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Someone Is Counting On It Being Remarkable October 25, 2005

Posted by theexpert in Business, Personal.
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Whatever you’re making, designing, shipping or selling, it’s a Big Event for the person buying it and using it. It may be just another car/contract/widget to you, but someone is counting on it being remarkable.

I think I’m starting to get a feel for what I’m passionate about. I don’t have a lot of time to write about it at the moment, and I also might be able to articulate it better after letting the idea marinate further. In short, though, I think I like disrupting markets. It explains the presence of many in my blogroll and why I like conversations about being remarkable. Right now, I think customer service is generally so poor that being remarkable is an easy way to differentiate your business and disrupt the status quo. Maybe, some day, most companies will have great customer service. I look forward to that day, first because I want to be treated well when I’m a customer, and second because I would like the challenge of figuring out how to disrupt a market that treats people well. You’ll really have to “WOW!” (as Tom Peters would say) people, then!


Where Is The Appetizing Work? October 19, 2005

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A few excerpts from Paul Graham’s, “What I Did This Summer” (emphasis is mine):

People this age [18-28] are commonly seen as lazy. I think in some cases it’s not so much that they lack the appetite for work, but that the work they’re offered is unappetizing.

Too true. Though, I think the not-so-young are also frequently given unappetizing work to the same effect. If you’re young and not working 110%, you’re lazy. If you’re older and not working 110%, you’re jaded.

Some of this summer’s eight startups will probably die eventually; it would be extraordinary if all eight succeeded. But what kills them will not be dramatic, external threats, but a mundane, internal one: not getting enough done.

That is, they will fail to follow a simple recipe for success.

As hard as people will work for money, they’ll work harder for a cause.

Hugh Macleod’s “the market for something to believe in is infinite” applied to employees.

What do all of these say to me? People have an appetite for doing things / being productive. We want to do things in pursuit of a cause we believe in. In fact, we’re listless without such a cause. Listlessness leads to decreased productivity, which, left unchecked, leads to failure.

You’d think employers would be more interested in providing appetizing work.

(I guess Hugh would say the answer is, “build yourself a Global Microbrand,” and I’m not disagreeing. I mean, it’s either that or find an employer that provides appetizing work.)

Getting Off The Corporate Treadmill October 17, 2005

Posted by theexpert in Business, Personal.
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[I’m currently suffering from information overload, which is why I’m writing about things that are close to a week old. I have so many things I want to read…]

Hugh MacLeod, in “The Global Microbrand Rant,” talks about the follies of staying on the “high-priced corporate, urban treadmill” (i.e. big city, corporate life). He follows that up with:

It seems to me a lot of people of my generation are locked into this high-priced corporate, urban treadmill. Sure, they get paid a lot, but their overheads are also off the scale. The minute they stop tapdancing as fast as they can is the minute they are crushed under the wheels of commerce.

You know what? It’s not sustainable.

However, the Global Microbrand is sustainable. With it you are not beholden to one boss, one company, one customer, one local economy or even one industry. Your brand develops relationships in enough different places to where your permanent address becomes almost irrelavant [sic]

Frankly, it beats the hell out of commuting every morning to the corporate glass box in the big city, something I did for many years. Just so I could make enough money to help me forget that I have to commute every morning to the corporate glass box in the big city.

I can relate to this, except that even the money couldn’t help me forget that I was commuting to the corporate glass box and was unhappy about it. That’s why I got off the treadmill. The question for myself is, “now what?” Maybe I’ll end up back in a glass box; I’m not sure. If so, it would be important that it not feel like the usual corporate soul-drain because I don’t think there’s anything that could allow me to forget what I was doing, what (unsustainable) sacrifice I was making.

Oh, and Hugh, it’s not just folks from your generation that are locked into it. I know countless twenty-somethings that are playing the same game (mostly as consultants). And while they aren’t so happy with it, they do love their money.

A Simple Recipe For Success October 16, 2005

Posted by theexpert in Personal.
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I went through a recent PowerPoint presentation by Tom Peters (an ugly, Google Cache, HTML-ified version is here) and came across this story:

A man approached JP Morgan, held up an envelope, and said, “Sir, in my hand I hold a guaranteed formula for success, which I will gladly sell you for $25,000.?

“Sir,? JP Morgan replied, “I do not know what is in the envelope, however if you show me, and I like it, I give you my word as a gentleman that I will pay you what you ask.?

The man agreed to the terms, and handed over the envelope. JP Morgan opened it, and extracted a single sheet of paper. He gave it one look, a mere glance, then handed the piece of paper back to the gent.

