Sunday, November 27, 2011

de Kooning: a Retrospective

Remember when  I wrote that the Diebenkorn book was perhaps the best exhibit catalog I'd ever seen? Well, de Kooning: a Retrospective, the catalog accompanying the MoMA's exhibit of de Kooning's work, might have topped it.

It should come as no surprise that a retrospective would be encyclopedic and this volume is. It starts with a great essay on de Kooning's life and work that my art pea-brain could appreciate but not fully comprehend. That's followed by a chronological  progression through the various periods of de Kooning's work including timelines and, of course, plates of the artwork.

What I found most intriguing were brief Methods and Materials articles about how particular paintings were made including cross sections of paint layers, x-rays, and forensic analysis of how paint was applied.

I won't bore you with the details. For my friends who think abstract art is simply a spontaneous eruption of paint, there is an interesting pencil study of a particular painting that demonstrates the forethought that de Kooning put into his work.

I will share two works from the book that really caught my attention. The first isn't even a work on canvas. Woman 1951 is charcoal and pastel on paper. I just found it arresting. In case you're interested, it seems this 21.5 in. x 16 in. drawing sold for about $4 million in 2008.

de Kooning, Woman, 1951
The second was the black and white Painting 1948 which reminded me of Callum Innes' work in the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. (The similarities are more in technique and palette than composition.) Painting is the subject of one of the book's Methods and Materials sections that describes the limits of de Kooning's budget at the time limiting him to a bucket of black enamel and a bucket of white. The painterly description of Painting delves more into the "sum of resistances" and how the paint was applied and removed.

de Kooning, Painting, 1948

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Nothing is more dangerous than an idea...

The Job Creators Alliance is a way for CEOs to tell their side of the story about how to get people back to work. It was created partly in response to the belief that the "occupy" folks are monopolizing the message and belief that government isn't the answer. Read a little back story here.

Sweet mother of god - Bacon Egg Pancake Cup
How do you poach programming talent in Seattle? With a bacon cart.

Color Thief, a script for getting the dominant color and color palette from an image looks cool but I wish it was a web-based tool. (I suppose What's Its Color will have to do.)

Speaking of thieves, if someone's stealing your internet service you could cut them off or mess with them - as in invert all the images. I thought Upside-Down-Ternet was urban legend but it looks real.

I could play this game all day. paper toilet .com
I could've sworn I shared Bruce Connor's 1981 video MEA CULPA before but perhaps not. It's a great video comprised of found images backed by the track Mea Culpa from David Byrne and Brian Eno's album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, made from found sounds.

If you're going to use social media to find a job, Facebook seems to be the way to go followed by Twitter and the LinkedIn. There's something odd about professional networking site LinkedIn being half as effective as Facebook for finding a job.

CF-18 Hornet with a tiger stripe paint scheme.
Someone's trying to make a movie out of Ender's Game and the kid from Hugo has been cast to play the role of Ender.

A huge animation art auction is coming up next month. The Icons of Animation Auction features some fantastic stuff, from a $300 drawing of Roger Ramjet to a $20,000 production cel and background of Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty to a $120,000 production cel and pan background of the Hag from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. The catalog is worth browsing even if you don't plan on bidding.

Here's an interesting social media idea that melds the digital and analog, the electronic and the tangible: have your event Live Sketched.

Like ketchup and a banana split, there are some good things that shouldn't be combined. Like  Jackson Pollock and a jigsaw puzzle.
Why do some people spill their coffee while others don't? Science comes to the rescue. It depends on the natural oscillation frequency of the coffee and whether the person's walking motion excites that frequency.

Maybe you're more into swirling wine. That depends on "the ratio of the level of wine poured in to the diameter of the glass; the ratio of the diameter of the glass to the width of the circular shaking; and the ratio of the forces acting on the wine." 

The Memphis Belle, the famous B-17F that completed 25 missions over Europe during WWII, is undergoing restoration at the National Museum of the Air Force in Dayton and this 3-minute video gives a nice overview of the project. At the 15 second mark of the video there's a photo of the crew. I have this photo hanging in my office signed by the pilot, Robert Morgan.

I know people who'd die if their work made it onto the Tangled Cable Appreciation page.
With today's launch of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission with the rover Curiosity (you watched it this morning, right?) what better time to check out this infographic of all the missions to Mars.

I could watch this all day: slow motion video (1 million fps) of bullet impacts.

My philosophy guru is Epicurus (key promise: peace and tranquility, key peril: boredom). Find your own guru at My Philosophy Guru.

One man's approach to debugging. I like the "All engineers are fucking idiots" stage.
Will your next desk be an EXOdesk? The desk is the computer, the computer is the desk.

More proof that science is answering the key questions of our time: flies like beer because of glycerol.

Artists like beer because they can collaborate on this huge sound sculpture made out of recycled Red Stripe beer cans.

They folks at xkcd put together a nice infographic about money, from single dollars to trillions.

Yet another way to see music: circular music spectrum analysis. Be sure to watch the video.
I'm still a sucker for those Downfall parodies. This time Hitler finds out he's been out-memed by the pepper spraying campus cop.

Rolling Stone listed the 100 greatest guitarists. Notables for me are #62 Robert Fripp, #14 David Gilmour, and #5 Jeff Beck.

The Alien series of movies is a personal favorite. So you can imagine my excitement when I heard about Aliens on Ice. Unfortunately, this production gives Aliens, ice skating, and theater a chest-burster. Honestly, I shouldn't be surprised.

