Issue 8 – Should you quit? Cancel Facebook? And what does USPP stand for?

Posted on July 4th, by katestull in issues. Comments Off

Technology & Leadership News


Hello Hot Shots!

Welcome to the latest edition of tech leadership news! As always, you can find bonus links here for your reading pleasure. If you’ve got something to say, or would like to add commentary in the future, you can send an email to


Tech – Turing, Testing, and Tuning (performance)

Using Machine Learning to Multi-Variate Test UI (via Way Back Letter
This snippet of code that represents the epsilon-greedy method shows how it is very easy to implement A/B test (well it is actually more of a multivariate test) and have the code consistently adapt to usage.  Very clever and a nice use of machine learning.

Back To Basics: You Aren’t Smarter Than the Compiler (plus fun with Microbenchmarks)
This article goes through the importance of profiling, emphasizing that small code optimizations are interesting but a small part of the overall equation – so make sure you look at the whole picture like the DB and the network, yo!

“What’s the moral of this story? Measure and profile and make a good judgment. Microbenchmarks are fun and ALWAYS good for an argument but ultimately they exists only so you can know your options, try a few, and pick the one that does the least work. More often than not (not always, but usually) the compiler creators aren’t idiots and more often than not the simplest syntax will the best one for you.[ . . .] The Rule of Scale: The less you do, the more you can do of it.”

Turing and A New Aesthetic – thoughts on AI and sexuality.
This was an article that was a little hard to read but I learned a thing or two, including some history on Turing:
“Alan Turing was really a genius and he thought in some severely orthogonal ways. He got some respect for his intellectual accomplishments, but he never found much in the way of warmth, public approval and sympathy.

If you study his biography, the emotional vacuum in the guy’s life was quite frightening. His parents are absent on another continent, he’s in boarding schools, in academia, in the intelligence services, in the closet of the mid-20th-century gay life. Although Turing was a bright, physically strong guy capable of tremendous hard work, he never got much credit for his efforts during his lifetime.”

As well as some interesting perspective on femininity, cognition, and artificial intelligence.  The essay is long and interesting, and largely exploratory.  Worth reading if you have extra time. My favorite quote is pasted below.

“Like a lot of mathematicians, Turing thought that mathematics was the metaphysical bedrock of reality. Philosophers think the universe is made of statements. We creative writers think it’s all made of poetry. When plumbers are philosophers they think that the universe is composed of pipes.”

Going Colo – a story on selecting a location for your hardware
While the article isn’t actionable the information on tradeoffs and pricing were enlightening.  It seems like pricing in these places is a bit old school – I wonder if it will get disrupted with the increase in cloud and infrastructure as a service providers?

Handy infographic on How to Retina-fy Your Website
Will work for both mobile and desktop and gives you a flowchart of what to do with each of your images, charts, and text.


Product & Process – Recruiting and “Click Here”

The Recruiting Honeypot – if you are doing recruiting, or looking for a job, you should read this article
This article is chock full of so much good information and pretty much every point jives with my personal experience hiring.

Here were some tips from the article:

  • All the recruiting action happens on Linkedin
  • Personalize your emails!  Seriously, if you are using LinkedIn to do hiring it is important to stand out
  • Recruiters lie with vague comments about referrals – flattery can get you places but don’t lie since when the candidate asks and you don’t have an answer it will reflect poorly on you and the company
  • Startups tend to do more of the emails than big companies – be wary of who is your competition in the war for talent
  • Make external recruiters you hire agree to an 18-month no-poach policy.  Otherwise you risk them going after your employees
  • The best recruiters were the employees, founders and executives at the companies – so look for recruiters with startup backgrounds and when you find a good one figure out how to keep them loyal.

Why Your Links Should Never Say “Click Here”
“Click” Puts Too Much Focus on Mouse Mechanics  – and there are no mice on mobile!
“Here” Conceals What Users are Clicking – and this means you can be more concise in your verbiage.
The article also includes tips to help you phrase links the right way in your UI – including how to link to specific things and how to phrase things so you try to end with the link itself.

Leadership – Passion, purpose, and when to give it all up

Thoughts About Work – Alignment and Your Passion
It is hard to turn passions into a job (and even if one could get paid for playing video games all day I would be kind of embarrassed to admit that World of Warcraft, or Diablo 3, was my life).  However, we spend many hours working per week and it is our responsibility to make sure we are harnessing that energy in an optimum way.  These 3 questions will get you thinking about priorities, alignment and goals and hopefully help you channel some more passion into your work.

  • What are you paid to do?
  • What is it you actually do?
  • What is it that you would love to do?

What Makes a Good Engineering Culture?
There was a thread on quora talking about engineering culture and there were a ton of great comments.  The top one had some great points summarized as these 10 things:

  • Optimize for iteration speed
  • Push relentlessly toward automation
  • Build the right software abstractions
  • Develop a focus on high code quality with code reviews
  • Maintain a respectful work environment
  • Build shared ownership of code
  • Invest in automated testing
  • Allot 20% time
  • Build a culture of learning and continuous improvement
  • Hire the best

There was also a good list of links about other teams and their cultures.  Definitely worth exploring if you have the time.

