Sunday, April 18, 2010

Rework by Jason Fried

Finding myself without reading material on a recent flight from Chicago to DFW, I purchased Rework by the founders of 37signals. (How many books have I bought at that bookstore at O'Hare over the years?) Think of Rework as mythbusting for business based on the authors' personal experiences. And for what it's worth, I was able to finish the book on the flight and have probably spent more time writing this review than it took to read the book.

So a two-hour book can't be too dense and Rework isn't. The entire book consists of various nuggets of wisdom with brief explanations. I documented 87 nuggets in total. Were the authors trying to be contrarian or controversial with nuggets like "Pick a fight with your competitors" and "Drug dealers get it right" or is that simply their opinion? I think it's the latter: honest, unvarnished opinion based on personal experience.

Therefore, you can imagine that not everyone's experience matches theirs and that doesn't mean it's wrong just that your mileage may vary.

Things I Agree With

"Hire great writers." Couldn't agree more. This doesn't mean that all your staff should be able to write the next great novel but communication with customers and coworkers is so valuable that excellent communication skills are indispensable.

"Illusions of agreement" addresses the matter of creating abstract documents that create an illusion of agreement because while everyone agrees to the document they each have a different mental vision of what the document says. I have seen this in practice and believe it can be alleviated in-part by the previous nugget. The authors promote the use of tangible articles that are less ambiguous than a document.

"Do something that makes your customers' lives better." This probably falls into the "Duh" category because otherwise why the hell are you in business? What value could you possibly be delivering? I'd go further: make heroes out of your customers.

"Start at the epicenter." This reflects the message Geoff Moore recently delivered at the Business of Software conference: focus on your core because that's what differentiates you from your competition. Don't get distracted by the frills. And as happens throughout Rework, several other nuggets repeat this theme (for example, "Focus on substance over fashion.")

"Out-teach your competition." This is very true but easier said than done. Teaching is a true differentiator and reflects other of Rework's nuggets such as "Have a point of view." As the old adage says, you don't really understand something until you can teach it.

Things I Disagree With

"Let's retire the word entrepreneur." The authors have issue with this word to which they've attached all sorts of negative baggage. And that's my problem; the baggage is theirs, not the word's. Get over it. They repeat this anti-entrepreneur theme with "Start a business, not a start-up."

"Long lists don't get done." This is a problem of time management and organization. I suggest anyone suffering from this problem look into David Allen's Getting Things Done.

"How should you keep track of what customers want? Don't." The authors' opinion is that the truly important customer needs will be repeated over and over again so frequently that you can't forget them. If customers could effectively communicate their true needs this recommendation might be true. But due to no fault of their own, customer requests sometimes don't drill down to the core issue. By tracking all these requests and reviewing them, patterns will emerge that let you drill down to what's really important.

"Meetings are toxic." I'd refine this to say poorly run meetings are toxic. Well run meetings are a valuable tool for managing progress and ensuring that everyone's on the same page.


This is a nice book for someone thinking about starting their own business or anyone who currently has a business. If you're looking for actionable business tasks, this book isn't it. But if you are looking for food for thought that will focus your own ideas about having a business, this is a good place to start.

Full disclosure: I am a satisfied user of a 37signals product.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

He thought he was a wit...

"A long-standing debate in the theories of olfactory perception is whether hedonic responses to odors are innate or learned." After reading that, how can you not want to read the entire report "Understanding Odor Preferences"? [Insert appropriate stink joke here.]

Perfect pancakes in 9 steps. Wanna find out the name of the tune they just played on your favorite TV show? Try TuneFind. NASA's X-48B hybrid wing drone has completed the first stage of flight tests. Do you see a spiral?

If you're a computer interface designer, what lessons might you learn from musical instrument design? Many, as noted by this recent article in The Cooper Journal. There a requirement to make things simple (not unsophisticated) so that the performer can get into the "flow". There is the need to balance structure with experimentation, and to provide modeless feedback.

I am not an artist provides more animated GIFS than you can shake a stick at. Piet Mondrian is an artist and this 1966 study appallingly shows that 60% of the study's subjects preferred a computer generated facsimile to Mondrian's 1917 work Composition with Lines. The computerized version has absolutely no sense of space or balance. I know you've been breathlessly waiting the result and here it is: winner of the Greatest Living American Abstract Painter Tourney is Cy Twombly who just edged out Ellsworth Kelly. If you don't have time to visit the MoMA, here's a 2 minute video showing every painting. (There's some good stuff in there.)

While I am always ready to celebrate extreme food, especially when it involves bacon, this list of the 10 craziest food abominations of all time does Wendy's Baconator Triple a disservice as the photo shows a contrived burger with 6 instead of 3 patties. And in case you're asking yourself should I eat bacon...