And paid him the agreed-upon $25,000.

[On the paper was written:]

1. Every morning, write a list of the things that need to be done that day.

2. Do them.

I love it, partly because it’s so simple and partly because it screams ‘personal accountability.’ It’s clearly a no-brainer, but I bet a significant amount of failure, both personal and professional, can be attributed to not doing what we know needs to be done. I know that I’m not as productive as I want to be because I don’t always complete those two steps.

There are lots of good quotes in the slides. If you’ve got some time (it’s a hefty 200+ slide deck) and are interested in the subjects of leadership and business, then you might want to look through it.

Life As Cooperation October 15, 2005

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What I Learned From Homecoming,” by Dave Rogers [via]

It’s a long piece, and if you’re into the whole “markets are conversations” thing, you should read the whole thing. The reason I’m pointing it out is because it presents an idea that is separate from that debate that articulates something I’ve been feeling for a long time but never really put into words.

The piece includes some of Dave’s reflections on his 30th high school reunion:

Most of us who’ve been through it recall high school as a time of many highs and lows, many changes as we began to come of age. I’m sure most of us recall the various cliques and social groups we arrayed ourselves in. The “jocks” and the “nerds” and the “cool” people and the “losers.” There definitely were faint echoes of that at the reunion, but mostly we associated with one another across those boundaries, almost as if they never existed. One of my classmates, Gordon, mentioned that he thought it was because we had so much more in common now, and I found myself agreeing with this and thinking it a remarkable insight; that 30 years of life experience had made us share a broader, more inclusive, perspective.

Later on, after a few more beers, which often don’t exactly facilitate clarity of thought in me, it occurred to me that there was something else that 30 years gave us. It was something that allowed us, at least, to begin to appreciate what we had shared in common all along. We always share far more in common than we allow ourselves to ever appreciate. And I realized what the important difference was that 30 years made. We were no longer competing with one another. We weren’t trying for the same spot on the team, we weren’t trying to win the same girl’s affections, we didn’t have to put someone else down to feel better about ourselves.

He goes on to say that as he was trying to refute an idea that he disagreed with, he realized that:

[B]y asserting authority I don’t have for a responsibility I cannot assume, in fact, I am competing with you. And in doing so, I’m placing barriers between us…

So I’m going to stop trying to compete with you. If I am right, and I could be wrong, eventually your path will lead you nearer to my position. If I’m wrong, then presumably my path will eventually lead me to yours. Or maybe it’ll be somewhere in between. But I realized I can’t illustrate the corrosive effects of competition by trying to compete with you.

I think this is a perspective I’ve had without, as I said earlier, being able to articulate it. I’m quite happy agreeing to disagree with someone because, I think, I have no interest in competing with them in the way Dave describes. When someone has a differing opinion, I’m usually interested to hear why that’s the case. I, too, will usually present my thoughts about the subject, if allowed. However, it’s more from a position of, “here are my thoughts; maybe some of them will ring true for you” (and vice-versa) rather than “I think you’ll see that my position is clearly right and that yours is clearly wrong.” I guess you could say that I prefer the cooperative approach (i.e. can we help each other come to a better understanding of our lives). Anyway, it’s tiring to approach life in the latter way, and worse, it strikes me as presumptuous. Plus, I have faith that as time goes on, ideas that make sense will rise to the top and ideas that don’t make sense will sink to the bottom. For whatever reason, I’m in no big hurry to make sure that happens. The slow but eventual process of good ideas rising to the top is actually something that I think makes experiencing life neat.

[As an aside, Dave seems to have some other thoughtful pieces, like this bit on parenting. I liked it, and I’m not even a parent. There, Dave also touches on a subject that requires faith (in yourself, in life, in goodness).]

I Think I Started Off On The Wrong Foot October 14, 2005

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I started off making entries about news bits that interested me, but I didn’t always add much in terms of conversation material. I also began to feel as though I had an obligation to make posts, even if I didn’t have much original content to provide. That sense of obligation quickly began to drain me and made me feel burnt-out, with respect to this blog, before I’d even begun.

Thus, I’m going to take this in a different direction. That doesn’t mean I won’t point to articles I find interesting, but it does mean I’ll be more likely to write about current trains of thought and not just point at something and say, “neat.” We’ll see how this goes.

DARPA Grand Challenge Results October 8, 2005

Posted by theexpert in Technology.
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UPDATE (@21:55): News.com has an article on the race today and a good collection of articles about the history of the Challenge, including photos of the vehicles.