Jeff Bezos Taught Me When to Quit
I don’t know if I agree with everything in this article, but the author makes a good point about taking charge of your own situation. If you are in a bad workplace environment, you can’t wait for someone higher up to notice and come save the day.

“I realized that Bezos’ leaders were the leaders, not me.  No CEO wants to babysit disputes between leaders and staff.  Either the CEO figures out the leader is no good and fires the leader or the staff should quit and find something better.”

If you have a goal, you can’t sit around and wait for it to happen to you. Sometimes you have to take stock of your real situation, and make the decision to stay or go.

How to Find Compassion in Your Most Difficult Moments
How many times have you been feeling down, and snapped at someone who needed something from you? We are all guilty of falling into this trap – because it’s easy – and no one ever feels better afterwards. This article is all about remembering that, and choosing in our weakest moments to treat others with compassion and sincerity.

Two of her key points have to do with taking breaks when you need to, and treating yourself with compassion too. These two ideas really flow together, and serve as a reminder that you can’t be effectively compassionate with other people when you’re not cutting yourself any slack. It’s exhausting to be perfect all the time, and exhaustion leads to frustration and less empathy for others.

“Compassion is sometimes misunderstood as sacrificing yourself and giving everyone else what they want all the time, but it is not. Compassion means acting from a balanced perspective.”

Mobile Strategy & News [special section]

Thinking About a Mobile First Strategy?
There was a great discussion on Hacker News about that topic (the article itself, while it provoked the discussion is rather light) linked above.  My thoughts on the topic are as follows:

  • Mobile is on the rise, and rising fast.  The more I talk to people the more I hear stories of mobile representing >30% of traffic, and greater than 50% for some ecommerce sites!
  • Focusing on mobile forces you to focus. This was called out in one of the comments as the key message in this post (  By designing for mobile and limited screen it helps distill down what parts of the application are truly essential.
  • Mobile and desktop are different.  So are phones and tablets.  Design the experience for the screen size.  This is key because mobile users like interacting, swiping around and don’t mind going through several screens to complete a task.  This is not true on a web browser where even a page refresh seems so old school.  One size does not fit all.
  • App discovery is still problematic. You can have the most amazing app in the world, but you should think about distribution (marketing, advertising, sharing, websites, etc) since relying on app store placement or promotion is a gamble and not necessarily sticky enough long term.

Apple’s Formula for Amazing iOS Apps
Great summary of tips and tricks for creating amazing apps.  The post is largely focused on UX and functionality but worth reading/skimming if you are building, or considering building, for iOS.
And on a side note this article ( had some interesting app stats – did you know you could buy all the apps for $1,182,639? And that there were 623,026 total apps and almost half of them are free (49.1%)?

An Open Source HTML 5 Mobile Game!
For a while now I have been talking about how mobile apps won’t be native except games – the same way console games are the only type of software you really buy on disk anymore.  There has been so much great stuff thanks HTML5, responsive design, and projects like Cordova (, and now there is even an open source html5 game! I haven’t downloaded it yet, but it is worth checking out if you are considering investing in mobile.

Device Sensors in Android 
Best practices for accessing/using sensor data from Android devices – although most of the tips are extensible to any device.

News To Know

Quick Bytes

Goodbye Facebook
This author explains why he is getting rid of his Facebook profile.  And his complaint that the new algorithm that prioritizes your feed results in a newsfeed “filled with memes, reshares and fluff.”

He goes on to say “Instead of seeing real updates from my friends, I see content that doesn’t even remotely relate to me. Here’s a classic example: I simply thought one of my friends just didn’t use Facebook very often. One evening, over pizza and wine she’s telling me about a breakup and a poem she posted. I never saw the poem. When I visited her Timeline I realized she had been posting every day and it never once showed up in my Newsfeed.”

And to be honest, I feel the same way.  I used to love seeing people’s posts, especially the people I hadn’t connected with in a while.  However, now I find my newsfeed worthless.  And I used to find that Facebook would drive a ton of engaged traffic to my blog, and now twitter users are more engaged – my friends don’t even see my links that I post.   Anyway, I am not ready to quit Facebook yet, but I definitely don’t use it as much anymore.

Where has all the Money Gone?  A Thread on Debt and the Current Money Crisis
If you are wondering about the Federal deficit and credit crisis this thread has a pretty good explanation on credit and the economy, written plainly and easy to understand (however if you have an economics background and understand debt & credit I wouldn’t bother).

Apple’s Minimum Viable Product
Worth clicking through to see the picture – but this quote from the article sums it up:
“I think it’s important to remember when we’re all trying to start something from scratch that you have to start at zero, and the first product will probably suck. It’ll be a motherboard, when what you really wanted to build was an all-aluminum Macbook Air with a Retina display. But you gotta start somewhere.”

