August 2015 Articles

New Horizons

Alice Bowman · YouTube ·

Alice Bowman, the Mission Operations Manager for New Horizons, after confirmation of the spacecraft’s successful Pluto flyby:

Well, gee. I’m not sure how to follow that. I haven’t had a lot of sleep. It is truly – we’ve been using this word a lot – amazing, because it’s the one that just pops to the tip of our tongue to say. An awesome team. The recovery was flawless, and it had to be flawless. We were up to the challenge. We met it.

And on a personal note, I can’t express how I’m feeling to have achieved a childhood dream of space exploration. I’m pretty overwhelmed at this moment, and I just want to say thank you to everyone. And please tell your children and anybody out there: Do what you’re passionate about. Don’t do something because it’s easy. Do something because you want to do it. Give yourself that challenge, and you will not be sorry for it. So here we go. Out to the solar system.

Via Mark Siegal

On the intersection of people and tools — specifically software tools — used to be productive.

When people talk about productivity - about PowerPoint and Excel and how Google Docs and the cloud will or won’t kill them, or messaging and the cloud, or how you need a PC for ‘real work’ - I’m reminded of CC Baxter and his Friden calculating machine. What killed those machines was not better, cheaper competitors but a completely different way to address the same underlying business need. Instead of hundreds of people recalculating insurance rates, the company bought a mainframe. The business need was being met, but the mechanism changed completely and the old tools disappeared.

That is, the way forward for productivity is probably not to take software applications and document models that were conceived and built in a non-networked age and put them into the cloud, or to make carbon copies of them as web apps. This is no different to using your PC to do the same things you used your typewriter for. And of course that is exactly how a lot of people used their PCs - to start with. Just as today we make web app copies of software models conceived for the floppy disk, so the first PCs were often used to type up memos that were then printed out and sent though internal mail. It took time for email to replace internal mail and even longer for people to stop emailing Word files as attachments. Equally, we went from typing expense forms (with carbon copies) to entering them into a Word doc version of the form, to a dedicated Windows app that looked just like the form, to a web page that looked just like the form - and then, suddenly, someone worked out that maybe you should just take a photo of the receipt. It takes time, but sooner or later we stop replicating the old methods with the new tools and find new methods to fit the new tools.

Michael Lopp on a trait often overlooked yet critical to building teams and leadership both in and outside the workplace: unfailing kindness.

I’ve played a lot of video games with a lot of humans. I’ve lead and been lead by a lot of different people and personalities, but never have I seen the clear results of being unfailingly kind. Following DJ’s lead, we communicate better, we learn from each other, we celebrate our successes, and we laugh heartily about our failures.

Change Your Name

Paul Graham ·

Paul Graham on choosing a name for your startup:

If you have a US startup called X and you don’t have, you should probably change your name.

…Even good founders can be in denial about this. Their denial derives from two very powerful forces: identity, and lack of imagination.

X is what we are, founders think. There’s no other name as good. Both of which are false.

You can fix the first by stepping back from the problem. Imagine you’d called your company something else. If you had, surely you’d be just as attached to that name as you are to your current one. The idea of switching to your current name would seem repellent.

Which leads to an interesting second read also from Paul on identity.

Great idea, reported by Valentina Zarya for Fortune. In the western Turkish province of Edirne

Government workers who participate in the program will be allowed to clock in an hour later than their usual start time, according to Turkish news site Haber 7. Workers will be helped to find a sport that suits them and have access to a dietician.

My first real experience with photography was my junior year of high school. I took a year-long black and white photography class to fulfill my University of California art requirement. I loved it. I shot with an old Minolta camera my parents loaned me and developed dozens of rolls of film over the course of the year. I even had two of my photos put on the cover of our yearbook.

In college I bought my first SLR camera, a Canon Rebel XTI, and found myself shooting with the black and white setting turned on despite having a full-color digital sensor. When traveling, I embodied the stereotypical tourist with my big camera slung over my shoulder or pressed to my eye clicking the shutter as I saw the sights.

Graduating from college my parents gifted me a beautiful 24-70 mm professional “L” lens for my new Canon 5D Mark II camera and I picked up a few jobs doing engagement photos and portraits. By this time I was two years out of college I had printed two photo books, made a couple iterations of my photography website and attempted to sell my photography online. The only customer I ever had buy a print from me online was my mother (thank you Mom).

To this day I love photography. But I find its meaning in my life significantly diminished by the power of social media photo sharing and the deluge of photographs we consume on a daily basis. It’s so easy, and yields such great results, to take photos with my iPhone camera that lugging around my Canon and lenses in a backpack isn’t appealing.

Benedict Evans recently wrote an article titled “How Many Pictures” in which he estimated the number of images shared around the world. According to his estimates and data that he gathered, “in 1999, the peak of the film-camera industry, consumers took around 80 [billion] photos…estimates of the total number of photos ever taken on film range from 2.5-3.5 trillion”. That’s a lot of photographs.

But with the increase in digital cameras out in people’s hands (e.g. smartphones), “at least 2 trillion photos will be shared this year, and possibly 3 trillion or more”. That’s more photos shared in a single year than were ever taken on film. Incredible. Photographs have become a commodity.

That said, great photography will continue to be sought after for marketing purposes and great photographers will be booked to shoot portraits and special events. Landscape and art photographers will continue to be pushed out of the market as consumers have free alternatives to expensive art prints shot with their personal cameras on vacations and edited with “filters” in smartphone apps.

Photographs can be moving and extraordinary. They can tell a story and inspire thought. And as the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words”. That said, I took no more than roll of film’s worth of photographs on my last week-long vacation. Why? It was more valuable to be in the moment, learning and looking than to be constantly taking photos and missing out on the human company and new places that were right next to me.

But what about my friends and family you ask? Wouldn’t they like to see photos from my trip? I’m sure they would. But they don’t need 200 photos and a 30 minute photo slideshow. What I think my friends and family are really looking for are ways to connect and share in my travel experience. And I can do that through storytelling and the few photos that I took. Because life is about so much more than the snapshots; it’s about the overarching story. A snapshot is disposable.

Ben Thompson from Stratechery on what makes companies like Amazon and Uber so successful: strong customer relationships as an intermediary to products and services.

I wrote last month about Aggregation Theory, and both Amazon and Uber are examples of the theory in action: Amazon doesn’t make the stuff they sell (mostly), but they sell everything to a huge number of customers in the market with whom they have an ongoing relationship. Uber is even more distinct: the company doesn’t own the cars that provide its service but instead owns the customer relationship. Both are enabled by the Internet’s radical lowering of transaction costs and the possibilities for scale that result.

The point of leverage for these Internet companies is those consumer relationships: Amazon attracts a wide range of suppliers and merchants eager to sell to their customer base, and the company is not shy about leveraging said customer base to extract value from its suppliers. Similarly, Uber continually squeezes drivers with lower prices and higher fees, even as it remains the top choice for drivers because of its rider liquidity.

Tell yourself you can be as nice as you want, so long as you work hard on your growth rate to compensate. Most successful startups make that tradeoff unconsciously. Maybe if you do it consciously you’ll do it even better.