Feeling Positive About the Future

I’m feeling pretty pumped right now. Been watching lots of TED talks through their iPhone app lately. Damn good stuff.

I just watched Ray Kurzweil’s talk, “A university for the coming singularity“, where he discussed information technology’s growth being a series of S-curves that are exponential instead of linear. Moore’s Law, for example, is one such exponential trend that would fit into an S-curve. Once Moore’s Law ends (apparently around 2020, says Kurzweil), it will be replaced by another paradigm. Perhaps one governing green technology?

And speaking of green technology, this segment especially pumped me up:

…we’re all concerned about energy and the environment. Well, this is a logarithmic graph. This represents a smooth doubling, every two years, of the amount of solar energy we’re creating. Particularly as we’re now applying nanotechnology, a form of information technology, to solar panels. And we’re only eight doublings away from it meeting 100 percent of our energy needs. And there is 10 thousand times more sunlight than we need.

Eight doublings, where a doubling occurs ever two years. So in ten years, according to Kurzweil, solar harvesting technologies could be efficient enough to make all the energy we need.


On a side note, there was an article today on Techmeme that was also positively-pumping: “Could this be the end of electric power cords?” by David Colker from the LA Times. Colker writes about how the company WiTricity has been working on technology to send wireless electrical power to remote devices.

This technology is based on the work of MIT physicist Marin Soljacic, who spoke at a TEDGlobal conference in Oxford, UK. According to Colker, the technology “works on something called resonant magnetic coupling and is safe for humans. And on an environmental note, [WiTricity CEO Eric Giler] said it could not only eliminate power cords but also tons of batteries used yearly to power household devices.”

Great strides in green technology. Enough solar power to relinquish the need for fossil fuels. And all happening in the next decade or so. Oh man.

Good times are coming!

Night Owls are Smarter and Richer

“Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”
– Unknown

New York City Skyline Sunset Thank goodness I’m a night owl. Because that means I’m smarter and richer than you.

At least, that’s what Fiona Macrae from Mail Online concludes from a new study by the University of Liège. Led by Christina Schmidt, the team studied homeostatic and circadian processes, which “operate to maintain the quality of our waking hours and of our cognitive performance during a normal day,” to “better understand the cerebral bases of these regulatory mechanisms and the ways in which they interact.”

In plain English, that means they wanted to find out how our brains work throughout the day and whether or not being a morning person (a lark) or night person (an owl) made a difference.

The answer: Yes. And now we know exactly how it makes a difference.

If both a lark and an owl (to use their parlance) have been awake for 1.5 hours, both will perform equally well on tests. But if both have been awake for 10.5 hours, larks will be feeling tired while owls will actually feel slightly more energetic.

That’s right, you morning people! That burst of energy us night people get more than compensates for our sluggish starts in the morning. Overall, we are more productive than you. Boo-yah!

And to think that I’ve been thinking about shifting my rhythm to become a morning person (if that’s even possible). Forget that. Maybe the saying should be this instead:

“Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man poor, unsure and full of tired sighs.”

However, one of the supervisors of the study, Philippe Peigneux, was quoted in National Geographic News as saying, “morning types may be at an advantage, because their schedule is fitting better with the usual work schedule of the society. It may represent a problem for evening types obliged to wake up early while having difficulties going to bed in the evening, eventually leading to a sleep debt.”


In my line of work, I need to be up when my clients are up. And if my clients are up at 6:00 AM, then I have to be too. C’est la vie.

But wait, what about the claim that owls are smarter and richer than larks? Is that true? In addition to the aforementioned article by Macrae, Leon Kreitzman of the NY Times mentions in passing, “If anything, owls were wealthier than larks, though there was no difference in their health or wisdom.”

Strike one for being smarter. It isn’t concrete data on owls being richer either. And unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find any more information to substantiate the claim, as much as I’d like it to be true.

I did find this interesting information though:

Oh well. Whether or not being an owl makes me smarter or richer, one thing’s for certain – I definitely get into the flow later in the evening and am sluggish in the mornings. If I’m just as productive as a morning person after having a chance to wake up, then that’s totally awesome.

Also, I ought to play Texas Hold ’em with larks in the evening, after we’ve all been awake for about 10.5 hours. Let’s see how well you play then, morning people! Boo-yah!

What Kind of Tech User Are You?

