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Preview: tins ::: Rick Klau's weblog

tins ::: Rick Klau's weblog



"It is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself."



Updated: 2016-12-03T22:53:18.064-08:00

 



My unconsciously biased address book

2015-10-05T08:30:00.193-07:00

The 20% problem
Earlier this year, I cleaned up my contacts and became interested in what the gender split would look like for my address book. Not only was it no better than my Twitter experiment from last year, the numbers were exactly the same. Of the just over 1,900 contacts in my primary address book, 399 are women. Last year, people I followed on Twitter were 79.7% men; today my address book is 79.9% men.

If the majority of leaders at most companies are men and if the majority of their networks are men (as mine are), then this is a self-perpetuating problem.

[This is an excerpt from a post on Medium. Read the full post there.](image)



Using genderize.io to infer gender in a LinkedIn network

2015-10-01T14:30:54.614-07:00

A month or so ago, I got to wondering whether there was any way to determine the gender of my LinkedIn network. Surprisingly, LinkedIn doesn't even ask for gender on sign-up, so I couldn't just pull the info directly from LinkedIn. And I didn't need a 100% accurate solution – I just wanted a directionally-useful metric.

After doing a bit of Googling, I found genderize.io, a nice little API that gives you a best guess for a gender if you give it a name. If you send it this string:

https://api.genderize.io/?name=richard
you get back this result:

{"name":"richard","gender":"male","probability":"1.00","count":4381} 
In other words, genderize.io believes with 100% confidence that "richard" is a male name. (From Genderize's documentation, the count "represents the number of data entries examined in order to calculate the response.")

I have more than 2,300 connections on LinkedIn, so getting a breakdown of everyone's gender was going to be too time-consuming. Instead of doing the names one at a time, I signed up for a developer account and paid for up to 100,000 queries/month. (For more than a handful of queries, Genderize.io will rate-limit you; with a developer account, you get an access token that bypasses the rate limits.)

With an access token, here are the steps I used to get a breakdown of my LinkedIn network's gender split:

  1. Export LinkedIn connections
  2. Import the file into a Google Sheet
  3. Delete everything but the first name field ("Given Name")
  4. In a separate column, create a a URL string that appends the contents of the Given Name column to a tokenized URL that includes your Genderize.io access token. For me this looked like:
    =CONCATENATE("https://api.genderize.io/?apikey=ACCESSTOKEN&name=",B2)
  5. In a new column, use Google Sheets's "ImportHTML" function to execute the query represented in the adjacent column:
    =importdata(C2)
  6. Step 5 creates several columns, as Google Sheets will bring in the Genderize.io query results into the spreadsheet; unfortunately, it does not properly split the gender result into its own columns. Create a new column and use the "Split" command to break the string [gender:"female"] into separate cells, then use "CountIF" to count how many times the word "female" appears in your worksheet. Divide that number by the total number of rows in your spreadsheet, and you have your % of female contacts.
(If I was a better programmer, I could have built a simple Python script using Genderize.io's API to do this automatically. Maybe someone who reads this will want to build it? Let me know!)
(image)



Google, plus our past = the future of photos

2014-12-04T10:01:12.348-08:00

A couple years ago, I wrote about my first serious attempt to organize my family’s photos. 50,000 digital photos spanning more than a decade — scattered across multiple computers, phones, cameras, and hard drives. It wasn’t a bad first attempt, but if I’m perfectly honest, it required a fair bit of work to keep it current. Which means it was out of date pretty quickly. (And it’s just as well: my middle child repurposed the photo server earlier this year to be a Minecraft server.)

Then I remembered the photo albums. Dozens and dozens of photo albums. Actual dead-tree, hold-in-your-hand, photo albums. Photo albums from my childhood. Photo albums from my wife’s childhood. Photo albums from our early, pre-digital life together. Photo albums from grandparents, passed down to us when they died.

Photo albums that none of us had looked at in years.

So naturally I got rid of them.

Read the full post over at Medium.(image)



Measure twice, cut once

2013-08-12T15:14:55.577-07:00

Finally got a chance to try out writing on Medium, @ev's new platform for writing on the web. I loved the experience, and expect I'll use it some more in the months ahead to get out a few other posts I've been thinking about.

I wrote about a tough decision we made in 2010 to shut down Blogger's oldest feature: FTP publishing. (Back in 2010 I wrote about the announcement here.) The gist of the post is captured in the quote below, but I encourage you to read the whole thing.
It’s easy to say yes when a customer (or prospect) asks for a new feature: after all, if it’s just a day or two of engineering time, why not? But you quickly lose sight of the product you’re building: your product no longer has a coherent vision, and each new feature brings with it uncertain support costs that will last as long as the feature remains. Much harder — but much more important — is the discipline to question whether the feature is a required piece of what you’re building. New or old, easy or hard — if the feature does not support the overall product goals, it has to go. Customers and team-members alike respond to that discipline — particularly if it results in better support, more predictable development, and a clearer understanding of what it is you’re trying to build.
(image)



How Google sets Goals: OKRs

2013-05-14T12:42:14.651-07:00

(cross-posted from the Google Ventures Startup Lab blog.)On the day Google’s acquisition of FeedBurner closed in 2007, it was also the first day of a new quarter at Google. My new manager at Google asked me to draft my OKRs for him to review. I had no idea what he was talking about.I’ve now gone through the process of setting my Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) 24 times, and each time I marvel at what an effective mechanism they are for focusing my effort as well as aligning my work with the company’s objectives. Last fall, I led a workshop about OKRs at the Startup Lab, which we’re making public today. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/mJB83EZtAjc?rel=0" width="560">John Doerr originally presented OKRs to Google’s leadership in 1999 when Google was less than a year old, and they’ve been in use ever since. In the video, I present a portion of John’s original deck, then lay out how we’ve implemented them at Google over the years. I also shared a few of my OKRs from my time as a Product Manager on Blogger, and answered some questions from the employees at our portfolio companies who were present for the workshop.Though the video goes into more detail, here are a few keys to what make OKRs work at Google:Objectives are ambitious, and should feel somewhat uncomfortableKey Results are measurable; they should be easy to grade with a number (at Google we use a 0 – 1.0 scale to grade each key result at the end of a quarter)OKRs are public; everyone in the company should be able to see what everyone else is working on (and how they did in the past)The “sweet spot” for an OKR grade is .6 – .7; if someone consistently gets 1.0, their OKRs aren’t ambitious enough. Low grades shouldn’t be punished; see them as data to help refine the next quarter’s OKRs.One comment: in talking recently with one portfolio company who’s implemented OKRs, I realized that I should have been more emphatic in pointing out that OKRs are not synonymous with employee evaluations. OKRs are about the company’s goals and how each employee contributes to those goals. Performance evaluations – which are entirely about evaluating how an employee performed in a given period – should be independent from their OKRs. We’ll cover employee evaluations in an upcoming workshop.About the Startup Lab workshopsSince its inception, the Google Ventures Startup Lab has held more than sixty workshops. These sessions are open to every employee of our 160+ portfolio companies and are held on a variety of topics: everything from privacy to Javascript testing to business development. Speakers are drawn from experts at Google and beyond. More than 95% of our portfolio companies have attended at least one workshop, and our recorded talks have been viewed thousands of times. We began releasing public versions of select workshops to share with the broader entrepreneurial community, and will release new videos several times a month.[...]