Another simply done yet wonderful animation - dream (drem) n.
"Look at Shakespeare. Poor bloke. Wrote thirty-seven plays, none of them his." Hilarious article by Eric Idle (of Monty Python fame) in The New Yorker.

Orgasms. Who fakes 'em? Women are about twice as likely to fake them and are most likely to do so if they think their partner is cheating. Coincidentally, this article is from Yahoo! which is what I shout every time I have an orgasm.

A delightful photo essay of strange toilets and urinals, Part 1 and Part 2. I'm partial to the commode with the fish tank tank.

An E/A-6B and an E/A-18G painted in vintage WWII colors.
Ouka: after a while chasing down that little flower starts to drive you nuts.

Cats celebrating Hanukkah.

...when it's the only one you have. ~Emile Chartier (paraphrased)

Friday, November 25, 2011

Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat

After a brief discussion of Faulkner's prose, a friend recommended that I give Farley Mowat's Never Cry Wolf a try as an example of straightforward storytelling. So on a post-Thanksgiving Black Friday morning outside under a cool gray sky I did just that.

Not bad. It's a nice tale of a Canadian government biologist in the early 60s who's sent into the arctic to study wolves, at the time thought to be a scourge needing eradication. The book opens with a chapter or two of his experiences as a new government employee that left me with impressions of Catch-22 and then transitioned to a Dave Barry like humor as his expedition got started.

After that, and with all due respect, it impressed me as a good story for school kids. It has the (if you'll pardon the pun) lone wolf lead character who's distancing himself from authority as he finds that man, not the wolves, are the true problem. It's got the adventure aspect of being alone in the wilderness and confronting these beasts. And it's got enough scat and sex references to keep a student satisfied. Contributing to my impression is the fact that it reminds me of some of my childhood fiction like Paddle to the Sea and some movie about a lone guy who builds his own cabin in the middle of the woods somewhere.

After finishing the book, I learned two interesting things. The book was made into an Oscar-nominated film in 1983. And there's apparently a bit of controversy about how much of the book is true versus a work of fiction. Imagining the movie version of Never Cry Wolf inevitably made me think of the documentary Grizzly Man - which I recommend despite the fact that it's a sad and disturbing look at a flawed main character who whose naivete is ultimately and finally shattered.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Jour de Dinde Heureuse

That's "Happy Turkey Day" to all my French-reading readers (French-reading speakers? French-speaking readers?).

Proving yet again that all good humor is based on a kernel of reality...

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Ready for Anything by David Allen

I'm a fan of David Allen's Getting Things Done approach to personal productivity and while I haven't drunk all the bathwater I have implemented (to my benefit) many of the ideas his two books, GTD and Making it All Work. Therefore, I figured Ready for Anything would be a nice addition to my bookshelf.

I was wrong.

Each of the 52 principles referred to in the subtitle are a 2-4 page micro essay that's more motivational than instructional or reinforcing. I get the impression that it be a good introduction to Allen's principles for reading on an airplane or somewhere else where your time may be limited. It took me a long, long time to get as far into the book as I did.

I couldn't finish the book.

So even though I'm still a fan of the GTD approach to productivity, I can't really recommend Ready for Anything.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Everyone talks about leaving a better planet for their children...

The Fort is a nice 4-minute time-lapse video shot in Fort Worth this past summer.

ROSA, a 10-minute sci-fi film, deserves as many awards as they have to give. Watch it on Vimeo or checkout the film's website.
Moby's giving away some of his music for free for use in films.

This news story from Phoenix's KPHO features word combinations that I had never seen before: tampon and vodka, beer bong and anus, butt and chugging. You should infer that tomorrow's leaders are experimenting today with new ways to get drunk. Soak a tampon in vodka and stick it in your hoo-hah. Stick a beer bong hose up your butt and chug-a-lug. I always find it odd that when young boys make manly displays it involves some sort of homo-erotica: butt chugging, hazing other athletes with a broom handle, spanking fraternity pledges on their bare bottoms. Makes you wonder. Kids: you're doing it wrong.

Kids: Back in the day we fell on things in the shower and didn't need any other excuses like getting drunk. The book Stuck Up! reveals things where they shouldn't be. Another page about rectal foreign bodies.
Unrelated to the previous paragraph, Boeing delivered the first 30,000 pound massive ordnance penetrator (aka GBU-57) to the Air Force.

I hereby declare Occupy Whatever to have jumped the shark. Everyone should go back to their mother's basement and take a shower, especially the drum circles.

Aviation pr0n du jour #1 - F-22 with an F-15
Know yer lists: 9 equations you gots to know (I got 6 of 9), 11 sounds my kids will never hear, 25 optical illusions.

Science once again comes to the rescue. Watch this short video of Ross Nanotechnology demonstrating a superhydrophobic spray-on coating.  It's basically a super water repellant. The name of the product is NeverWet which reminds me of most of my dates in high school.

Learning things online: Painless Python Tutorial, flying the SR-71 Blackbird, Bertrand Russell's The Analysis of Mind.

Anyone else remember Chuckles? See them and other vintage candy ads.
In the most disturbing news item of the week (which sounds weird considering what you've already read if you've gotten this far), record labels are planning to abandon the CD by the end of 2012, replacing it with downloading as the main distribution stream. Where to begin? First, I hope they're going to be using a format other than the sucky mp3 which makes everything sound like my first stereophonic turntable that my parents bought at Gold Circle in 1976. Second, during 2012 I either have to stock up on CDs or figure out how to make my home stereo system compatible with electronic formats. Third, what are the implications for album covers and liner notes?