Tokyo Shopping in Akihabara Are you a heavy tech user that paradoxically hates being so digitally connected? You’re not alone, according to The Mobile Difference, a new report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

According to this organization’s website, they are a “non-partisan, non-profit ‘fact tank’ that produces reports exploring the impact of the internet on families, communities, work and home, daily life, education, health care, and civic and political life” that was started in late 1999.

Their researchers surveyed a random & representative sample of 2,054 US residents in 2007. From that survey, they came up with ten categories of people grouped by their usage of technology.

One group of heavy technology users – the Ambivalent Networkers – don’t actually like their level of connectedness. And no, these people aren’t who you think they are. Ambivalent Networkers are mostly males in their late 20s, the post-college working-professional crowd. Not quite what you’d expect, huh? Or, perhaps, exactly what you would expect.

The ten groups identified by this report are:

Digital Collaborators – 8%
People using technology to collaborate with others and share their creativity with the world. This group has the greatest number of information gadgets of any group, the widest scope of online activities, and the most frequent internet habits.
Ambivalent Networkers – 7%
People using mobile devices heavily to connect with others and entertain themselves, but they don’t always like it when the cell phone rings. They rely on mobile devices to connect socially with others or to entertain themselves. Yet, they feel that this connectivity can be intrusive at times.
Media Movers – 7%
People using online access to seek out information, then happily pass them along to others via desktop and mobile access. They do not see information & communication technology as a key part of their personal productivity, but as a way to keep in touch with family and friends.
Roving Nodes – 9%
People using their mobile devices to connect with others and share information with them. They use social networking sites to mediate communication among their crowd, but are not much into blogging or maintaining their own web pages.
Mobile Newbies – 8%
People lacking robust access to the internet but like having their cell phones. They mostly use the plain old fashion voice capability of the mobile device, although occasionally they will fire off a text message to someone. The internet is very much on the periphery for this group of people.
Desktop Veterans – 13%
People dedicated to wireline access to digital information and enjoy how it opens up the pipeline to information for them. They use the internet actively for information gathering, staying in touch with others and enhancing their productivity. However, they are not heavily cell phone users.
Drifting Surfers – 14%
People who are light users and say they could do without modern gadgets and services. They will skip a day of using the internet without worry, and are likely to be emailing or checking news headlines when they do log on. Blogs and online video are not much of a concern for them.
Information Encumbered – 10%
People who feel overwhelmed by information and inadequate to troubleshoot modern information & communication technologies. Most often feeling information overload, they also need help in getting their devices and services to work. Old media such as the TV or landline telephone suit them fine.
The Tech Indifferent – 10%
People who are unenthusiastic about the internet and cell phone. They are infrequent online users and do the majority of phone calling on their home landlines. Not many in this group would care if they had to give up their cell phone or online connection.
Off the Network – 14%
People who neither use cell phones or the internet. This is a group of older, low-income Americans. While some have computers, they are not currently connected to the network (although some used to be).

Are you an Ambivalent Networker? Or a Drifting Surfer? Or a Desktop Veteran? Take this survey and find out.

Here are my results:

You are an Digital Collaborator

“If you are a Digital Collaborator, you use information technology to work with and share your creations with others. You are enthusiastic about how ICTs help you connect with others and confident in how to manage digital devices and information. For you, the digital commons can be a camp, a lab, or a theater group – places to gather with others to develop something new.”

That sounds about right. I like being connected and feel pretty confident that technology enables me to be more productive. With this blog, my writing blog, a Twitter account, a Flickr account, a Facebook account, a LinkedIn account, and a many more, I’m definitely sharing information.

What kind of tech user are you?

How to Follow Your Dreams

Photo of Jimmy Byrum Want to hear an amazing story?

I had coffee with a good buddy from Yahoo! (YHOO) this weekend, Jimmy Byrum. I tell you his name because he’s one of those guys who you just know will be famous one day. Then I can look back and say, “See, I called it!”

Jimmy was a rock star developer at Yahoo!. He wrote most of the HTML, CSS, and JavaScript code for a previous version of Yahoo!’s home page. The code was so well-written and optimized that an outside reviewer claimed it must have been written by a machine. (I wish I could find the article that stated that… anyone know the URL?)

A quick aside – code should never be prematurely optimized. It should be optimized for developers first (using good programming practices), then users second (using automated tools). Jimmy just happened to be one of those rare people who could optimize his own code better than the automated tools at the time.