Tips on renting an RV

2013-03-14T10:30:03.905-07:00

Each year for the last four years, my wife and I have rented an RV and taken our kids to visit some of our national parks. In that time, we've logged nearly 6,000 miles and we've visited the Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce, Columbia River Gorge, Lassen Volcanic National Park, the Hoh Rainforest, and Olympic National Park. (Not to mention a number of wineries, parks, coastlines, and a bunch more.) This year, we're visiting Joshua Tree and Death Valley, and will swing back through Las Vegas on our way back to the Bay Area. It's safe to say that every year the spring break RV trip is one of the year's highlights.Whenever we do this, friends inevitably want to know more about the experience. After collecting questions on Google+, Facebook, and Twitter, I'm going to try to cover what it's like, what we wished we'd known, and we've learned since we started.First, let's do the numbers:Rental cost. This is almost always the first question. Our first year we rented from Cruise America; for the last two years we rented from El Monte RV, and this year we're renting from a local outfit that rents privately-owned RVs. For for the first two, prices ran about $100/day and included a set number of miles; you'll pay $.30-.40/additional mile. The local outfit is more expensive; I'll explain why we picked them over the others below.Gas. You should expect your RV to get somewhere around 8-10 mpg, so it should be relatively easy to figure out about how much you'll spend on gas by dividing your total trip distance by that number and multiplying by the cost of a gallon of gas.Lodging. We've paid as little as $20 for a night in an out-of-the-way RV park and as much as $65; I'd guess the average is somewhere around $40/night.On a week's trip that might be 1500 miles, you might pay $800 for the RV, another $250 for the mileage, $700 or so on gas, and around $300 for lodging. All-in (not counting food, more on that in a minute) you're looking at around $2k. Not a bargain, by any stretch. But keep in mind that that's transportation and lodging; for us, the equivalent in airfare, hotels, and car rentals would easily exceed that number. (And it probably goes without saying, but if your trip doesn't involve as much driving, you'll save on mileage and gas costs, potentially significantly lowering that number.)How big is the RV? What's "Class C" mean? "Class A"? We've progressed: our first RV rental was a 25' Class C; the next two years we rented a 26' Class C with a slide-out, and this year we're renting a very small 30' Class A. (I say very small because a Class A could easily be 40' long (or longer).) Each of those links gives you a good feel for what the layout of the interior is; the difference between a Class A and Class C is whether the RV is built on top of a van chassis (Class C) or is a whole vehicle (Class A). Moving from the 25' to the 26' slide-out was a big step up; the increase in living space when you're parked for the night is a huge win. Believe it or not, the five of us (and our dog!) didn't feel cramped. (We did feel cramped in the 25' RV in that first year.) The boys often went to the bunk over the cab where they could read or play their videogames; my daughter often used the table to work on her activities or read.We'd seen a version of the RV we're renting this year (the Thor ACE) at an RV showroom near our home, and decided that we'd try to rent it if we could. That led us to find SF Bay Area Private RVs; we liked the layout of the RV, the nicer appointments compared with what we'd rented from CA and El Monte, and the possibility of having a slightly quieter cab when we drive.What's it like to drive?I won't lie: the first hour driving an RV was a bit nerve-wracking. The RV takes up all but a few inches on either side of a highway lane. It's unnerving the first time you get out on the highway and realize how close to the cars and trucks you are. But it was really just about an hour; after that, you [...]



Digital natives vs. digital tourists

2013-01-29T11:15:57.792-08:00

I spent the weekend in Chicago as a very fortunate attendee at ORDcamp, an annual unconference that's the brainchild of +Brian Fitzpatrick and +Zach Kaplan. I've got several things I want to write about as a result of the many wonderful sessions – being surrounded by a couple hundred fascinating people is apparently what I needed to get back on the blogging horse. It's good to be back!An early session I attended was titled "Raising digital natives"; most in the room were parents, and we kicked things off by going around the room introducing ourselves and saying a few words about what the topic meant to us. One by one, parents (most of whom had children in the 3-6 range) expressed concern about technology. (Keep in mind, this was a very technically literate group.) Statements about wanting to limit screen time, avoid television altogether, restrict video games, etc. abounded. Then it was my turn to introduce myself.That's when I realized: I don't want to restrict any of those things for my children. I absolutely want them to find balance, they must do homework and chores first, and my wife and I rely on Common Sense Media for help gauging whether certain materials are appropriate for our kids, but the fears expressed by several in the room about the potential harm that could come from exposing their children to technology are not mine. Not at all. I started by saying that I want my kids to be hackers. I want them to be frustrated by the way information is presented to them and be motivated to learn how to change it. I want them to visualize a tool – a program, a device, whatever – and then make it.At some point during the session, it occurred to me that what we were talking about was not a digital native in the sense I thought of a native; we were talking about a digital tourist. Natives know the lay of the land, they know all the secrets, and they know what makes their area special. Tourists rarely get below the surface – they may enjoy the place they're visiting, but they rarely know what makes it tick.I want my kids to be natives when it comes to the technology that increasingly surrounds them. Digital tourists (I doubt this term is new or unique to me, but I don't believe I'd heard it before) will be able to use a smart phone, a computer, or some other technology, but they won't really understand them, and they definitely won't be able to change or improve them. Natives, on the other hand, will see beyond the surface, appreciate the utility these tools provide, but also see their flaws, and over time be motivated to improve them.To be clear, I don't think this means that my kids all have to become computer scientists. They could be artists, writers, designers, or something else entirely. But I'm certain that kids who develop the skills to shape the world around them through technology (in whatever form that takes) will have a huge advantage as they grow up. Understanding that the world around them is in fact changeable is a big first step.One parent in the room was frustrated by this, because she said she didn't understand how computers worked, so how could she help her kids understand them? I'm sure that's daunting for some – and I certainly have a huge advantage as I've been tinkering with computers for over 30 years now – but I don't think this is as hard as it seems. There's no rule that says you have to know the answer to the questions you ask. "How do you think the DVR works?" to a kid who wants to watch a show they've recorded is a good exercise to get them to think about the inner workings of a hard drive (what does it mean to record a tv show?), a video signal (how would you change the channel? where is the video coming from?), a program guide (how does TiVo know what's showing and when?), and a TV (how does the TiVo send the recording to the TV?). "How does the car's GPS work?" is a great time to talk about satellit[...]



RIP, Michael O'Connor-Clarke

2012-10-15T10:22:57.003-07:00

A good friend of mine died on Saturday. For those who didn’t have the opportunity to meet this man, I feel compelled to tell you a bit about him.

I first met Michael O’Connor-Clarke at the Hilton New York in 1999 when we were in marketing for competing software companies. He at Hummingbird, the industry-leading document management software company, and I at iManage, the upstart nipping at Humminbird’s heels. I remember thinking it must have annoyed him that I was invited to share the stage with him; his company, after all, had more than 70% of the market, and iManage had been none too subtle in painting their product as yesterday’s technology.

But he wasn’t annoyed. No sooner had our panel wrapped up that he invited me to lunch. We hit it off, though we lost touch as our careers went in different directions. I stumbled across his blog several years later, and got reintroduced to what a cool guy he was.