And in other news of things going away, this blog post alludes to the pending demise of trade paperback books (the bigger ones) and the subsequent demise of mass market paperbacks. So sad. And when did paperback books change size the new so-called "premium" that's a bit taller? Now books don't fit my nice leather sleeve anymore. And all the while my week-old Kindle sits.

A friend writes poetry good enough to win GOOD's poetry contest, making her work actually better than So-So Poems.

I don't know "hone" means in this context, but I call it telling time with mimes.
Know yer beer: The Oxford Companion to beer, Bowser Beer for your dog (pigs like it too!).

The fact that you can print things in 3D is freaky enough.  But you can also build your own 3D printer.

As this guy shows, it makes sense to keep an eye on what's in your pocket change.

What's the volume of a ball in N dimensions? It's even less straightforward than it sounds.

Modern takes on classic paintings.

Aviation pr0n du jour #2: Two F-35Bs on deck.
Seth Godin shares his 9 steps to PowerPoint magic. (Dang, 2 weeks too late.) #8 Make it too breathtaking to take notes. Dang, missed again.

Consider mind officially blown: the wave function in quantum mechanics may be physical. Repeating: the wave function may be real, not just a statistical crutch.

Excellent talk by Brian Eno about the nature of composition and composer as gardener versus architect. Take 15 minutes to watch the video or read the transcript. To paraphrase, it's not about order versus disorder, it's understanding how order comes into being.

Paripatetic rocks in Death Valley. What's up with these rocks that seemingly move on their own across the desert floor?

Meanwhile in China. More here.
I love things that let you see music. is a visualization of the prelude to Bach's Cello Suite No. 1 that visualizes the music as strings (that you can interact with).  If you'd prefer to see and hear the piece all the way through, watch the video on Vimeo.

From Oprah to Ulman, the top 50 motivational web personalities. (I checked. The answer is no.)

Know yer colors: 93% of consumers rank color and appearance above other factors, 85% rank color as a primary reason for buying, 80% say color increases brand recognition.

Tweeted this a week ago but will repeat: Canada is the top source of U.S. crude oil imports. This and other factoids are available on an infographic from Technology Review.

Know yer LEGOS: Cube Dudes, extreme organization methods.

Xmas is just around the corner - consider artisanally sharpened pencils.

Know yer astronomy: a topographic map of the moon from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Back in the 50s they really knew how to market to kids. For the plus-sized school girl: "Your chubby lass can be the bell of her class with Chubbettes."

There's bad luck and then there's my kind of luck.
  • Some people worry when they find blood in their stool. I have stool in my blood.
  • When I dig a hole to hide a body, I usually find another body.
  • I live on a 1-way street. It's also a dead-end.
Time for an instant dance party.

Now pull my finger.

...yet few talk about leaving better children for our planet. ~anon

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Communications of the ACM Scores Big in Nov 2011

This month's issue of Communications of the ACM hits a home run with several notable articles that I thought I'd share.
Hexagonal grid with 480 km resolution.
Goal is 4 km.

Modeling Chaotic Storms starts things off with a look at simulations of global weather patterns up to and including the potential for 60-minute advance predictions of extreme weather. In fact, the authors write that future advances will come from simulation rather than increased scope of observation (i.e. satellites and radar). One of the challenges faced by modeling is the rather sparse set of data on which any computation is based - so-called initial conditions. Like most simulations of fluids like air or water, the nature of turbulence, the chaotic motion of a fluid, is also poorly understood. The computations required for weather modeling are far from trivial and researchers are turning to new technologies like GPUs (graphical processing units) that ran run 25 times faster than traditional hardware. The challenge here is that GPU programming requires a non-trivial up-front investment to modify the software.

Whether or not software engineering is truly engineering is addressed by Will Software Engineering Ever Be Engineering? The author makes a strong argument for the fact that it isn't now and likely never will be. The arguments for the latter are:

  1. Engineering is ultimately about physical systems.  Software is not.
  2. Software is a large profession - on the order of law or medicine - and is therefore more likely to split with engineering than join up with a profession twice its size.
  3. MIS or IT might be a better home for software as its more likely to be practiced in those areas than engineering.
In an article that's one of the most explicit treatments that I've ever read, Teaching-Oriented Faculty at Research Universities lays bare a truth that many people, including students, ignore. If you think that faculty at universities are hired and promoted for their teaching, you're wrong. They are hired for their research and their ability to bring in funded research. You'd also think that despite that they can teach.  Alas, no. "Active research is not a predictor of effective teaching." Therefore, teaching-oriented faculty (TOF) provide a valuable service, not only by the act of teaching courses (especially undergraduates) but they also undertake critical functions like curriculum development, advising, and course development. And yes, they do some research too. The fact that TOF at a university is almost seen as a novel idea is quite disturbing.  Or I'm just naive.

Other interesting articles touch on diverse topics such as the rejection of the Google Book Search settlement (centered around whether scanning books for the purpose of indexing search results was fair use or copyright infringement), a call for software liability laws (most if not all software licenses include limits on liability including "merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose"), and why high performance Fortran hasn't had any staying power.