But that isn’t the amazing story. The amazing story is that he dropped all that – a rising career, highly-desired technical skills, and a growing reputation – to travel throughout South America and teach English. He could easily be a recognized technical leader right now. Or working at a fantastic start-up. Or starting his own company. Instead, he chose to drop all that.


Because he chose to follow his dreams.

How many of us can say we’re ready to drop everything and follow our dreams? Yes, it is hard to turn your back on everything you’ve worked for. It’s scary as hell. But what if all that stuff wasn’t really what you wanted? What if your true dreams lie elsewhere? On your deathbed, are you going to look back at your life and say, “Boy, I’m glad I worked so many hours at the office and didn’t start a band like I always wanted”? Probably not. So what’s holding you back?

Why People Don’t Follow Their Dreams

There are three major reasons why people don’t follow their dreams:

  1. Too scared to drop everything for their dreams
  2. Don’t have the ability to follow their dreams (e.g. family obligations, health issues, physical limitations, etc)
  3. Don’t know how to follow their dreams

If you’re too scared to follow your dreams, then you have my sincerest condolences. You’ll probably be trapped in the rat race and either learn to accept your chosen lot in life, or end up a bitter old person.

If you don’t have the ability to follow your dreams, you also have my sincerest condolences. Sometimes there are situations beyond our control that limit our abilities. However, I’d like to introduce you to six-year-old Cody McCasland and former race car driver Alex Zanardi – both of whom are legless, yet still ran 26-mile marathons. They are proof that when you put your mind to something, anything can happen.

(By the way, if money is your limitation, that’s a lame excuse. Jimmy’s example below will prove that money isn’t a true limitation.)

If you don’t know how to drop everything and follow your dreams, let me tell you how:

  1. Determine your end goal
  2. Build a plan
  3. Take each step one at a time
  4. Stay focused
  5. Continuously revise your plan as situations change
  6. Reach your goal

Jimmy’s Example: Traveling the World

Sounds easy enough, right? Maybe too easy. Let me use Jimmy as an example.

  1. Determine your end goal

    Jimmy knew he wanted to travel the world and have new experiences.

  2. Build a plan

    Determining his end goal was easy enough. Building a realistic plan was much tougher. He didn’t sit down and type out a formal plan of any kind though; he followed his heart and his plan revealed itself to him. But if writing out a formal plan helps you, then you should definitely do it.

    Traveling the world requires time, money, and guts. So years in advance, Jimmy began saving up. He lived frugally and taught himself how to maintain a strict budget. This required a lot of financial discipline, but he stuck to it.

    To build up his comfort level, he took baby steps. He read vigorously and moved from the East Coast to the West Coast. This may not sound like much, but some people never leave their home towns. Moving across the country is a huge step.

    Living on a budget and moving across the country gave him money and guts. And if he did this fast enough, he’d have time too, while he’s still young and healthy.

  3. Take each step one at a time

    Then he took his next step – he transferred to the London office. This still kept him within familiar boundaries: a steady paycheck, doing a job he knew, and an English speaking environment.

    From there, he took his next series of steps and did what any North American in London would do – weekend excursions all over Europe, baby! Traveling around Europe and being in non-English speaking cultures further emboldened him to continue forward.

  4. Stay focused

    Many times, he was tempted with raises and offers at other great companies. But he stayed focused. He politely turned down each offer and continued saving his money.

  5. Continuously revise your plan as situations change

    Every once in a while, he adjusted his plans. Instead of traveling the world like Caine, he thought about other, more realistic alternatives. Friends taught him Spanish. Then somewhere along the way, he heard about a program teaching English in South America. That became his next step.

    This way, he could maintain his financial capital, have room and board, learn the Spanish language and culture, and most importantly, contribute meaningfully to the world. And that’s just what he did.

  6. Reach your goal

    What’s he going to do next? You’ll just have to ask him. But you can bet it will be another step closer to his goal!

My Example: Becoming an Entrepreneur

You may be wondering what’s this got to do with business and entrepreneurship? Well, it has everything to do with business and entrepreneurship. Do you dream of being an entrepreneur one day? Of owning your own company? Of being your own boss? I did. So let me close with my example of how I’m following my dreams.

  1. Determine your end goal

    One of my end goals is to start my own business. Those who know me know I have many goals in life. This is just one of them.