And our paths crossed once again in New York, at another conference, this time in 2005. I was with FeedBurner, and Michael was at a tech company that was complementary to what we were doing. We reconnected over another lunch, and resolved that this time we'd stay in touch. We did.
We never went more than a few months over the last seven years without some e-mail exchange, and though we didn’t see each other too often, our lunch at SXSW a couple years ago was a highlight of that conference for me. By then I was at Google and he’d returned to agency life after some time with a tech firm, and we spent a good 90 minutes comparing notes about our families, our careers, and life in general.

Michael loved his job, and loved PR. He reveled in finding the story worth telling, and anyone who spends more than a few minutes browsing some of his blog posts will see a man who even loved those who practiced bad PR. (“Loved” might not quite be the right word: adored, maybe? Enjoyed? He took a perverse delight in their ineptitude, because even in their poorly targeted e-mail blasts, their terrible turn of phrase, their poor choice in tactics, there was a story there, too. Here’s but one example of countless exchanges he and I had over the years documenting this.)

This past July 4, I was driving my family north for a long vacation weekend. Early in the drive I got a call from one of my best friends, who was calling to tell me his wife had cancer. It hit me hard, and I spent much of that six hour drive predictably thinking about what’s important. Family. Friends. Legacy. As we neared our destination, it was dinner time. Rather than try to cook in the house we’d rented after a long drive, we found a local pizza joint that was open on the holiday. While I waited for our pizza to be finished, I checked my e-mail.

I didn’t recognize the name of the sender of the latest e-mail received, but I recognized the name in the subject line: Michael O’Connor-Clarke. The sender was Michael’s boss, sending to contacts in his address book, letting his extended network know that Michael was battling esophageal cancer.Michael died Saturday, 48 years old, leaving behind a wife and three children, and an online and offline community of thousands whose lives he touched.

Last fall he and I were e-mailing about a YouTube problem a client of his was having. I asked how his family was doing, and his reply spoke volumes about who he was:Things here are utterly wonderful, thanks. Actually in love with my job ... Great team, fantastic clients, and we're kicking 31 flavours of arse every single day. Family growing like weeds and eating us out of house and home, but all happy, healthy and (even more important) the kids all still like each other. La vita e bella.It seems simplistic to reflect on a friend’s passing and say that we should cherish every moment, treasure the time we get with those we love. But the story [...]



A family photo server

2012-10-08T11:08:15.442-07:00

Earlier this year I asked for suggestions on Google+ about dealing with increasingly large image collections. In our house, we have two DSLRs, four phones that take pictures, and two point and shoot cameras. The images from these are scattered across several hard drives and online backup accounts; over the past several years they've been inconsistently backed up. We have a network attached storage device that houses all images, but due to poor backup processes in the past, we have several cases of duplicate images.Adding to the complexity, we paid Scandigital to scan years of print photos – everything from our honeymoon to our first cross-country drive to our first house. This added several thousand images to our archive – a good thing, to be sure, as we now had electronic copies of pictures we hadn't looked at in years. But the challenge of managing those images – now numbering close to 50,000 – was getting insurmountable.I hadn't gotten around to actually implementing a solution – we had a busy summer and I wasn't convinced I really wanted to tackle this. Then my son had a school assignment last week requiring him to find a dozen pictures to share with classmates from his childhood... and actually finding pictures for him was a nightmare. After more than an hour of poking through our archive, we hadn't found more than 5 he was happy with. I was frustrated, he was annoyed, and it became clear this wasn't sustainable. It was time to dive in.The solution I more or less settled on was what I documented this summer: dedicate one desktop computer to organizing the image catalog. This past weekend, I picked up a computer at Best Buy, and I'm already happy with the progress (though I expect it'll be months before I will feel like I'm done). Here's what I did:The computerBought a Gateway desktop with a dual core Intel processor and a 1TB hard drive. Total cost? $350. (Twenty years-ago me will stare at that line for a long, long time. It's OK, me-from-the-past; computers are commodities but gas is now $5/gallon.) It features an HDMI port, so I parked the computer behind the television in our family room and plugged it into one of the TV's available HDMI connections; when I want to display photo albums easily, I can just pull them up on the TV. (Note: when I first connected the computer to the TV, the computer's display extended beyond the boundaries of the screen. This blog post helped me figure out the problem: I had to adjust the TV's settings to stop zooming in; once I did that, I was all set.)I added a Logitech wireless keyboard to the computer so I could operate the computer from the couch; it includes an integrated trackpad, and so far I'm pretty happy with it.The imagesCopied over all of the images from the NAS drive to the PC. Installed Picasa, and let it find all of the pictures. All told, there are slightly over 50,000 images taking up 200 gigs of disk space (I think there might be more, actually, but I haven't finished confirming that everything made it over yet). Thanks to the fast processor, indexing these images took Picasa just a few minutes; last time I tried this with a laptop it took hours and didn't complete. Hardware matters!The facesThis is where it started getting magical: after just a couple hours, Picasa had found thousands of faces across our images, and grouped them very accurately. All of a sudden, I could see photos of my six year-old daughter, from her birth to this past summer vacation. There's my twelve year-old son – at his third birthday party, on his first day of kindergarten, leaving for his first overnight Scout camp – in one place. And my ten year-old son – the day he was born, his first airplane ride, the day he learned to ride a two-wheeler. It wasn't just the kids: my wife and I are there too, as are the grandparents (including my grandparents, both of w[...]



Expecting better from our candidates

2012-09-12T09:23:45.079-07:00

Those of you who follow me on various social networks know of my involvement in a Congressional race in my new Congressional district. In what the National Journal has called one of the most interesting races in the country, 40 year incumbent Pete Stark is being challenged by 31 year-old Dublin city councilman Eric Swalwell. I've been fortunate to get to know Eric over the last 9 months, and have found him to be one of the hardest working, most committed candidates I've met. (And I've worked with a few!)While interesting, the race has also been disappointing. Congressman Stark, running for his 21st term in Congress, has lobbed unsubstantiated bribery accusations at Eric, has threatened the livelihood of a former supporter who now supports Eric, wrongly accused a reporter of contributing to Eric's campaign (he later blamed his 16 year-old son for the mistake), and refuses to debate Eric again because the press asks "stupid questions". Now that we're in the final 60 days of the campaign, Rep. Stark has taken to blatant misrepresentations of his own background in the hopes that he can eke out a final victory before retiring. We deserve better.Last night, Rep. Stark's campaign posted this picture to Facebook:It's the caption that strains credulity:I was pleased to have the opportunity to address members of the Alameda County Democratic Lawyers Club and to express my long-standing opposition to Citizens United and big money in politics.There are two claims in that paragraph: 1) he's been a long-standing opponent to Citizens United, and 2) that he's long opposed "big money" in politics.In the same debate in which he accused Eric of accepting "hundreds of thousands of dollars" in bribe money (a claim he later had to rescind and apologize for), Rep. Stark was asked point blank whether he supported Citizens United or not. His answer:"Corporations are treated as people, and they should... be... under the Constitution. The answer there is that if a corporation does something that a person could be prosecuted for, like Mr. Swalwell, if a corporation takes a bribe, the head of the corporation should be responsible criminally for that act, just as a person would be, so that every corporation must have an individual who is responsible and has to answer to the law for any crimes committed." (You can watch the debate here; this particular question comes up at 39:32 in the video.)Setting aside the personal attack that he later admitted was without merit, let's look at Rep. Stark's answer. His answer affirms that corporations are people, which was a part of what Citizens United was actually about. (You can read Wikipedia's summary here; the entire Supreme Court opinion is here.) Citizens United addressed the question of whether corporations had the same First Amendment right to free speech that people do. In an article this spring, Slate explained the practical effect of Citizens United:After Citizens United, the courts (most importantly in Speechnow.org v. FEC) and the FEC provided a green light for super PACs to collect unlimited sums from individuals, labor unions, and corporations for unlimited independent spending.When someone asks a candidate whether they support Citizens United, they're asking whether the candidate believes that it's OK for "super PACs to collect unlimited sums... for unlimited independent spending." What Pete Stark said was, yes, corporations are people, which suggests that he's comfortable with the Supreme Court's reasoning. Hard to see any opposition to Citizens United whatsoever.Which brings me to the second thing he said last night, where he spoke of his "long-standing opposition ... to big money in politics." I pulled the campaign contribution data from OpenSecrets.org for Rep. Stark, and the data tell a very different story than his Facebook post d[...]