This issue alone was well worth the cost of my annual ACM membership.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Business of Software 2011

It already seems like months since I attended the Business of Software Conference ( this past October 24th through 26th in Boston. But in reality it's only  been a couple of weeks. This is my second BoS experience having first attended in 2009 in San Francisco. I challenged myself to return from BoS2011 with actionable items which I didn't do in 2009.  Let's see how that worked out.

Clayton Christensen (@claychristensen), Harvard Business School - How to Create New Growth Businesses in a Risk-Minimizing Environment

The conference kicked off with Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen who's probably best known for authoring The Innovator's Dilemma, supposedly the only business book to influence Steve Jobs.

The gist of Christensen's talk was that successful businesses are hard to maintain over the long term because conventional thinking about management is insufficient. It does not teach us to be disruptive, it does not provide us with guideposts, and the structure of large corporations denies them the inability to evolve.

Traditional product development begins to outstrip the ability of customers to use the product. The path forward is to be disruptive and considering emerging markets for which a different standard of performance applies.  In this space the simpler product represents the bigger market, especially if you choose to compete where any bigger players are motivated to flee rather than fight.

One of Christensen's main points was to develop an understanding of how customers experience life - not the customer but their job. Understanding the customer's job is key. He cited Peter Drucker's famous quote, "The customer rarely buys what the company thinks it is selling him." He states that jobs are stable while products are not.

He closed by listing the three categories that all business models fit: solutions shop (specialists providing a fee for service), value adding process business (manufacturing or education with a fee for outcome), and facilitated network business (insurance, which is fee for transaction).

Action Items: Ensure that we have an understanding of the customer's job.

Jason Cohen (@smartbear), Smart Bear Software - Naked Business: How I Made More Money Through Honesty Than Typical Business Behavior

Jason spoke about how honesty makes more money than deceit. Jason is the founder of Smart Bear Software and has authored a book on code reviews.

After decrying the fact that lying is almost expected and accepted he cited various examples including comparison charts and 100% positive product reviews. As counter examples, when Canon showed mixed reviews of their products, sales of both high and low rated products increased but sales of low-rated products became more profitable.

He quoted something similar to the line from Ries and Trout's 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing: truth in limitations earns believability in advantage. In the end, the benefits of lying are small but the downsides of being found out are huge.

Jason ended with one interesting quote about open source: "Open source is free like a puppy is free."

Action Item: Considering changing website copy on the product tour to list what the product doesn't do.

Alex Osterwilder (@business_design) - Building Competitive Advantage Through Business Model Thinking

Alex's book Business Model Generation was named by Fast Company magazine as a best book for business owners in 2010 and has gone on to sell more than 120,000 copies. The book's website is

His book is an attempt to create a common language and definitions for what a business model is. The components of his business model canvas are:
  1. Customer segments
  2. Value proposition
  3. Channels
  4. Customer relationships
  5. Revenue streams
  6. Key resources
  7. Key activities
  8. Key partners
  9. Cost Structure
Alex encouraged everyone to approach creation of a business plan like an engineer. Use a "design thinking attitude" and a "test before build" philosophy.

Action Items: none

Dharmesh Shah (@dharmesh), HubSpot - Insights and Musings on the Business of Software

Dharmesh Shah is a co-founder of HubSpot, the inbound marketing company. He's a perennial favorite of BoS and is open about BoS being his favorite conference. His talk covered a variety of topics.

The purpose of your business is to create delighted customers. This is at the core of why he created CHI, the customer happiness index, which was originally used to predict churn (when a customer would leave) but has evolved into predicting customer success. Because Hubspot is a software as a service (SaaS) company, it's not surprising that churn is a killer and that's exactly what CHI is meant to help avoid.

On the topic of setting a price for your product it was very simple. "Pricing is hard. It's very very hard. And changing a price is even harder." He shot some holes in the freemium pricing model, replacing it with the self-explanatory cheapium. The main thing is to assume that customers are connected and united so your pricing needs to be transparent.

You'll need sales people in three instances: the product is complex, the market is new, and/or the price is high.

Action Items: none

Rob Walling (@robwalling), Software by Rob - Writing Game Changing Copy for Websites and Landing Pages

Rob did not present at BoS2011 but lead a workshop on writing compelling website copy. His website is During the workshop he led us through several exercises related to writing or re-writing our own website copy.

Your writing should focus on the prospect and speaking directly to them because people love to feel understood. This is why most professional sales copywriters are psychology majors not English majors. It's about persuasion. How do you maintain that focus on the prospect?
  1. Use "you" or "your."
  2. Include a verb.
  3. Make a promise.
Do not write things like:
  1. We are pleased to announce...
  2. Founded in 1978, we...
  3. We... (anything)
  4. The best...
  5. (describe the product)
Writing copy goes wrong from the start if we begin with a list of features and then start writing. Instead, start with our prospects concerns and motivations and directly address the most urgent one.

Rob recommended a couple of tools.
  1. as a tool for collecting information about customers
  2. to find good keywords
After writing your headline, rules for writing the rest of the copy are simple.
  1. Think in bullets
  2. Progress from the vague to the specific
  3. Then include the features
Action items: Apply these rules to our website.

Jeff Lawson (@jeffiel), Twilio

Jeff Lawson, founder of Twilio (for building voice and text apps) and CTO at StubHub (ticket sales) spoke about pricing.  He said it was important to know your customer - the person, not the enterprise. One method for pricing is simply to quantify the value created and then apply some discount. Or you can set price as the cost divided by 1 minus your margin that you want to earn. (Margin = profit / price). Value pricing lets you charge either by the money the customer will save by replacing one solution with yours or by their savings because of the increased efficiency you'll provide. As for competitive pricing, Jeff says don't do it.