  2. Build a plan

    I knew that being an entrepreneur involved a lot of risk and a wide range of knowledge. My specialty is the internet, so I knew I needed experience in technology, UI design, marketing, sales, business fundamentals, finance, project management, people management, leadership, etc.

    My nature is to be conservative and risk-adverse, so I structured my career path to lead me to this goal. I applaud those who jump right into their own companies – I totally admire you guys. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with my approach; it’s just where my comfort level lies.

  3. Take each step one at a time

    My resume kind of reads like my plan. One of my first jobs was doing web design. Then web development. Then a technical management. Then a product management. Each pushed me outside my comfort zone and into new skills and experiences.

  4. Stay focused

    It would have been easy to stay in a particular role and become specialized. Changing roles didn’t always give me the highest salary. In fact, some role switches bumped me down in salary. But I did it anyways because it put me closer to my end goal.

  5. Continuously revise your plan as situations change

    Plans didn’t always go as smoothly as I liked. Originally, I wanted to start a company early this millennium, like every other dot-com hopeful. Then the dot-com bombed and I changed plans. I decided to grow my skills in a stable corporate environment that provided a steady paycheck.

    This gave me time to build up my capital, as well as some other side benefits – growing my network, meeting some amazing people, and giving me invaluable knowledge and experience.

  6. Reach your goal

    Ultimately, I knew that starting my own company couldn’t happen while I had a steady paycheck. The hunger & fear of working without a safety net is a strong teacher. So I finally took the biggest step. I quit my job and became an entrepreneur. After a few false starts, I now have a profitable business (to be announced shortly, once we finish our website).

Dropping everything and following your dreams is scary. But it is possible. Very possible. Just look at Jimmy. He’s now gallivanting around the world with a big smile on his face. And look at me, owning a business and learning a great deal about entrepreneurship. What are you doing?

Photo by: James Byrum

Silicon Valley vs Los Angeles Tech Entrepreneurs

I’m moving to Southern California in a few months. Knowing this, a friend pointed me to Jason Nazar’s latest blog entry, “A Tale of Two Tech Cities – Silicon Valley vs. Los Angeles“.

Nazar, the founder of Santa Monica start-up Docstoc.com, compares the web & technology entrepreneurs he’s met in Silicon Valley with those he’s met in Los Angeles. While they are only his opinions and generalizations (a disclaimer he clearly notes), they are interesting opinions and generalizations. Perhaps fodder to what I should expect when I make the move?

Silicon Vally Tech Founders Los Angeles Tech Founders

“Bay area founders are amazing technologists. They build obsessively user focused products, do a fantastic job at virally driving a ton of traffic, but usually have their head up their ass when it comes to making money.”

“At parties in the Bay people talk about Twitter, Friend Feed, what’s being written on Valleywag and Techcrunch, and kickball games between VC’s and entrepreneurs.”

“Folks in the Bay are generally way more obsessive about their products, work harder/longer, can be a bit snobby about their accomplishments and tend to be clique-ish.”

“Los Angles founders are hustlers and deal makers. They are more focused on the bottom line and care more about their P&L than their products, which tend to be messy.”

“At parties in Los Angeles people talk about a media deal they’re “closing”, what TV star is at the party, and some “gray hat” spam-like technique that made them an extra 100K last month.”

“Folks in Los Angeles are shrewder business people, have better interpersonal skills, but are more full of shit and two faced, and struggle to build products that get virally adopted.”

Utter bullshit? Hint of truth? What do you think?

Photo by: Unobtanium

Props to Waterless Urinals

There comes a time in every blog that the topic of urinals must come up. Well, maybe not every blog. But certainly this one.

Today, I feel the need to give props to businesses who’ve been installing waterless urinals lately. There’s one in my local public library and I’ve seen a few more around town.

According to Wikipedia, waterless urinals save about 15,000 to 45,000 gallons of water per urinal per year. In a five-urinal restaurant, that would mean 75,000 to 225,000 gallons of water per year. Holy crap that’s a lot of water!

These urinals are also hygienic because they are touch-free. I don’t mean you could eat out of one of these things (God help you if you do), but you don’t have to push any handles to flush it. That puts it on parity with the water-flush touch-free urinals currently out there.