ImportHTML and Google Spreadsheets

2012-07-27T09:49:13.792-07:00

We're getting ready to go on a family vacation to Alaska, and one of the big questions in the months leading up to the trip has been what the weather will be. Last week my wife and I were reviewing our trip todos and I stumbled on a great feature in Google Spreadsheets that I'd never used before: ImportHTML.Before each trip, my wife and I work from a shared spreadsheet. We list out the packing details, transportation, itinerary, etc., and then divvy up the tasks. (I should point out that my wife almost always shoulders the vast majority of these tasks.) As of a week ago, the long-range forecast at Accuweather.com was showing rain for the entire time we'd be in Alaska. Not awesome, but at least we'd be prepared.But as I looked at the spreadsheet with our itinerary, I was annoyed that I had what we'd be doing listed out, but not the weather (which could dramatically affect what we'd pack, and what we'd need for various days). That's when I found ImportHTML and fell in love.The premise behind the function is simple: in a cell, type =ImportHTML("[URL]","[query]","[index]"), where "query" is the element within the HTML that you want to import, and "index" is which element within the page you want to import. Here's how it works:I found this page at Accuweather.com that lists out the month's extended forecast for Anchorage, Alaska. Conveniently, it's laid out as an HTML .A quick look at the HTML source from that page confirmed that the table containing the weather data is the first table in the page, so in Google Spreadsheets I entered this:=ImportHtml("http://www.accuweather.com/en/us/anchorage-ak/99501/august-weather/346835?view=table","table",1)That parses the HTML data into individual cells in the spreadsheet; and from there it was a trivial matter to associate an individual day's weather (high/low/forecast) with its entry in the itinerary, giving us one screen that shows where we're staying, what we're doing, what the weather will be on each day, and what we'll need to pack. Here's a snippet of the spreadsheet:Best news of all? Now that we're just a week away from our arrival, the forecast is getting increasingly positive: a week ago all of these cells showed rain for the entirety of the trip; today when I opened the spreadsheet, just two days show rain and several days look to be pretty warm and sunny![...]



Kill Decision by Daniel Suarez

2012-07-20T16:06:28.556-07:00

One of the first "grown-up" books I read was Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton. He wrote it in 1969, while he was a medical student at Harvard Medical School. I remember not just loving the book, but admiring his attention to detail. My Dad worked at Millipore at the time, and I was surprised when I saw Millipore referenced in the book. It was obvious Crichton knew what he was talking about; though Andromeda Strain was a fantastic work of fiction, it was rooted in reality in a way that few books are.I had a similar reaction to early Tom Clancy, and later Scott Turow. There's something about an author who can both write a great story and who's intimately familiar with the intricacies of the space they're writing about. And it's exactly why I adored Daemon the first time I read it; here was a book that came from someone who knew technology. More importantly, it was clear that the author had given serious thought to the implications of technological developments. At its core, it was a book that wanted you to think about where these things were headed, and what that might mean for society.That author is Daniel Suarez, and it's been a privilege to get to know Dan over the last several years. (More on that here.) I'm hardly an objective observer at this point: I consider Dan and his wife Michelle to be good friends, and those who've known me for a while are likely tired of my enthusiastic recommendations of Dan's books.Couldn't be more excited for Dan that his newest book comes out tomorrow. It's Kill Decision, and if like me you love a good story that's rooted in an intimate understanding of its subject matter, you will adore it. Many others have written great summaries of the plot, so I'll let you read those rather than try to retell it.I read Kill Decision a few months ago, and what's stayed with me ever since was a deep unease at how present the book is. Where Daemon and Freedom™ were both far-fetched enough in plot that you could safely admire the technical accuracy while discounting the likelihood of seeing something like it play out in real life, I've had no such ability to do so since reading Kill Decision.Great authors give you a good story while leaving you with something to chew on. That's what made Kill Decision such a joy for me: Dan's written about something deeply unsettling: as the tools of war become less expensive and more anonymous, the very nature of warfare has changed (and continues to change). And as technology drives cheaper, smarter, and smaller devices, the potential to deploy those devices as instruments of war – particularly when they're autonomous and anonymous – is intellectually intriguing and simultaneously terrifying.Here are a few of the articles over the last several months that make the technology discussed in Kill Decision very, very present:A future for drones: Automated killing, Washington Post, September 19, 2011New drone has no pilot anywhere, so who's accountable?, Los Angeles Times, January 26, 2012Why Autonomous Drone Tech is Advancing so Quickly, John Robb, March 5, 2012If You Have a Smart Phone, Anyone Can Now Track Your Every Move, MIT Technology Review, April 20, 2012Drone Use Takes Off on the Home Front, Wall Street Journal, April 21, 2012Iran Says It's Copying US Drone, Herald Tribune, April 22, 2012U.S. military embraces robots with greater autonomy, Reuters, May 9, 2012With this, it won't surprise anyone that I highly recommend Kill Decision if you're looking for a thrilling, thoughtful read. Pretty sure that Dan will be a household name in a month or so as Kill Decision cracks the summer bestseller lists. It's that good, and most importantly I'm eager to see the conversation that develops as more people get exposed to the issues Dan raises.[...]