Ideally, pricing should be based on customer feedback during a private beta and then overprice a feature and drop the price later.

If you are unsure about how to set price you should resist the temptation to make many price options and limit yourself to 3 or 4 and put the sweet spot in the middle. Also, you need to segment your audience and use that to drive pricing - quantity based, feature based, support based, or industry based.

Action Items: none

Tobias Lutke (@tobi), Shopify  – Building Great Companies

Tobias is the founder of Shopify and spoke about how to build companies that we won't be embarrased by in 100 years. He pointed out that critical success is a combintation of a great product and good timing but warned that success doesn't make you right.

Shopify puts 1% of all revenue into a bonus pool that is awarded based on the internal exchange of "unicorns" - little badges that one employee can award to each other.  These awards are made monthly.

One interesting product support technique they use is to assign new customers a single "guru" for their first couple of months.

Action Items: none

Patrick McKenzie (@patio11), Kalzumeus Software - Engineering Your Marketing Outcomes

Patrick was the winner of the Lightning Talk competition from 2010 and returned to speak on marketing, especially for SaaS. While we know that math and science are always right marketing is simply witchcraft that is designed to change peoples' behavior.

Your sales funnel is your most important tool and conversely poor sales funnels kill. Therefore it pays to describe, measure, optimize and profit from your funnel. He mentioned KISSmetrics, Mixpanel, and HubSpot as tools for doing this.

In general, shorter funnels are better. Any changes you make to a portion of your funnel make multiplicative improvements. If your funnel is sick, A/B testing is medicine. Check out Visual Website Optimzer and Optimizely.  You should be testing your home page, landing pages, headlines, offers, calls to action, graphical elements, and microcopy.

Keep in mind that everyone runs your software the first time.  Only 40% on average will run it a second time. Therefore you must nail the first impression. For this he recommends never starting with a blank screen and customize the trial experience in a way that guides the prospect to greatness. The fun bits of your software should not be hidden - reveal them ASAP.

Action Item: Consider the out-of-the-box experience for evaluators of our software.

Laura Fitton (@Pistachio), oneforty/HubSpot – Business of Social

Laura is the "Queen of Twitter", founder of social media consultancy (recently acquired by HubSpot) and the woman who influenced Guy Kawasaki's use of Twitter.

Would anyone pay money for your marketing? If the answer is no (and it likely is) you should consider thinking socially by using your marketing efforts to provide attention and value to others. Social media allows you to do that in an "any to many" way. The keywords are listen, learn, care, serve.

The steps to success with social media (or inbound marketing as HubSpot calls it) are get found, convert, and measure what matters. In order to get found you need to have a website and blog, use social media, and understand SEO. To convert you need to have a strong landing page, good lead nurturing, good email, and lead maintenance.  Measurement consists of analytics, A/B testing, mobile applications, and your other sales and intel activities.

  1. HubSpot's tools at
  2. Dan Martell
  3. Look on Slideshare for Pistachio.
Action items: Consider our use of social media in light of her advice.

Josh Linkner (@joshlinkner), - Unleashing Creativity

Josh Linkner is a VC at Detroit Venture Partners and spoke about unleashing creativity based on his book called Disciplined Dreaming. He spoke about techinques for ensuring that you remain creative such as:
  1. describing what's happening in a random picture
  2. Asking the 5 whys. Or What if? Or Why not?
  3. Have a "Where's Waldo?" level of awareness.
  4. Learn from failure.
  5. "Role storming" = brain storming in character
He promotes the idea of having a Failure of the Year award inside your company and giving all employees a Get Out of Jail Free card or two each year - and being disappointed if they don't use them.

Action Items: none

Rory Sutherland (@rorysutherland), Ogilve Group - Praxeology, Lessons from a Lost Science

Rory gave a hilarious presentation on what you would think was a rather stiff topic - praxeology, the science of human behavior and decision making as it pertains to economics. Rory has spoken at TED before and you can find examples of his talks at

Rory points out that there exists a double standard whereby creativity is policed by rationality but not vice versa. What's needed is to find the sweet spot between technology, psychology and economics. The problems with marketing are that it lacks influence, our models have not kept pace with the media (i.e. internet), and no first principles.  Enter Ludwig von Mises whose idea of praxeology points out difference between subjective and objective value. Whereby the that the value produced by the main product is indistinguishable from other deliverables.

Praxeology defines a new vocabulary: availability, signaling, framing, comparison and context, immediacy. Information assysmetric leads to commitment. Satisfying versus maximizing shows that being a little better isn't good enough and the "rule of 3" facilitates choice. The concept of choice architecture lets you frame choices so that the prospect makes one. How price is used as a substitute for quality.

Action items: none

Mike McDerment (@MikeMcDerment), Freshbooks - A Litany of Product Management Mistakes

Mike is the cofounder of Freshbooks talked about a litany of product management mistakes. In a company's infancy it's a question of what to build. In survival mode when you've grown it's a matter of deciding who gets to decide. And when the company scales up how to ensure that everyone can contribute.

Freshbooks is another example of a SaaS company with a lot of issues about A/B testing.

Action items: none

Paul Kenny (@paulkennyOL), Ocean Learning - The Art of Asking

Paul has spoken at each of the past three BoS conferences and always on the topic of sales. Sales is essential to a business. You don't have a sales person - everyone in your organization has a sales function. Paul quoted Peter Drucker, "No business results exist inside an enterprise. The result of a business is a satisfied customer."

