth sharing with the newer programmers around us ;)

Download – Ebook on Algorithms
Great compilation of the algorithms you really *should* know in computer science.


Product – Application Evolution

Mobile: Free vs Paid apps
This article makes a great case for shying away from pay-once apps (and also draws analogy with console games which I have used myself in the past).  I know if I was building a game that would be my preference.

“This pattern repeats with each opening of a new market. It happened with PC games. It happened with Playstation era console games. It happened with the casual games market. We are a mere few years from the death spirals in the console downloadable market. It is in the middle stage with social and mobile games where early successes still strut about feeling invincible.
Developers start out as independents and end up either out of the industry (very common) or working for someone else. It may take 10-15 years, but it is surprisingly predictable. I’ve come to the conclusion that long term, the hit-driven model found in disposable, packaged games is an anti-developer business model.

PopApp – iPhone prototyping made easy.
Allows you to take pictures and then connect your paper prototypes.  Pretty cool – the only thing better in my opinion is Keynotopia (which allows you to drag and drop and animate with Keynote or PowerPoint).

Early sketches from the web’s finest
Ever wonder how great products start? This is a great collection of the evolution of some of the web’s more well known products like Campaign Monitor and Instagram.



How Memory Works: 10 Things Most People Get Wrong
This article was so interesting to me (and this isn’t about computer memory, but your brain memory). Here are some tidbits:

  • Researchers think that in fact memory has a limitless capacity. Everything is stored in there but, without rehearsal, memories become harder to access. This means it’s not the memory that’s ‘going off’ it’s the ability to retrieve it.
  • Even things that you have long been unable to recall are still there, waiting to be woken. Experiments have shown that even information that has long become inaccessible can still be revived. Indeed it is then re-learned more quickly than new information.
  • It turns out that for long-term retention, memories are more easily recalled if learning is mixed up. This is just as true for both motor learning, like tennis, as it is for declarative memory, like what’s the capital of Venezuela (to save you googling: it’s Caracas).

Study: Receiving a Compliment has Same Positive Effect as Receiving Cash
We all know we should dole out praise for a job well done. And you may have also heard that positive reinforcement tends to work better than criticism in most situations. But you may not realize how powerful compliments can be.

“The result indicates that receiving a compliment after exercising stimulated the individuals to perform better even a full day afterward. […] The researchers had previously discovered that the same area of the brain affected in this study, the striatum, is activated when a person is rewarded a compliment or cash.”

The power of daydreams: 4 studies on the surprising science of mind-wandering
“While most people think of mind-wandering as a lifting escape from daily drudgery, the Track Your Happiness data shows that this may not the case. In fact, mind-wandering appears to be correlated with unhappiness. When people were mind-wandering, they reported feeling happy only 56% of the time. Meanwhile, when they were focused on the present moment, they reported feeling happy 66% of the time.


Quick Bytes

[ Links I liked ]

The Next Workplace Revolution
These days, more people are discovering they don’t need to be in a cubicle to get their job done effectively. But not all of these people are dedicated work-at-homers either. Instead, a community of flexible workers who operate from home, from the main office, and from one-time meeting facilities and co-working spaces has developed to fit the real day-to-day needs of the modern employee.

How to Engineer Increased Sales & Happy Customers With Behavioral Psychology
Some smart conclusions in this article:

“You should construct your unique selling position (USP) around your ideal customer. Identify which customers are right for YOUR product, and craft your brand, testimonials, and marketing efforts to play on those traits favorable to this customer.

For example, a flashy “explainer” video on your homepage might work well for a tech startup, but it will throw people off if you’re selling hearing aids. Similarly, is it any wonder why Gillette would grab celebrities like Adrien Brody & Andre 3000, while the AARP reaches out to people like Betty White?”

Kill the Password: Why a String of Characters Can’t Protect Us Anymore
“You have a secret that can ruin your life. It’s not a well-kept secret, either. Just a simple string of characters—maybe six of them if you’re careless, 16 if you’re cautious—that can reveal everything about you.”

An interesting read on the dangers of our current security around our digital lives. Even though I know it is true, it still scared me a little bit. “No matter how complex, no matter how unique, your passwords can no longer protect you.” Perhaps it is time for some biometric alternatives?


[ Inward Focus ]

The Zen of Dogs: On Mindfulness, Compassion, and Connection
Somehow I always knew that dogs are better human beings than most of us – they are endlessly positive, they never get mad at you, and they know how to have a good time. Whether you’re a dog lover or not, this is a great story about “life lessons learned from Ralph”, a golden retriever.