Building Character with the Boy Scouts

2012-07-17T11:48:39.736-07:00

"The Boy Scouts of America provides a program for young people that builds character, trains them in the responsibilities of participating citizenship, and develops personal fitness."That's how the Boy Scouts describe themselves at scouting.org. I support that mission wholeheartedly; it's why I've encouraged both of my sons to participate in Scouts for years. Both boys joined Cub Scouts as Tiger Cubs, my oldest is just a few requirements shy of advancing to a Second Class scout as a Boy Scout. My younger son earned his Webelos badge earlier this year, and plans to bridge to Boy Scouts this winter to join his brother in his troop.Today, the Boy Scouts completed a two year program reviewing their exclusion of homosexuals, and affirmed it. Deron Smith, the Boy Scouts national spokesperson, said that the committee that reviewed the policy "came to the conclusion that this policy is absolutely the best policy for the Boy Scouts."They're wrong. Excluding committed, engaged individuals who want to help my sons grow is the antithesis of building my sons' character. What this decision tells me is that the Boy Scouts of America are more interested in pursuing their own exclusionary morality ahead of my sons' personal growth. Last month, the Boy Scouts clarified their policy in a post on their blog:The BSA policy is: “While the BSA does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers, or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA.”Scouting believes same-sex attraction should be introduced and discussed outside of its program with parents, caregivers, or spiritual advisers, at the appropriate time and in the right setting. The vast majority of parents we serve value this right and do not sign their children up for Scouting for it to introduce or discuss, in any way, these topics.The BSA is a voluntary, private organization that sets policies that are best for the organization. The BSA welcomes all who share its beliefs but does not criticize or condemn those who wish to follow a different path.I'm a parent whom the BSA is supposed to be serving. My opinion was never sought, nor am I aware of any effort to solicit input from any of the parents in the packs/troops we've been involved in.That said, whether we continue with the Boy Scouts is a decision for my sons to make, not a unilateral conclusion to be handed to them. A hallmark of strong character is choosing the company you keep. My wife and I will be sharing this information with both of them, and giving them an opportunity to decide what to do about it. Because they are already strong, moral children, they know that we don't exclude others simply because they're different than we are. It's possible that they'll decide that they want to work within the organization to change it. If so, they will have my support. If they can't support the decision and wish to leave Scouting, I'll support that too.But what I won't do is let this decision go unnoticed, or let my sons ignore the implications of what it means for the organization they (currently) belong to. That is how you build character.[...]



My war on phone distraction

2012-07-10T12:16:30.419-07:00

At the risk of turning into a blog-stalker that only talks about his boss, I wanted to write up something I did in June as a direct result of watching a speech Joe gave on our "culture of distraction". Joe's entire speech is worth listening to, as it touches on a number of issues that I've been thinking a lot about lately:

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Joe identifies that much of the reason we're so distracted of late is the increasingly powerful devices we carry in our pockets — our phones:

  1. all of us have a device in our pockets that is a very potent, addictive distractor
  2. the more we train our brain to pay attention to this distractor, the more distracted we become.
Immediately after watching this, I radically changed how I use my phone: I turned off all notifications for everything except my calendar and Google Voice (for SMS messages). That means my phone no longer proactively checks my e-mail, it no longer checks for Facebook activity, it no longer checks for G+ updates, no longer alerts me when I have new @replies on Twitter. This doesn't mean I don't read e-mail, post to Facebook, or catch up on G+ or Twitter. When I want to do those things, I can manually update the apps — it takes just a few seconds to do. But what it does mean is that my phone is no longer constantly interrupting me to tell me I have new mail, new comments, new posts to read.

The result? I decide when to pay attention to the phone. I pull my phone out of my pocket when I want to engage, not when the phone demands my attention. I have more time to think, I spend less time being interrupted by my phone, and I am much less likely to get distracted. I pay more attention in meetings, I'm never tempted to open my phone up while driving, and as a bonus, the battery on my phone lasts much longer now that it's not checking for new data every few seconds.

I shared this idea with Brian Fitzpatrick a few weeks ago, and he pinged me this morning to tell me that not only is he far happier with his phone, he's also stayed at inbox zero for longer than he's ever done before. That's been my experience too: turns out when you decide when to focus on your inbox, you control it instead of the other way around!
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Failure is data

2012-06-22T09:52:45.422-07:00

A popular debate in the tech world is whether failure is good or bad. Eric Schmidt reminded people that at Google, "we celebrate our failures." Taking a contrary position was Jason Fried from 37Signals, who wrote back in 2007 that "I’ve never understood Silicon Valley’s obsession with failure."

NPR's Melissa Block recently visited Silicon Valley to talk about failure, interviewing (among others) Joe Kraus. Joe is who hired me to run Blogger several years ago, and is who brought me to Google Ventures last fall. The whole piece is worth a listen, but I found Joe's comments worth highlighting:
In my mind, the ones who have no fear of failure are merely the dreamers, and the dreamers don't build great companies. The people that thread the line between vision and being able to execute and having this healthy fear of failing that drives them — not paralyzes them, but drives them — to be more persistent, to work harder than the next person, that's a magic formula.
This is the important distinction. When I say I celebrate failure, it's because I see failure as data. Data itself is neither good nor bad: it's just data. But what you do with that data – how you learn from it, how you apply it to future decisions – that's why you "celebrate" failure. Failure in this sense is just a way to help inform future success, not an outcome to be celebrated.

You don't start something assuming you'll fail. And you don't pursue an idea without some awareness that it could fail. But fear of failure shouldn't stop you – as Joe notes, it should motivate you.

I was fortunate to address the 2009 graduating class at my alma mater, Richmond Law. In that address, I said this about failure:
When you think differently, accidents happen. Failures are unavoidable. But accidents aren't always failures, nor are failures always without value. When it's OK to fail, success becomes possible, and, through experimentation, the next step in the path presents itself.
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Remembering John Carroll

2012-06-18T09:06:55.331-07:00

In March, John Carroll died unexpectedly while jogging around the lake on campus at the University of Richmond. John and I were classmates together over 15 years ago, and reconnected when he returned to the law school as a professor leading the IP law clinic. John contributed an article to the first issue of the Richmond Journal of Law & Technology (a law journal I founded) in 1995, and was an advisor to many JOLT staff over the last several years. When the JOLT editors asked me to write a remembrance of John, I was honored to do so. (It is also published on JOLT's site.)John and I in the Richmond Times-Dispatchon the occasion of JOLT's inaugural issueAs much as I came to admire John Carroll in the 15 years that we knew each other, it was at his funeral in March that the full measure of the man became clear and the scope of our loss sank in. John was many things to us at Richmond Law — friend, scholar, mentor — yet he was so much more.John was a man of deep faith, a man who worked each day to improve the lives of those around him. John showed a respect for others that guided his every interaction, and he took great delight in being surrounded by such passionate and gifted students and colleagues.JOLT was fortunate to have benefitted from John’s passion in many ways — from his contribution to JOLT’s first issue in 1995 to his mentorship of many JOLT staff in the years that he taught at Richmond Law. As valuable as that support was, all of us who’ve worked on JOLT over the years grieve for a far more fundamental reason: losing John means that an entire generation of Richmond Law students won’t get to know him, learn from him, or benefit from his investment in their success.I had a history teacher in high school — Winslow Smith — who claimed that he started teaching because it was the only way he knew how to become immortal. His theory was that he’d live on in the memory of his students, and I suppose by recalling his comment from 25 years ago that I’m proving him right.I don’t want to dwell on the tragedy of John’s untimely death, I want to celebrate the gift that John was to those of us who knew him. Richmond Law continues to be a special place, one that emphasizes community and camaraderie for students and staff. It comes as no surprise that John excelled as both a student and a professor: his commitment to others and his delight in their accomplishments embodied the heart and soul of what makes Richmond Law such a unique institution.I mourn my friend’s passing. But I cannot help but be grateful for the chance to have met him so many years ago, and for the opportunity to share with you the memory of a great man so that he may live on.[...]