At a certain point you have to close a deal or ask for some other commitement. We usually don't ask out of a fear of rejection. Closing is simply asking for a commitment to move the conversation forward. You can commit to a concept, an action, or a purchase. Not asking means waiting which is paralyzing. Asking actually aids the decision making process. Even if the answer is no, it's better than an unqualified yes.

All of these little commitments by the prospect lead to bigger commitments as you go forward. Plus, closing demonstrates commitment to your own proposition.

What kinds of mistakes do people make when closing? Asking in the wrong way at the wrong time or failing to ask in the right way at the right time.

Secrets to closing including priming the pump (ensuring you've properly built up to the question), asking like you mean it, using different approaches so you're not a 1-trick pony, expecting a yes but be ready for a no, taking advantage of every no, and waiting for an answer and shut up.

How to close:
  1. Direct: Are you ready to buy?
  2. Indirect: The product meets all your requirements, right?
  3. Assumptive: We'll schedule the install for next week, OK?
  4. Alternatives: Can I put you down for A, B, or C?
Extroverts speak in order to work out what they think. Introverts think in order to work out what to say. Both are OK.

Action items: none

Dave Cancel (@dcancel), Performable/HubSpot - Creating a Data Driven Business

Dave is the founder of Performable, also recently acquired by HubSpot. His mantra is JFDI - just fucking do it.  You can read, dream, talk and think but you better act too. Your business needs to be optimized for learning because data validates your assumptions and can be used to ensure that everyone in your organization knows how they impact the business.

The average conversion rate for a website is 2% so having a good dashboard, monitoring customers, website visits, evals, purchases, email subscribers, and your sales funnel is critical.

They poll their customers to see who's likely to recommend their company.  The poll rates that question on a 1-10 scale.  Scores of 1-6 are considered detractors, 7-8 are passive, and 9-10 are promoters.

Action item: Consider polling our own customers about who'll recommend.

Alex Ohanian (@kn0thing), Reddit - Making the World Suck Less with Software

Alex is the founder of Reddit and Hipmunk (which obviously is about making hotel and flight reservations) among other things and talked about how traditional business sets the bar too low. Businesses exist to solve problems and make money but people do all the rest. His disjointed talk was about a hippy-fest of giving away stuff.

Action items: no way

John Nese, Soda Pop Stop

John Nese, a guy who rarely uses email, was one of the highlights of BoS. During an onstage interview, John talked about his business, Soda Pop Stop, that specializes in rare, independently, glass-bottled soda. It should be no surprise that many of his business principles were similar to those in the software business.

Action item: order some soda (by phone)


I came away with a handful of action items as listed above. We'll see if I actually do them. As for BoS, the 2012 event is scheduled for 1-3 October in Boston. I'm not sure I'll attend or whether BoS is an every-other-year event for me. I felt a definite skew this year toward SaaS which isn't 100% applicable to our business. Plus, I get the feeling that BoS runs the risk of being a static group of people who get together each year to renew friendships - lots of motivation and not so much teaching.

Also, I had the displeasure of participating in perhaps the worst workshop of my professional career (instructor to remain unnamed). I knew more about the subject than he did but that's not what made it bad. If I knew nothing I would've come away knowing less.

You can see what you missed at the BoS2011 Flickr pool. The BoS website also has links to videos of many of the presentations from previous years with promises to post this year's talks in the future.

Disclaimer: These are just my opinions.  I could be wrong.

Note: This post may look funny because it was a cut and paste job from Word and I didn't want to spend all day cleaning up every little thing.

Happiness in intelligent people...

Trey Gunn's new album Invisible Rays is now available. Because the album's guitarist is also a research diver, you can watch a cool video of Antarctic diving with a track from the album.

Nature wants to eat you and from the looks of this tumblr it's well equipped to do so.

Sarah Morris, Black Beetle [Origami], 2008, more
I think perhaps a back-to-the-basics approach is warranted which is why I've bookmarked Google Code University's course on HTML, CSS, and Javascript from the Ground Up.

Trying to make a single website implementation work well on both traditional and mobile devices is futile in the same way that you can't just show TV on a screen in the theater.

Using just 25 ml of pee, a new fuel cell can generate 1/4 mA of electrical current for 3 days. Soon Toyota may announce the Peeus.

The Japanese people continue to make remarkable progress on recovering from the earthquake and tsunami as this "time lapse" photo essay shows.

Check out the animated version of this image and others at Sensual Objects.
The NY Times article on Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It's Just so Darn Hard) really frustrated me because it gets many things right but an equal number wrong.
  1. Assuming the title was written specifically to be an attention getter, it succeeded. In fact, it pissed me off. Of course it's hard. Anything worth learning is going to be difficult to master. If I took a course in wood-working it would be difficult for me because that's not my strength. If you think your engineering classes are hard, maybe a career in engineering isn't for you.
  2. They say 40% of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) students change majors or fail in college. The implication is that after getting high school students all pumped up with erector set and Lego projects, they get turned off by actually having to - wait for it - learn the math and science behind all that stuff. I don't suppose grammar and spelling are optional sub-topics for English majors - and so it is with calculus and engineering.
  3. One former engineering student is quoted as saying “I was trying to memorize equations, and engineering’s all about the application, which they really didn’t teach too well." I hope all of you see the logic problem here: "application" is an application of engineering knowledge to a particular problem. Knowledge comes before application. As one of my undergrad professors told me about his course, "Of course it's boring - it's propulsion." That's not to say it wasn't necessary or valuable.
  4. The article's author further opines that students find engineering education "too narrow and lacking the passion of other fields." One might turn that around and say that students lack the passion to learn engineering.
  5. Here's an ugly truth: "top professors are focused on bringing in research grants, not teaching undergraduates." This is absolutely 100% true. Being a professor (especially in engineering) is all about bringing in funded research. Teaching undergrads, despite them being the university's cash cow, is a distant second place. This is exacerbated by the tenure system (and I won't argue its relative merits here).
  6. Another ugly truth: "Other bright students may have breezed through high school without developing disciplined habits." Let's just say I know this to be true from personal experience.
  7. Bottom line: Engineering is "darn hard" - get over it.
If learning is still so hard as to stymy you, maybe you should get your facts from pictures.

