Monthly Archives: December 2010

A Fire Upon the Deep

Last time I listed books without a review, somebody accused me of wasting their time — just a list without any reviews?

So I reviewed Vernor Vinge’s “A Fire Upon the Deep”, which I just finished reading.

I decided to go ahead and add sci-fi to my hn-books site. Lots of hackers love sci-fi too, and there’s more to life than startups or hacking — at least that’s what they tell me. :)

Also I found a pretty cool interview video and put over on the hn-books site where Vinge talks about his opinion about the coming singularity.

We’ll see how this new topic idea does. Maybe I’ll do some more. Who knows? I’m reading “Containment” right now — trying to finish it up before heading back to work. So far I have very mixed feelings about it, though. It could end up being my first “don’t read this” review. We’ll see.

The hn-books site continues to make a little money here and there. It’s an interesting-enough experiment to keep up for a while. (I liked it enough that I’m working on a similar site for fans of electronics gear. Hope to be able to announce that one sometime in January)

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Do More Faster

As part of my 2-week startup program, I’m also reading a new book on startups every two weeks and posting the review on my test site, hn-books.com

I’m only reading what folks think are the best books — not so that I can heap false praises on the books, but basically because I don’t want to waste my time.

If you’re interested in the latest book, “Do More Faster”, check out the review over on the other site. it’s a collection of short essays from founders as they work through the startup process. It covers a lot of ground.

Next in the queue is (hopefully) a good book on SEO (Search Engine Optimization). I figure no matter what your startup, folks need to know about it, and search engines are the way to do that. SEO skills are becoming much more critical than they were, say ten years ago. At least until social referral marketing matures to be a little more predictable.

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Numerical Nuttery

Do you realize that American schools are doing very well, it’s just the difference in percentage of immigrants between schools that makes for such low test scores?

That’s the conclusion of an article I just finished reading.

I don’t know if it’s true or not — although I have my doubts about such assertations. But what I do know is that the lunatics are out of the asylum and running free.

There is something really wrong here, and it has nothing to do with your opinions on education, immigration, or politics.

It’s all about how groups of people interact and how we try to understand them.

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A Christmas Failure

Now that the gifts are unwrapped, the glow is gone, and the snow is falling, I was sitting here alone Christmas morning sadly thinking of how my mom and dad died this year and how I’ll never see them or hear from then again. How much I miss them. But instead of dwelling in melancholy, I thought it might be a good time to take a look at who got any benefit from my Christmas present I made for folks this year.

A few weeks ago I had an idea: why not write a free program for people as a Christmas present? It was a huge pain in the butt to write, but in the end I had an app that stored lists for folks. Nothing super or fantastic, just an app that stored lists.

After finishing a few days ago, I set about trying to tell as many people as I could about my gift, asking myself the question: just how many people can I give a present to, anyway?

And now we have the answer. In the last few days, from the logs, the results are:

Total visitors 587
Total data entry attempts 45
Lists entered 35
Lists retreived 42
New users created 22

Only 22 users! And 3 of those were guys trying a SQL injection attack.

But it gets worse. I immediately started counting up the failures of the experiment. Out of 150 Facebook friends I messaged to tell about my gift, 25 of them dumped me for simply messaging them and telling them I had made a Christmas present. That’s about 16%. Out of the almost 600 people visiting, only 20 or so signed up. That’s only 1 in 30. And out of a dozen or so startup/submit-your-idea sites, only a couple of them even bothered to write back or post a link telling folks about my app.

What a total distaster.

Or was it?

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It’s the Holidays. Forget startups and tech and read something fun

This year for the holidays I am doing something really strange and odd: I am not working on my startup.

Ever since I’ve started my every 2-weeks-a-new-startup plan, and and started using the stopwatch to force myself to stop working, I’ve noticed a general lessening of my tension. I find that I still generate a hell of a lot of tension working up to a release, but by having a predictable cycle I actually get more done and end up relaxing better in the times between cycles.

Gee — I wish I had done this years ago.

So in that spirit, I’d like to urge you to force yourself to stop what you are doing and go do something fun! Read a fun book. In the long run it’ll make you more productive and happier.

Here are some books that I’ve loaded into my kindle for the next week. Some of them I’ve already finished. Each of these I researched over on Amazon. I tried to only get books that were hard sci-fi, that were singletons (not one of a thousand-part series), and that had great reviews (and a large number of great reviews)

All of these are Amazon links. These are also all e-books, which means you can click a couple of times and start reading. I wish I could have done a better job with the formatting, but it’s Christmas and I’m just trying to get the list out there. Apologies for the poor job with the html and the lack of a detailed review, but like I said, sometimes there are more important (and fun) things than tech and startups, right?

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The Web App that’s not a Web App

I have to admit getting a few chuckles in over the past month.

A month or two ago, I introduced my hobby site, hn-books. Basically I took the hacker site I usually visit, found out what books hackers recommend to each other, put them in one spot. Now I’m going through them and reading all the good ones and reviewing them.

Fun stuff, but the really enjoyable part, at least professionally, is the response I got to the way the site was designed.

Several people complimented me on the speed of the app — great query time! Very responsive! Nice speed on the database times!

I appreciate that. App speed was so important to me that I decided not to make it an app.

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The Web Control HTML 5 Left Out

On the web, we live in a binary world. Do you like something? Vote up or down. Are you through with this form? Push the button to submit it. List the books you recommend on your blog.

All of these things (and more) ask us to make a choice between A or B. We are either A or we are B.

But the real world doesn’t work that way. Yes, I like it, but not as much as that other thing. And yes, I’m kind of done with the form, but I’d also like to double check some of my answers and come back to them. And yes, those 4 books were the best Javascript books I know, but they rank completely differently if we’re talking about web programming in general.

That’s why I was happy to see this control group on a recent charity site:


It’s the slider list, a grouping of controls that lets you rank things against each other, instead of just saying yes or no.

The slider list, and the more complicated slider array, are extremely important tools. Without them we are stuck in a wed where Google presents us the “perfect” list of search results, where Facebook ranks the “perfect” list of status updates for us, and where our content aggregation sites give us the perfect rank of news stories.

But life isn’t perfect. Many times there is no one answer to what I like. Having a slider list or a slider array in HTML 5 would have been an awesome acknowledgement that the tyranny of binary thinking is over. But alas, it didn’t happen.




I’m a computer guy who also likes writing and learning about startups. If you liked this article, you’ll really like the review I did today on this cool startup book

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Wikileaks Morals: The Cliffs Notes Version

You are mad at country X. Country X is a miserable place. It oppresses its people, it abuses its neighbors, it kills innocents, it lies to its own citizens, it endangers the entire world.

One day, while walking along a beach, you find a trove of documents about country X. It is secret documents they have kept to themselves.

Some of the documents confirm your worst suspicions. Look! They knew they were doing the wrong thing here. See! Here is proof that they were deliberately torturing people and eating their grandmothers.

But some of the documents show that you were wrong. Lots of people doing the right thing. Lots of lives saved. Lots of being a force for good in the world.

Of course, the vast majority of the docs are so mundane and varied in subject matter that it’s impossible to determine what impact they might have. After all, there are hundreds of thousands of documents, covering the details of personal relationships among tens of thousands of people, with a subject area just as large.

What do you do?

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