Success and luck

2012-06-07T10:21:49.570-07:00

For years, my favorite Michael Lewis piece has been his New Yorker magazine article about Shane Battier, The No-Stats All-Star. (I wrote about why that piece spoke to me here.) As of last weekend, I may have a new favorite: his recent baccalaureate address at Princeton. The entire address is worth watching, but here's the quote that has stuck with me:If you use better data, you can find better values; there are always market inefficiencies to exploit, and so on. But it has a broader and less practical message: don't be deceived by life's outcomes. Life's outcomes, while not entirely random, have a huge amount of luck baked into them. Above all, recognize that if you have had success, you have also had luck — and with luck comes obligation. You owe a debt, and not just to your Gods. You owe a debt to the unlucky. Watch the address:Whenever I've been asked for career advice, I have a few common recommendations. The first is that whenever I've had a career choice to make, I always optimize for learning. Even when I'm not entirely sure how that learning will benefit me, I've figured out that the act of learning itself is often what I find most energizing about my work. If you're learning, you will never be bored and you will acquire skills that can help you down the road.Second, I've tried to follow the example that I encountered in my first "real" work experience, when I was a law clerk at the EFF after my first year of law school. I worked for Shari Steele (who's now the executive director), and had several opportunities to interact with an amazing collection of smart people like Mike Godwin, Jonah Seiger, and Jerry Berman. I was extremely fortunate to find myself in that office that summer, and in many ways, I owe a lot to those early interactions. I learned that getting an answer often just requires asking the question. I discovered that many people — even famous people who you'd think would be too busy to chat with you — are more than happy to help. (And those that aren't? Just ignore them. Life's too short.) These days, I try to answer the questions I'm asked. I remember what an impact that had on me nearly 20 years ago, and what a difference it can make for the person who gets the answer they didn't expect. Read this post about a crazy phone call I made to GE's headquarters during that summer at EFF. Bottom line? Early in your career, ask the question. As you advance in your career, remember what got you there and answer the questions when you're asked.The more I've thought about Lewis's comments, I've now got another recommendation that I'll share with those who ask me for career advice: allow for luck. I have been extraordinarily lucky in my career. Sure, I've also applied what I knew, worked my ass off, and been pretty resilient through some rough patches along the way. But the minute you stop believing that luck plays a part in where you are, you stop being the person who can benefit from luck. As Lewis notes, you start believing you deserve everything you've got:In time you will find it easy to assume that you deserve [it]. For all I know, you may. But you'll be happier, and the world will be better off, if you at least pretend that you don't.[...]



Livestreaming Google+ Hangouts

2012-05-10T09:16:59.013-07:00

One of my responsibilities at Google Ventures is to plan the growing number of workshops that we offer to our portfolio companies. In the last several months, we’ve offered workshops on a variety of topics, including SEO, AdWords, latency, technical recruiting and candidate sourcing, A/B testing, and business development. With each new workshop announcement earlier this year, I received several replies from portfolio company employees outside the Bay Area: “What about us?!” It was a fair complaint: as we ramped up the pace of Startup Lab workshops in Mountain View, the unfortunate reality was that they required you to physically be in the Startup Lab to participate.Starting in March, we began using Google+ Hangouts to extend the audience beyond the Startup Lab, but quickly ran into our next hurdle: Hangouts support a maximum of 10 participants, and demand for our broadcasts almost immediately exceeded that number.This week the Google+ team announced that Hangouts on Air allow for unlimited viewers, and are now available to everyone. However, Hangouts on Air require the broadcasts to be public, which ends up not supporting our use case at Google Ventures: our broadcasts are available to anyone at our portfolio companies, but generally not to the public. As a result, we had to look at a way to leverage the early success of using Hangouts to enable interaction between remote attendees and presenters, while also retaining control over who could see the live broadcast.When I started digging in on the best way to extend live broadcasts of our Hangouts, I was surprised to find few sites documenting the best ways to accomplish what we wanted. Since many people expressed interest in what I ended up doing (not to mention the many Startup Lab occupants who put up with me testing things out at the Startup Lab in the last few weeks!), I figured it was worth a summary of what we’re now using in the current Startup Lab.Hangouts remain our platform for presenters to speak to the remote attendees, present slides, and screenshare their browser when showing specific sites, tools, etc. Remote attendees are invited into the private Hangout a few minutes ahead of the workshop, and can ask questions at any point throughout. In the Startup Lab, we run the Hangout from a Mac Mini, which has a Logitech C910 HD webcam pointed at the presenter. We use a Blue Snowball USB mic to capture audio in the room, and have a set of powered speakers plugged into the Mac Mini’s headphone jack.For the livestream, we’re using Ustream. I liked Ustream’s featureset – we have the ability to embed the stream on our site, remove our channel from Ustream’s site altogether, brand the video stream with our logo, password protect the stream so only authorized viewers can watch, and remove ads (we pay for some of these features). Running the Ustream production is a dedicated iMac – I went with a 27” 3.4 GHz quad core iMac so that I’d have the fastest machine possible handling the CPU load associated with live streaming.Remote attendees had pointed out that they had trouble following along with workshops when questions were asked in person in the Startup Lab – so we added a second camera (the upgraded Logitech C920 HD webcam) mounted on a tripod that’s pointed at the audience. When someone in the audience starts talking, we can switch to that camera so remote viewers can see the person who’s speaking and hear their question (which also avoids us having to have the presenter repeat the question).Controlling the livestream is Ustream Producer Pro, an app that lets you manage multiple “sh[...]



Adding Bluetooth to my car stereo

2012-03-11T13:28:31.556-07:00

A few months ago, I flirted with buying a new car. I've driven a Subaru B9 Tribeca for nearly 6 years, and I was attracted to a sedan that would get better mileage. The Tribeca's a fine vehicle, and since my commute has mostly involved driving to transportation (train in Illinois, the Google shuttle in California) instead of driving to work, it has very few miles on it (fewer than 50,000 miles). But I took a few cars for a test drive, and came close to pulling the trigger.In the end, I didn't. A paid-for car is a beautiful thing, even if it doesn't get fantastic gas mileage. In deciding to keep the Tribeca though, one frustration stuck with me: the stereo was frustratingly limited. There was no line-in option and no Bluetooth connectivity - so I had no way to listen to anything other than broadcast radio or CDs, and taking calls in the car meant using a headset. (I never liked Bluetooth headsets, and the wired headsets were always clumsy to put in when a call came in.)Last year I tried to solve this by adding a line-in port to the stereo, but ultimately failed. I ended up getting an FM transmitter (plugged into the headphone jack of my phone, and broadcast to one of a handful of FM frequencies to the car stereo), but the interference meant that even on relatively brief drives I'd have to change frequencies two or three times. I stopped using it after just a few months.I was at Best Buy a few weekends ago, and wandered to the car stereo section. I asked one of the salesmen whether there was a solution that'd let me add Bluetooth to the vehicle. Sure enough, there was: he told me about the Parrot kits that do exactly that - but I'd need to obtain the wiring harness for my vehicle independently, get it to them, and then they'd sell me the Parrot kit and do the install. (Trivia: this is the same Parrot that makes the AR drones!) Total cost would be around $500 (more if I wanted them to mount the phone on the dashboard). That was more than I wanted to spend, but sounded like a pretty ideal solution.The issue I'd run into last year was the inability to get the right wires into the existing harness, so even though I could hear the audio from the phone, it was very faint and a loud hum was constantly present (I suspect the line-in connection needed to be amplified and grounded). A wiring harness that would ensure everything connected properly would get around last year's obstacle.Online I went, and here's how I added Bluetooth to my 6 year-old car stereo for just over $300:Parrot MKi9200 ($180). This kit includes a microphone, a small dash-mounted LCD display to show call and audio information, a set of line-in cables (headphone, iPhone, USB), a remote (make/end calls, play/pause, next/previous, volume), and the junction box that routes the audio through the car's existing stereo.Quickconnect QCSub-1 MK ($50). This is what makes the installation a pretty straightforward affair. You can ditch the spaghetti mess that ships with the Parrot kit - this harness is configured to plug directly into the Subaru's stereo and into the Parrot, making it a plug-and-play setup.ProClip Vehicle Mount and Device Holder ($75). I'd tried suction-cup holders for my phone in the past, but inevitably would find them on the floor of the car as the suction would give way to gravity. (The last one I tried lasted just one afternoon.) Much like the Quickconnect site, you provide your year, make and model and they have a mounting bracket custom-sized for your vehicle, then you pick your device and you get a holder that is specifically tailored for your device.[...]