Astronomy pr0n: A quasar accretion disk (aka matter being sucked into a galaxy's central black hole) as view by the Hubble Space Telescope.
What do you get when you cross a great text editor with a software development platform? Eclim; a combination of vim and Eclipse.

The story behind the deleted pie fight scene from Dr. Strangelove and other pop culture artifacts.

If you're a woman with a sexy name you're much more likely to get hired by a man. Sexy name? Christine. Unsexy name? Ethel.

What do emotions look like?
After this, I can stop counting proof that innovation isn't dead. source
Do not read any further if a lady's "down there" offends you. Why wake up with a standard alarm clock when the Little Rooster can wake you up by tickling your hoo-hah?

HBR delves into social strategies to determine which ones work. The ones that don't work simply involve broadcasting messages. They don't work because people do social to meet new people and strengthen existing relationships. Not surprisingly, strategies what work are those that help people make and maintain relationships. 

Must-watch video of the week. Triumph the Insult Comic Dog visits Occupy Wall Street. Absolutely hilarious.
Parts 1 and 2 of a beginner's guide to developing for iOS.

Point and counterpoint.  First, Koyaanisquatsi, an "art-house" treehugger video. Second, an alternative way to consider man's relationship with the environment. the rarest thing I know. ~Ernest Hemingway

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Corea, Levin, Budd and More - Backlog of New Music

I listen to music a lot: in my offices at work and at home, in the car (except when listening to audiobooks), and on my computer right now as I type this (Pandora & Google Music). Oddly, when I need to focus on something at work, turning up the volume helps. (Borrowing a Marillion lyric, "a halo of distortion aborting pregnant conversation.") Lately I've been fortunate to get some really good new tunes. In no particular order they are:

Forever by Corea, Clarke & White - at
Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, and Lenny White are 3 of the original members of Return to Forever, the awesome fusion group. They've reunited to tour and release this recording of some jazz standards and their own tunes. Forever starts off great with the jazz classic On Green Dolphin Street and gets better from there. The trio's sound on the live numbers is wonderfully warm and open and whereas Clarke's bass as captured on the recent RTF Anthology collection is pretty severe here it is much more refined (for example, the new take on Senor Mouse). I wonder why guitarist Al DiMeola wasn't included in this revival.

Live in Russia by TU - at
Live in Russia by TU (pronounced "two"), a duo of drummer Pat Mastelotto and touch guitarist Trey Gunn (both King Crimson alums) was nothing like I expected. Instead of progressive bombast from this rhythm section (perhaps I was expecting something like Tony Levin's Liquid Tension Experiment) I got an almost ambient improvisational experience that was so richly detailed I had to keep reminding myself it was only two guys playing live. My Father He Is The Factory stands out as a favorite.

WTC 9/11 by Steve Reich (composer) and Kronos Quartet (performer) - at
Upon hearing of the pending release Steve Reich's WTC 9/11 I knew I was going to buy it. Reich's minimalist compositions are always awesome exercises of rhythm and tonality and therefore his treatment of 9/11, my generation's Pearl Harbor, was certain to be excellent. I was not disappointed. Reich's work combines recorded voices from that day's events with the Kronos Quartet's performance. The voices don't just sit on top of the tracks, they are fully integrated musically with a result that's solemnly haunting.

In the Mist by Harold Budd - at
Ambient music is an acquired taste ("squeaks and rattles" as a friend described it). But I've grown very fond of Harold Budd's piano work and In the Mist is no exception. I often think that Budd's work is best listened to outdoors. A breeziness and alternating patches of sunlight and shadow are the effects of the first two tracks, Haru Spring and The Whispers.

Mutopia by Exo 4 - at CD Baby
Think of Exo 4 as a jam band from outer space and Mutopia as trippy and experiential.  The track Doctor K rockets along with a pulsing beat. Sometimes Floydish, sometimes ambient. I'm told they have to been seen live to be truly experienced.

In the Court of the Crimson King (remastered) by King Crimson -  at
Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree) and Robert Fripp's 2009 remastering of King Crimson's In the Court of the Crimson King is exactly what the doctored ordered. This classic work, often cited as the genesis of the progressive rock genre, has been uncompressed, cleaned up, and given room to breath. The original recording was often muffled and muddy with so much dynamic range that the pianissimo was rendered virtually unhearable. Now the ring of every cymbal, the breathiness of the flute passages, the full thump of every tom strike is awoken. If you like the original, you'll love this remix.

The Look of Love by Diana Krall - at
Diana Krall has been a guilty pleasure ever since I saw her perform Cry Me a River in her Paris concert on Ovation TV.