There’s no smell either, in case you’re wondering. How? At the bottom of the urinal is a trap that holds (or “traps”, duh) your urine. A liquid sealant then floats on top of the urine, isolating it from the outside air.

Every new technology is not without costs, however. The maintenance required is replacing the trap and sealant liquid. The traps – or cartridges, as they’re formally known – need to be replaced approximately every 6,000 to 7,000 uses. They cost anywhere from $5.00 to $40.00 each. Sealants cost $1.50 to $2.00 each. And the waterless urinals themselves can cost $400 to $600 each. Couple that with retrofit installation costs, and it can add up a bit.

But it still might be worth it. Annette Stumpf of the US Army Corps of Engineers did an evaluation of waterless urinals (PDF file) and includes some sample cost calculations in her paper. Also in her paper are links to two cost-savings worksheets, one from Waterless and another from Falcon, two manufacturers of waterless urinals.

Then there’s the intangible cost of conserving a natural resource. It’s difficult to put a dollar value to that, but it does count for a tremendous amount. Especially in areas and times of drought.

If you own a brick-and-mortar business (as us web geeks call it; you probably just call it a “store”), consider switching to waterless urinals. Not only could they be a good cost-savings investment, but they could also be good for your local environment and the future of your children’s children.

And with all this talk of urinals, how can I leave off without pointing out some important urinal rules:

One Web Day: Earth Day for the Internet

Happy One Web Day! Yup, that’s today, September 22nd. It’s a day to celebrate and internet and to focus our attention on a key internet value. This year, it’s online participation in democracy.

Started by University of Michigan Law Internet Law and Communications Law professor Susan Crawford in 2006, this year’s event features a number of prominent speakers in New York, including Stanford professor and author Larry Lessig, Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Perry Barlow, and Pandora founder Tim Westergren. Quite a list of luminaries!

One of One Web Day’s collaborative features is their Stories submissions. It’s a way for you to share how the Internet has changed your life. So in the spirit of One Web Day (or is it OneWebDay, all one word?), here’s how the Internet has changed my life.

How the Internet Changed My Life

I was a lucky kid. My Dad introduced me to email and newsgroups at an early age. He even encouraged me to program in BASIC on a Tandy CoCo, a TRS-80 Color Computer. So I was online, learning about Usenet, netiquette, and emoticons before most people.

One day, while in college, my sophomore roommate pulled me over to his computer and said, “Check this out.” I stood there for a moment, waiting, while a bunch of text appeared on a gray background.

“Um, okay. So what?”

“Isn’t this cool? This information is coming from another computer across the world!” Apparently, I was looking at the Mosaic web browser render an early web page.

This was way back before the Web was commercialized and open to the general public. Before ecommerce and blogs and social networks. Heck, it was before CSS, back when HTML tables and images were still an innovative feature. I didn’t quite realize the immensity of the moment just then, but I filed it away for later use.

A year later, I built my first web site. It took me a while to figure it out, since I didn’t have a computer and had to use my university’s computer lab. Fortunately, I was taking a graphic design class, so I had access to their fancy multimedia lab. I remember being the only person using Mosaic, and later Netscape Navigator in that lab. I often had to download Navigator too, since most of the computers there didn’t have it.

I still remember the day I heard the news – that the Web was going to be opened to commercial use. The academic community seemed torn. Some supported it, saying this was going to open a whole new world of innovations and opportunities. Some were against it, saying this would bastardize the honorable intentions behind the Web and cheapen it. I felt apprehensive but excited.

I also remember telling myself, as I sat there at a computer staring at my web site, “This is going to be huge. I’m going to make a career out of this.” (I meant the commercialization of the Web, not my web site.)

To start building my professional experience, I found and bluffed my way into an Internet internship. I told them I knew HTML during the interview, then rushed home to look up all the free HTML resources I could. To be fair, I already knew basic HTML, but hadn’t yet tackled HTML tables, which the interviewer wanted.

On my first day of work, I partnered up with their main (and only) technical guy, who also claimed to know HTML. We sat there, trying to wrap our heads around <table>, <tr>, and <td> tags. When our effort finally paid off, we high-fived each other and went on to build more pages.

We completed the site in a few weeks. When I FTP’ed those files onto their web server and saw our pages live on the Web, I felt a rush. Our code was live for the world to see! Awesome.

After college, I followed through with my dream. I made a career on the Internet. And that’s how the Internet changed my life.

How did the Internet change your life?