Taking passwords seriously

2012-01-17T10:30:36.965-08:00

I used to use the same password everywhere. In 1993, I crashed a Clinton inauguration party at a restaurant in DC, and for years my password was a derivative of that restaurant's name. I'd read somewhere that it was a good idea to include numbers in your passwords, so I picked a number and my "standard" password became "restaurant#name". Sometime a few years later, I read that symbols were good too - so the stand-by became "restaurant[number]name[symbol]". Every time I set that as my password, the password strength meters measured off the charts: it used a number and a symbol, wasn't in the dictionary, and I was probably the only person in the world with that particular password.But things began to get messy. Some sites didn't allow symbols. Others had a max character limit. As sites got more serious about security, some required mixed cases (some capitals, some lower case). Inevitably, my "standard" password became more like a template, with a half dozen derivatives. And it became increasingly hard to remember which site had which derivative.Several years ago, I realized that one password to rule them all was probably a bad idea. After all - if someone got ahold of my nytimes.com password, they'd probably be able to log into Amazon, Gmail, PayPal and any number of other sites. I resolved to use a pattern that was site-specific. That was marginally better, but anyone who got ahold of my password at one site could probably figure out my password on other sites.Then in December of 2010, Gawker was compromised, and the hackers didn't just publicize that they'd breached Gawker's servers, they published a file of all usernames and passwords. I had an account at Gawker, and as a result my password - and the simple pattern used to construct it - was available for the world to see. I'd read about password managers at the time, but thought that since I'd been able to survive for 15 years without one, I'd be OK just hardening my "standard" password. My new pattern incorporated the year, but now I had an even worse mess on my hands: I had dozens of accounts, and depending on when I'd last accessed them, a password that followed one of three possible patterns (with any number of derivatives). My method was falling apart. When 2012 arrived, it was clear I was toast. I couldn't have a year-dependent password pattern - did I open that account in 2011? 2012? Did I update it in 2010?This weekend, Zappos's 24 million customer accounts were compromised (I was one of them). Though we don't yet know how broad the breach was, or whether the attackers will publish an account list like the Gawker attackers did, I didn't need another reminder. It was time to get serious about my passwords.I asked people on Google+ and Twitter what they used to manage their passwords, and people overwhelmingly recommended two services - LastPass and 1Password. LastPass had a few more recommendations overall, so I started there.First off, a quick summary of what LastPass is: you create a username and password with LastPass, and as you log into websites it asks whether you'd like to store those in your LastPass "vault". Once stored, each username and password is available to you wherever you can access LastPass - whether on your computer, on a guest computer, on your mobile device, etc. If you're creating a new account, LastPass can generate a very secure password - it won't be memorable, it isn't guessable, and it'll be unique to that site and your username. (I just asked LastPass to generate a new password, here's what it came up with: "kkVUI8nZ".)W[...]



New year's resolution: get a job!

2012-01-04T14:20:37.215-08:00

Welcome to the new year. If your current job isn't thrilling you and you resolved to find a job you love in 2012, be sure to visit the Google Ventures job board. Our growing portfolio of start-ups are hiring - as of this writing, there are 371 jobs waiting to be filled.

Whether you're looking for a job in California, Colorado, DC, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Texas, or Washington, there are engineering, HR, bizdev, marketing, sales, design and ops roles that need to be filled. (Not in the US? Our portfolio companies are hiring in Germany, China, Brazil, Switzerland, Spain, and Hong Kong too.)

Rather work at Google? Google's hiring too.(image)



Businesses who don't trust customers

2012-01-03T12:37:05.010-08:00

Comcastic image from barbariangroup.com.Last month I contemplated something unthinkable (for me): I thought about breaking up with TiVo. I started my relationship with TiVo 11 years ago, with a Sony DirecTiVo box that I still consider among the best consumer electronics purchases I've ever made. Since then, I've gone through several TiVo boxes, as we moved from DirecTV to Comcast, from standard def to HD.So why consider leaving? In short, my wife and I (not to mention our kids) are watching less and less broadcast TV, opting instead for what we can get on demand. Netflix Instant is great for tv series and some diamond-in-the-rough films, and Amazon VOD (both the free-to-Prime subscribers as well as the on-demand rentals) has been great. Though both services technically work with our TiVo boxes, the interface for both on our GoogleTV is much better, and has been how we consume both services. As a result, we found we were watching fewer and fewer recorded shows from the TiVo, and we were watching the on-demand services through GoogleTV, bypassing TiVo altogether. By moving to the Comcast boxes, we'd also get access to Comcast's On Demand programming, which we pay for through our monthly subscription but have no way to access (TiVo and Comcast have been claiming On Demand support is coming for years, but even if/when it does come, it'll likely be on TiVo equipment I don't own).Off I went to Comcast to pick up a couple Comcast HD DVRs. I'd conveniently suppressed my last experience with Comcast equipment (that post is worth a read, btw), came home and hooked the first box up. It should have been simple, plugging the HDMI cable that had previously been connected to the TiVo into the Comcast box. (That HDMI cable is plugged into the GoogleTV box, which sends an HDMI signal to our receiver, which sends an HDMI signal to our TV.) Try as I might, I couldn't get anything to display on the television. The front of the Comcast box seemed to read "dU1", and I could only see a blue screen on the TV.I called Comcast, which produced nothing actionable - the best they could offer was that I should try a different box. (I already had.)After some Googling, I figured out what was up. It's called High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (or HDCP), and it's been in place for years. Turns out, Comcast doesn't trust me! Though I pay Comcast several hundred dollars per month - and was actually contemplating paying another $25/month for the two boxes - if I wanted to plug that HDMI cable into anything other than directly into my television, they consider me a pirate and forbid me from using my equipment at all. (That "dU1" error was actually saying "DVI", but given the limitations of the 1980s-era display on the cable box, that was the best they could come up with. To use the box, I'd need to revert to non-HDMI cabling, separating the video signal from the audio signal.)I immediately unplugged the Comcast box and returned both. Re-connected the TiVos, and went back to using my equipment exactly how I wanted (which, by the way, is entirely legal).So here's a 2012 resolution I intend to keep: companies who trust me get more of my money. Companies who don't trust me, or who implement unnecessary technical limitations on equipment I pay for and intend to use legally? Not so much.BTW, Fred Wilson has a related rant up today titled #screwcable:I've long believed that piracy is largely a business model problem not a human behavior problem. If you give people a legal way to consum[...]