Disclaimer: I received no compensation for these reviews. No one in their right mind would want my endorsement.

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Dracula at
After passing over the audiobook version of Bram Stoker's Dracula at the library for years I finally decided to give it a listen. The timing (near Halloween) was coincidental. I figured it was just time to experience this novel if for no other reason than gaining the background of this pop culture phenomenon. (No, that is not a Twilight reference.)

Written around 1900, the novel features the flowery or long-winded prose of the day which isn't hard to digest. However, it was a bit of a stretch to handle Prof. Van Helsing's pidgin English (he's Dutch) - it was almost comical and distracting.

Not much more to say than that. Dracula was well worth the time and anyone who's a fan of modern vampire fiction (the Underworld movies are a guilty pleasure of mine mostly because of Kate Beckinsale) owes it to themselves to read the original. I suppose I should now watch the 1992 film starring Gary Oldman and Anthony Hopkins.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

There are always three speeches...

What is a lexadecimal? It's a color whose hexidecimal number forms an English word.  For example, this background color is feeble (#feeb1e).
I sometimes think this detached beer belly is how my wife sees me.
Forbes' article Leadership Is Not An Entitlement Program has one interesting quote: "When leadership is perceived as little more than a title granting access to a platform for personal gain, rather than a privilege resulting in an opportunity to serve, we'll continue to find ourselves in a crisis of leadership."

Happy 20th birthday Vim! If you need a text editor (not a word processor) you should be using Vim. (You Emacs freaks know who you are.) Why Vim? Multi-doc interface, modal editing, multiple clipboards, macros, search, extensible, portable.

For all my programming friends, especially recent or soon-to-be graduates, READ THIS: Don't Call Yourself a Programmer and Other Career Advice. "Hopefully it will provide value over what your career center isn't telling you."

Scratch - a programming language for kids.

There are so many reasons to love this story. First, what's not to love about beef jerky? Second, add a little buzz by creating caffeinated beef jerky. Third, develop it in Natick, MA for the army. Fourth, zapplesauce?

Must-watch video of the week: Pythagasaurus - "He knows all 8 numbers."
We apparently have only scratched the surface of the true value of Twitter, at least according to this blog post. The more I use Twitter (2,074 tweets and counting), the more I like it. The article's points are:
  1. Identity: Twitter's asymmetric follower model (I can follow you but you don't have to follow me) makes your Twitter handle a more convenient identity than your email or Facebook or LinkedIn.
  2. Object Communications: "When machines can talk to other machines you will have a truly powerful internet."
  3. Predictive Data: Twitter streams should be monitored to gain real-time competitive advantage.
  4. Augmented Data: Combining the Twitter stream (see #3) with meta data to draw further conclusions.
I just added the upcoming (29 Nov release date) album Winter Garden by Eraldo Bernocchi, Harold Budd, and Robin Guthrie to my Amazon wish list.

Are you really into typography? Do you know what kern means? Then by all means play the kerning game, Kern Type, where you earn points for properly adjusting the spacing between letters in a word.

Know yer punctuation: the percontation point and other obscure marks.
Cupcake ipsum dolor. Sit amet icing jelly beans cotton candy chupa chups tiramisu donut. Caramels croissant bear claw lemon drops jujubes cheesecake. Danish candy candy toffee sugar plum cheesecake. Jelly-o danish icing biscuit fruitcake lemon drops tiramisu caramels brownie. Biscuit marshmallow danish danish tart donut lollipop. Lollipop oat cake bonbon icing jelly beans gummies. Toffee biscuit tiramisu sugar plum tootsie roll chocolate bar jelly beans. This paragraph brought to you by Cupcake Ipsum.

Beer. In. Space. Vostok 4 Pines Stout. Brewed by an aeronautical engineer nonetheless. Good thing someone's already invented a zero-g drinking cup, as reported here on 22 Oct 2011. Now some beer maven is going to start asking about what kind of head your beer will have in zero-g.

I overuse the term "aviation pr0n" but if anything qualifies it's this photo of shock waves around a Blue Angels' F-18 doing a low high-speed pass over water. Absolutely kick ass.
A two-part article (part 1, part 2) on the Ares defense technology blog describes a reunion of former employees from Area 51 and their work on the A-12 and other classified projects. A 1-hour video of a presentation on Archangel: The CIA's Supersonic A-12 Reconnaissance Aircraft is now on my short-list of videos to watch.

Google has everything, it seems, including easter eggs.

Leave it to the professionals: monkeys. source
Vaccinate your children. From Scientific American, "one quarter [of parents] held the mistaken belief that vaccines can cause autism in healthy children, and more than one in 10 had refused at least one recommended vaccine. This sad state of affairs exists because parents have been persistently and insidiously misled by information in the press and on the Internet and because the health care system has not effectively communicated the counterarguments, which are powerful."

How many ways are there to hear your IP address read to you? You can have Glenn, an apparent Village People wannabe, groan your IP. And as reported here a while back, you can have a sexy girl moan your IP.

Science shares her secrets: fingernails on a chalkboard (do kids even know what a chalkboard is?) sound horrible because of components in the 2-4 kHz range, the same range as a human voice, which for obvious reasons, our ear amplifies. 

asapiophobe: a person who hates or fears the lack of intelligence in others.  You know who you are.

Alphabetimals - for kids and immature bloggers
Play with the solar system. But Sticky Thing is better.

...the one your practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave. ~Dale Carnegie