Spotify Must Win Hearts To Grow Subscribers
All of us have probably heard of Spotify’s rapid growth and their recent radio station launch, but this article poses the question: can this growth continue?
“Spotify wants to attract more users with a radio service, but since these additional users are likely more passive, the company must approach and serve them differently from their core audience if they want to earn their business. […] Spotify shouldn’t just try to recreate Pandora; it must redefine it.”

The End of the World: The State vs. the Internet
What’s the future of the Internet? This articles posits a couple of theories for where the Internet could be leading us – drawing on history and other cultures – and how we can take control of our direction.

“Our technologies have improved our lives, but they also create new problems that, very often social innovations and other technologies will be needed to solve.”

How Valuable is Your Network?
As introverts many of us often neglect building relationships and making new contacts.
However, having a strong network is very valuable in business. Take the time to think about your network and try to do at least one thing to improve it this week.

The World as We Knew it is Over. Now What?
“While this all started slowly, today every sector of the global economy is being affected by the relentless drive for efficiencies. This might have been obvious to you but it really struck home last week when I was trying to hang a picture. I was without a level and about to run out to get a level when Bridget said, “I’ll bet there’s a level app on the iPhone.” Sure enough there are 4 free apps plus a slew of them that cost 99 cents. I downloaded one in a minute. My new level worked great.

“While I’ve always been blinded the bright light of technology and innovation I started thinking about the negative effects of my actions. My decision to download the level app meant that the retailer, the level manufacturer, the metal supplier and all of their employees lost out on revenue. While my actions benefited me, as a consumer, it had broad implications for society, as a whole. By extracting economic inefficiencies, others in the society lost.”

Pay Attention to What Nick Denton is Doing with Comments
When the author writes about “The Commentariat”, we all know what he’s talking about. The comments section of most news sites has become an expected necessity, but one that no one is particularly happy with. Nick Denton at Gawker is trying to change that, by highlighting on-topic, thoughtful comments and letting the others fall by the wayside.

“This ensures that there is, by design, no way for regular participants (the Commentariat, a group Denton loathes) to use either volume or aggression to maximize attention. On Gawker…anyone can still say anything, but it’s no longer the case that anyone can say anything to everyone.”

Informed Consent: A Broken Contract
This article presents a really interesting conflict going on in the science and technology worlds right now. With more of our data – and data that’s more personal – being out in the world now, how can we control it and protect our privacy?

“The research coordinators who develop consent forms cannot predict how such data might be used in the future, nor can they guarantee that the data will remain protected. Many people argue that participants should have more control over how their data are used, and efforts are afoot to give them that control. Researchers, meanwhile, often bristle at the added layers of bureaucracy wrought by the protections, which sometimes provide no real benefits to the participants. The result is a mess of opinions and procedures that sow confusion and risk deterring people from participating in research.”

AutoCAD Malware That Steals Inventions
“Security researchers have come across a new worm that is meant specifically to steal blueprints, design documents and other files created with the AutoCAD software. The worm, known as ACAD/Medre.A, is spreading through infected AutoCAD templates and is sending tens of thousands of stolen documents to email addresses in China.”

Ready for a Quick Read on Robots?
This article from Smithsonian Mag explores the future of robots in the workforce.  Being super excited about Siri and some of the AI innovations big data and new more powerful hardware I don’t think robots are too far fetched.

Cool!  A Robot That Will Play Rock, Paper, Scissors with You!
And the cool part is that it will beat you every time (since it users computer vision and speed). Now if only it could wash dishes too!

Do You Know What USPP Stands For?
It’s the United States Pirate Party.  Seriously – how awesome is that?  Now where did I put that eye patch?

Using Tears to Reduce Aggression (yup, it’s true)
This is both fascinating and weird.  Women’s tears were said to decrease aggression in males.  So they are trying to figure out how to mass produce them to keep people calm.  It sort of sounds like a good thing on the surface but also a bit disturbing for some reason….

Bamboo Whiteboards
I totally want one of these!

If You Don’t Prioritize Your Life, Someone Else Will
“A ‘no’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.”

Looking for Some Summer Reading Suggestions?
The check out this thread on Hacker News.  I wish I could endorse some of the recommendations but I haven’t read most of them, so I just filled my queue :)

Diablo 3’s Real-Cash Auctions Begin in the Americas
Activision Blizzard’s new game Diablo 3 (which set an all-time launch-day record with more than 3.5 million copies sold!) is set to produce a new income stream for the company with auctions to allow users to use real cash for in-game objects like gold, weapons, and armor.

Summer Workout Hack
In honor of summer (if it ever comes to Seattle)…let’s get fit outside!

The Story of Growing Reddit
How the creators of this popular site used faux content and users to draw in more users and create engagement.


“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”  – Eleanor Roosevelt

That’s all for this week! Enjoy the rest of your weekend and we will see you next time. : )

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