Becoming a better photographer

2012-01-01T12:50:11.759-08:00

In keeping with my 2012 information diet, I've resolved to both blog more and take more photographs. Late last year I upgraded my camera - from a Nikon D80 to a Nikon D7000. Thought I'd document a bit about the gear I'm using and how I'm committing more to my photography hobby.My primary lens is a Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR II lens; I waffled a bit between this lens and a better zoom (had my eye on the Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8), but ultimately opted for the greater flexibility of the 18-200, along with the VR capabilities in the lens that should make hand-held shooting better. (For good reviews of the 18-200 that helped me make up my mind, see Thom Hogan and Ken Rockwell.) It also didn't hurt that the 18-200, while not inexpensive, was quite a bit less than the 80-200.I put a 72mm Hoya UV filter on the lens, and will probably pick up a polarizing filter before our summer trip to Alaska.Ade Oshineye echoed a recommendation I'd heard from several photographers: keep the camera with me at all times. To make that a bit easier, I picked up the Kata 3n1-33 backpack that will carry my camera and gear, as well as my laptop, power cords and books. I've really liked the bag, which can be a backpack or a sling, and features a nice easy-access compartment that makes getting to the camera really fast. Thanks to Chris White for the recommendation on Google+ - it's been a great bag so far.After I upgraded the camera body, I asked for some recommendations on books that'd help me improve, and have picked up several of the books that were suggested:Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson. This book does a great job explaining the 3 critical parts of a photo: ISO, aperture and shutter speed. Great illustrations and very readable copy make this a very solid explanation of how pictures are composed and how to get the right exposure every time.David Busch's Nikon D7000. I read through the Nikon manual - it does a great job explaining how to do things with the D7000's incredibly sophisticated controls. But what's missing is the why you'd do certain things - why you'd use one auto-focus option over another, why you'd tweak that noise reduction setting, why you'd choose one option over another. Busch's guide is a veritable bible for the camera, and is giving me much more appreciation for what the camera can do (and how I can take control of it).David Busch's Nikon D7000 field guide. This stays in the Kata bag, and is a condensed version of the D7000 bible mentioned above.BTW, many thanks to some great photographers/friends for their advice on Google+: Erica Joy, Chris Chabot, Bud Gibson, Ade Oshineye, David Hobby, and Thomas Hawk. You should follow them!Finally, I've switched from Picasa to Adobe Lightroom for managing my photos. While I was generally happy with Picasa, I've found Lightroom to be a more fully-featured app - both for managing photos shot in RAW and for the large volume of photos I'm shooting. I'm still getting the hang of it, but have found Adobe's Lightroom TV a great collection of tutorials to get more out of the app.Of course, none of this is any good without developing a better eye, and lots of practice. To that end, I'm following a lot of photographers on Google+ and observing what I like (and what I can understand!), and am trying to take a lot more pictures. I've had the camera less than a month and have taken well over 1,000 pictures. We took some family down to Monterey right before Christmas, and I took a couple shots I'm rea[...]



My Information Diet

2011-12-16T12:01:04.882-08:00

This past summer I had lunch with Clay Johnson, and he told me he was hard at work on a book called The Information Diet. I read an early manuscript copy, and am excited to see that the Kindle version of Clay's book is out as of yesterday.I'm over-simplifying, but his general premise is that we don't have an information overload problem, we have an information obesity problem. In the same way obesity is less a result of too much food and more about the wrong kind of food, our problem today is that we are spending too much time consuming the wrong information, and we're not disciplined enough about how/when/where we consume the right information. After reading his book, I can say he makes a compelling case.First, a bit of background: I met Clay when he worked on the Dean campaign, and I was a very active volunteer from Illinois. The Dean campaign was full of smart, idealistic people like Clay - and for much of the summer and fall of 2003, it looked like smart and idealistic was going to take our country back. It was fun while it lasted.I remained friends with Clay and active in politics after the Dean campaign ended. I had the incredible opportunity to be the lead blogger on then-State Senator Obama's campaign blog. I eventually landed at a startup in Chicago, which was then acquired by Google and we moved to California.Over the last 4 years, I've become frustrated by the seeming broken-ness of the political system. Conservatives watch Fox News and read Drudge, liberals watch MSNBC and read Daily Kos. Both are not only certain they're right, they're flabbergasted that the other guys are dumb enough to fall for the obvious agenda of their news outlet of choice.Through some combination of my law school training, some of that latent political idealism, and having some family members whose opinions diverge with my own but are often exceptionally well-informed, I actually want a strong opposition (whether that happens to be my team or the other team - doesn't matter). I believe that the other side of the aisle often has points that are not only valid, they may actually be convincing. Though I strongly identify with many of the core ideals of the Democratic Party, I have frequently voted against candidates from that party.Clay's own evolution - from campaign operative to political activist to transparency advocate to author - echoes some of those same concerns. Once he understood that much of what he was working on was treating symptoms rather than the cause of the problems he was confronting, he set out in search of the root cause. And that's where the Information Diet comes in.Clay's book is worth your time and attention, and more importantly it should lead to some evaluation of your own behaviors to see how you can get in shape (informationally, that is). Using the analogy of factory farming - drawing a line from the subsidization of cheap calories to a direct impact on the nation's obesity - Clay goes into the trend of mass-produced "content" (not really "news" or even "information", but content). In the same way that cheap calories lead to unfit consumers, cheap content has led to unfit information habits. It's easy to find the content that agrees with you, that reinforces your point of view, and proves, once and for all, that everyone who disagrees with you is an idiot.Problem is, it's just as easy for them to do the same thing. Where that leads us is to a government that's threatened [...]



Stop SOPA and PROTECT-IP

2011-11-17T17:53:10.200-08:00

There's a pretty bad bill going through DC right now. Quoting at length from Matt Cutts' blog post I Need Your Help from earlier this week: Here’s what I need:1. Take a few minutes to learn about the SOPA/E-PARASITE/PROTECT IP bills. They’re really bad bills.2. Take five minutes to call your Congressperson on the phone. If you live in Texas, Michigan, Vermont, or Iowa, this goes double for you.3. Get the word out. Tell your friends on Facebook, Twitter (maybe a hashtag like #stopsopa), or Google+. If your parents live in a different state, ask them to call their Congressperson too.I would really, really appreciate the help. If you’re the kind of person who reads my blog or follows me online, I’m pretty sure the more you read about SOPA, the less you’ll like it.If SOPA becomes law, it could stifle the innovation (and jobs) that the technology industry creates. That’s why Facebook, Twitter, Mozilla, Google, Yahoo, eBay, AOL, LinkedIn, and Zynga all oppose SOPA. This is not a Democratic or Republican issue–Red State thinks SOPA is a bad idea too.[...]