Rumor has it that Adobe is going to sell it's 3D MCAD technology to Tech Soft, the HOOPS people. Here's a cool fish-themed alphabet poster someone designed for their kids called Learn Your A-B-Sea. What does Tom Selleck have that your car doesn't? A mustache. Introducing the Carstache. Why in the heck is Twitter going to write yet another URL shortener?

Ten tips for tweeting (#8 It's not all about business). The most popular 150 management leadership blogs (#7 is GTD Times and that's more about organization than leadership). Dan Heath, co-author of Made to Stick, hosts a brief video about making Presentations that Stick including be simple (cut secondary ideas otherwise folks won't remember), show something (illustrate don't decorate), and tease before you tell.

The folks at Moceon, developers of the cheetahSTC all hex-mesher that works with Rhino and OpenFOAM, have completely revamped their web site. Here are survey results showing what product managers like about their jobs (the results are unranked but one that caught my eye was "balance of being social and analytical").
If "Able Archer" means something to you then you probably don't need to watch this video, The Brink of Apocalypse, about how close the US and USSR came to a nuclear exchange in November 1983.

Every company is a media company because we all publish to our customers, our partners, and our community. Google is now using site speed in search ranking. Hubspot releases webmaster tips faster than one man can implement them. And Hubspot wants your CEO to become the Chief Editorial Officer who is "responsible for the timely creation and distribution for relevant and material content delivered as attractive and engaging social objects." (Now if I only knew what that meant.) More from Hubspot: 4 ways to generate higher quality leads (#3 Split your lead funnel).

Learn CSS by playing in this sandbox. Learn .htaccess with this ultimate tutorial. Learn how to draw a regular heptadecagon using a compass, ruler, and pencil. Get out the champagne: website is now one word (at least according to the AP). Honestly, I don't know how I feel about the Pew Research Center's study of Millenials.

The folks at Cuil (remember them?) have launched Cpedia, an automated encyclopedia. Let's just say the results it returns are not quite useful. Stack Exchange, a web 2.0 tool for creating sites for getting expert answers to questions, is now free.

The essence of the internet: explosions and boobs.

...and he was half right. --Joseph Addison

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Black Paintings by Stephanie Rosenthal

There's something wonderfully ironic about black paintings that are best viewed in bright, natural light. Rarely have I seen works that produce a visceral desire to reach out and touch the page. Such is the case with Stephanie Rosenthal's book Black Paintings: Robert Rauschenberg, Ad Reinhardt, Mark Rothko, Frank Stella.

Admittedly, this book caught my interest in The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth's gift shop because of my love for Rothko's work but there was also a sense of playfulness in trying to make sense out of works virtually lacking in color.
So let's begin with the virtual lack of color and by "virtual" I mean "not". In these paintings, black is not the absence of color but rather the confluence of all colors. Rather than death or night, black takes on a role that Rosenthal calls "a dissolver of boundaries," something transitional rather than destructive. Whether the individual artist uses black as a means of breaking with past tradition before launching into a new format (i.e. Rauschenberg) or as the maturation of an established format (i.e. Rothko) what's significant is the replacement of an overt reliance on color with form, depth, and brush.

Abstract art's lack of representation challenges many viewers so the lack of color in black paintings takes that incomprehension to a new level. One may assured, however, that just as there are many shades of gray, so there are many shades of black that are employed in these artists' dark paintings. Rothko in general painted large canvases to make them more human and experiential; to draw the viewer into the painting itself. With the dark canvases, the eye and brain are further connected to the canvas; they seek meaning, ground, and depth.

Borrowing from James Joyce, "close your eyes and see."

Saturday, April 10, 2010

There's many a man...

Proof #83 that innovation is not dead: InsectiSlide, a new type of surface coating that causes creepy things to slide right off. These Harman Kardon GLA-55 computer speakers look like they'd match the decor of Superman's Fortress of Solitude ($1,000 at, cape not included).

How to make cookies shaped like probability density plots of the hydrogen wave function. Here are 80 essential blogs for the marketing student. Here's a simple animated GIF showing how a circle and a sine wave are related. The online home of the American Numismatic Association.