The San Francisco Gate reports that three remote control-free, robotic vehicles finished DARPA’s Grand Challenge today. From the article:

Vehicles have to drive on rough, winding desert roads and dry lake beds filled with overhanging brush and man-made obstacles. The machines also must traverse a narrow 1.3-mile mountain pass with a steep drop-off and go through three tunnels designed to knock out their GPS signals.


The vehicles were tricked out with the latest sensors, lasers, cameras and radar that feed information to several onboard computers. This, in turn, helps vehicles make intelligent decisions such as distinguishing a dangerous boulder from a tumbleweed and calculating whether a chasm is too deep to cross.


The so-called Grand Challenge race is part of the Pentagon’s effort to cut the risk of casualties by fulfilling a congressional mandate to have a third of all military ground vehicles unmanned by 2015.

The congressional mandate is discussed in H.R. 5408, section 220:


    (a) GOAL- It shall be a goal of the Armed Forces to achieve the fielding of unmanned, remotely controlled technology such that–
    (1) by 2010, one-third of the aircraft in the operational deep strike force aircraft fleet are unmanned; and
    (2) by 2015, one-third of the operational ground combat vehicles are unmanned.

If this sort of thing interests you, I would suggest taking a look at Marshall Brain‘s Robotic Nation blog, which I’m guessing this piece of news will show up on.

Privatizing Public Records October 7, 2005

Posted by theexpert in Business, Technology.
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Bruce Schneier wrote a piece on automated license plate scanners, which are being used by the Boston Transportation Department (BTD) to identify vehicles with too many unpaid parking tickets. Near the end of the article is the following paragraph:

Richard M. Smith, who took this photo, made a public request to the BTD last summer for the database of scanned license plate numbers that is being collected by this vehicle. The BTD told him at the time that the database is not a public record, because the database is owned by AutoVu, the Canadian company that makes the license plate scanner software used in the vehicle. This software is being “loaned” to the City of Boston as part of a “beta” test program.

So if a government wants to keep a set of records a secret from the public, all it has to do is put the records into a database that is owned by a private firm and (presumably) make sure to include a contractual stipulation that says the government has largely unrestricted rights to the data? I hope I’m misunderstanding something because that setup would be ripe for abuse.

Nessus Closes Its Source October 7, 2005

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News.com reports that the source code for the next version of Nessus will not be made available, though the application will still be available free of charge. According to the article, the primary author, Renaud Deraison, believes that making the source code available aids companies competing with Tenable Network Security, which provides corporate sponsorship and security solutions centered around Nessus.

In an email to the Nessus mailing list, Renaud said that with a couple of exceptions, “nobody has ever contributed anything to improve the scanning _engine_ over the last 6 years.” I found this to be much more interesting than the ensuing licensing discussion. I admit that I don’t scour the mailing lists of open-source projects for signs of a big community that doesn’t give back to the project, so maybe this is more common than I think, but I would have definitely bet money that more than two other people had contributed back to the engine of a product that has been around for years and is used by tens of thousands of organizations. I don’t know if this says anything about the Nessus code or the community, but it definitely surprises me.

Google Gave Us Rope to Hang Them With October 5, 2005

Posted by theexpert in Business.
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IWantMedia interviews John Battelle (co-founder and founder of magazines Wired and The Industry Standard, respectively) on the subject of Google, Yahoo, and “traditional media.” It ends with a question about Google’s famous motto: “Don’t Be Evil”. John’s response:

That motto will slowly sink into the ocean of history. As Jeff Bezos once told me, and I put in the book, of course you should strive not to do evil. No company is going to have a motto “Be Evil.”

What they were trying to say with “Don’t Be Evil” is: Don’t fall into the trap of doing things the way most large corporations do them simply because that’s how they do them. I don’t think they anticipated it was going to become a length of rope that might hang them

(emphasis is mine)

I agree that their motto serves as a length of rope, and maybe they really didn’t anticipate giving that rope to users like they did. However, the fact that they did give us this rope is one thing I (and I think other Google users) like about Google. They’ve set a high bar for everyone to measure their actions against, and because they make their motto so prevalent, we’ll be quick to kick the chair out from under them (or at least nudge it to remind them of the position they are in) if they falter. Of course, we should want to hang any company that doesn’t treat us right, but a company that stands up on the chair and gives you the rope for the noose before they get started inspires confidence and trust. If John is right, and the motto fades away, I have a feeling that an important part of the Google loyalty that it engenders will have faded away as well.