Positive People Attract People and Breed Successful Careers
This isn’t the first article or post touting the benefits of being positive. It does have some good exercises to try at the bottom, and lots of wise words throughout:

  • The person who thinks positively usually sees endless possibilities and empowers others to feel the same.
  • Psychologists say that positivity is a matter of habit. So all of us can benefit from practicing some of these “habits” in order to become more positive and ultimately more effective and successful in life. 

[ Geeking Out ]

The Nerd Parent’s Guide: When and how to introduce your kids to Star Wars
Every kid should see Star Wars. But when? :)

  • Show Star Wars to your kids when you think they can discuss and analyze the themes appropriate. That might be 5, it might be 10. They’re your kids.
  • Don’t forget you can skip parts.
  • Make the films an event with crafts and discussion of mythology rather than just dumping in on their little brains.

How a Man Found Out He Has Testicular Cancer From Taking a Pregnancy Test
I actually saw this on the regular TV news – but I didn’t hear the part about Reddit.  Apparently one reddit user created a comic about taking his ex-girlfriend’s pregnancy test, and another user commented that it could be an indicator of testicular cancer.  Weird science + social networks = early detection?

New Self-Repairing Material Invented at Stanford
“This is the first material of its kind that can sense pressure and heal itself when burned, torn or cut — a little bit like human skin.” Excited to hear about this and the potential applications in medicine and prosthetics.


[ Wordly Reading ]

How Dead Is the Book Business?
Last month Random House and Penguin, two of the world’s six largest publishers, announced that they were coming together.

“When you see a merger between two giants in a declining industry, it can look like the financial version of a couple having a baby to save a marriage.”

I thought the first page was the most interesting as it paints the past with the Steel industry growing into a monopoly and then collapsing when pitted against international competition; versus Sears which had to out-innovate it’s competition to maintain viability in the market.  Definitely interesting to muse about what will happen in the publishing (and other) industries as they consolidate.

When a Palm Reader Knows More Than Your Life Line
Privacy concerns abound as more hospitals and other public facilities incorporate palm prints and other biometric identification tools.

“Let’s say someone makes a fake ID and goes in and has their photo and their palm print taken as you. What are you going to do when you go in?” said Pam Dixon, the executive director of the World Privacy Forum. “Hospitals that are doing this are leaping over profound security issues that they are actually introducing into their systems.”

How a $20 tablet from India could blindside PC makers, educate billions and transform computing as we know it
“Our effort in all of this,” says Tuli, “Was to use technology to fight poverty. What happens when you try to make it affordable at this level?”

Jose Mujica: The World’s “Poorest” President
An interesting profile of the president of Uruguay, who lives in an old farmhouse and gives away most of his pay every month.


[ Just for fun ]

Venice Under Water
(thanks for the link, Ian!)
Crazy!  I can’t believe people are actually swimming in the canals – gross.

Say It Ain’t So! Twinkies Maker to Liquidate, Lay Off 18,500
“Hostess Brands, the bankrupt maker of Twinkies and Wonder Bread, said it had sought court permission to go out of business after failing to get wage and benefit cuts from thousands of its striking bakery workers.”
Is America actually getting healthier and consuming less twinkies and cupcakes?

Quora thread – To be happier, what’s the smallest, simplest thing an average person could do? Lots of good ideas :)
My advice:  Think of a person (teacher, neighbor friend, family, anyone) from your past that changed you for the better. Now send them a note to let them know how they helped you on your journey (and be specific). You will be amazed how how great you feel afterward.

21 Funny Resumés & Cover Letters (photo slide show)
CVs and cover letters can be fun – just sometimes not on purpose.  For example, some of these highlight an applicant’s “cat-like reflexes” and “pleasant aroma” (and not all of them SFW so you know they are good!). “AWWWWWWW YEAH”

The world of movies that could have been: Smell-O-Vision!

11 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Taxidermy
All sorts of interesting tidbits, i.e.:
“When Captain John Hunter sent the first pelt and sketch of a platypus back to England in 1798, many assumed it was a hoax—that someone had sewn a duck’s bill to the coat of a beaver.”


[ Useful & Productive ]

What do captivating presentations and great plays have in common?
It all comes down to structure.  If you want to nail your next presentation be sure to check out the advice in this HBR article and TED talk by Nancy Duarte.

The fundamentals of startup marketing
While not *exactly* tech related, this is definitely one worth bookmarking for reference for anyone in a leadership role at a startup.

“It’s not happy people who are thankful, it’s thankful people who are happy.” –Unknown

Happy Thanksgiving!

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