Bacon-flavored baby formula. I wonder if Tiger is using these balls at the Master's this week. Finally put TweetDeck on my netbook. Here's a list of 100 things a young entrepreneur must know (#77, Don't work with your spouse. Nuff said.)
  • CIMdata reports that the PLM market was down 9.6% in 2009.
  • CFS Engineering in Lausanne, Switzerland provides CFD services using their NSMB solver.
  • A SolidWorks blogger thinks the iPad is going to change engineering.
  • Kubotek released version 9 of their Validation Tool.
  • Keng Wong comments on CFD software licensing for multiple cores.
Know your Natick. Know your T-Splines. The periodic table of awesoments (Bacon is element #1, Sex is #113). Speaking of elements, say hello to new superheavy element 117, but do it fast cuz its half-life is only 14 milliseconds. A dozen or so programming fonts. Do you know your sh*t?

Here's a blast of Heath brothers marketing stuff. First, their web site. Someone's executive summary of Made to Stick. Their book Switch.

Industrial designers at Syracuse University came up with this idea for Google Mail Envelopes feature Google Maps with the sending and receiving addresses on the front. Need help calculating DPI? When in Syracuse, stop for a craft beer at Clark's Ale House.

Michael Buble being stalked by a velociraptor.

...has more hair than wit. --William Shakespeare, The Comedy of Errors

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Sitting quietly, doing nothing...

Is the Hug-E-Gram truly "the most personal gift you can share?" Creepiest, maybe. Sixty two business leaders share what success means to them. Forbes interviewed Edward Tufte, data guru and recent Obama appointee, on how he'll develop an "intellectual model" for Got a Facebook fan page? (Yes!) Here are essential resources for making it great.

This post includes nothing about the iPad.

The folks at WorldCAD Access blogged about their time at the Aerospace Supply Chain seminar in Seattle. Two things caught my eye in this relatively long article. Boeing needs to retain product design data for 70 years. In your own work, imagine finding and using data from 7 months ago. So imagine the issues associated with data that's 7 decades old. Where is it stored? What media? Who knows where it is? What software will still read it? Also, Boeing saved 40% on drafting costs when they dropped 2D and did everything only in 3D. Yes, the additional dimension saved them money.

Do not click here.

Did you watch the Rocky & Bullwinkle Show when you were a kid? Then you'll enjoy this interview with Jay Ward and Bill Scott from a 1962 issue of TV Radio Mirror. Jay Ward is quoted as saying that the faster pace of animation for TV versus the movies (because the smaller screen doesn't allow for as much subtlety) gives them opportunity for twice as many jokes such that it takes a person of intelligence to catch them all. (I happen to be a proud owner of a first-generation copy of the complete set of storyboards for Episode #137 signed by Jay Ward.)

French fry coated bacon on a stick

HubSpot helps you decide which metrics and analytics best measure your marketing activities with this page of links. Need help with your web site's landing pages? Consult the landing page guru. Or let Jon Miller show you how shorter forms reduce the cost of conversion. Learn how to style buttons using CSS. Tips on how to use social media to create buzz-worthy events. What can you learn about web sites from eye tracking? #1 - headlines draw eyes before pictures.

The Economics of Perfect Software is essay on whether software should be shipped with bugs. The author's position is "yes" based on the law of diminishing returns. Just fix the bugs that are embarrassing or will piss off customers. Ten things that annoy programmers (#2 is Other Programmers). The Cranky Product Manager offers her take on the art of pricing (Step #5, Boss Ignores Recommendations).
When was the last time you participated in a trade show, conference, or convention for your business? For me, it was this past January. Pointwise continues to participate in a lot of industry events. However, the Center for Exhibition Industry Research released data indicating a decline in trade show exhibits of 12.5% in 2009, more than 4 times greater than the decline in 2008. This article on why you shouldn't exhibit at trade shows is probably not helping (#5 says you could hand out $100 bills and get more qualified leads).

The author of Duct Tape Marketing has a new book, The Referral Engine, that shows you how to teach your business to market itself. The official web site of author Tom Rob Smith. (The site sucks with some goofy spinning interface but his books are better.) Find out where "the fold" is on your web page.

How much do you like beer? Enough to wear the Beerma Sutra tshirt?

If you understand find / -type d -name .\* -print then you probably don't need Hal Pomeranz' Unix Command Line Kung Fu. Here are all the printable templates you might possibly need for web page, iPhone, taskflow, and dozens of other tasks. Run six 30 inch flat panel displays off a single ATI Eyefinity card. You may think you've backed up everything, but maybe you missed these things.

Entertainment Engineering magazine shows how Adams Golf used CFD to help design their Speedline Fast 10 golf clubs. Process magazine describes how CFD can keep your data center cool. CFD for animators and games.

Do not go to the Cheese & Burger Society's web site if you are hungry because I guarantee the pictures of burgers will make you hungrier. Know your butts. Know your pork. Know your square eggs. Globish? Maybe that's what my kids speak. Another clock, this one done in jQuery.

...spring comes, and the grass grows by itself. --Zen Proverb