Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

Mailbag: how to build an active, engaged audience?

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Don recently wrote about his social content site which currently is, “fully functional, with a few dozen active users and over 28,000″ posts.

You’ve got a wealth of experience and knowledge related to user-generated content & the nature of social interactions on the web, and I’m hoping that you could provide suggestions on our “next steps,” most particularly with respect to building a community of active, engaged users.

Regarding your site, how to build an active, engaged audience is, almost literally, the $64,000 question. It’s what everybody wants…the question is, how?

There’s no silver bullet that I know of. Since it sounds like you have some users, the place I would start is by making personal connection to them. Literally, call them on the phone. Ask them about why they use the service and what it means to them. Find out how it makes their life better. If they live nearby, go visit them. If you have to travel, try to meet people in other cities.

In short, the answer to finding out how to create an engaged audience is by understanding the motivations of the people who are currently engaged. Find out what is the thing about your site that is indispensable to your users.

Additionally, find ways for users to connect to each other. When personal connections between users happen…especially offline…that’s when real magic starts to happen.  Then your site isn’t just an online toy…it’s something real and meaningful.

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March 14th, 2014 at 10:09 am

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Notes on How to be a Great Leader

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From TED:

There are many leadership programs available today, from 1-day workshops to corporate training programs. But chances are, these won’t really help. In this clear, candid talk, Roselinde Torres describes 25 years observing truly great leaders at work, and shares the three simple but crucial questions would-be company chiefs need to ask to thrive in the future.

I watched the talk, so you don’t have to…here’s my notes.

Three questions to ask to determine if you’re doing the things that great leaders do:

1.  How are you anticipating change?

Look at your calendar: Who are you spending time with?  What are you reading?  Where are you traveling?

Great leaders are not head down, but looking out.

2.  What is the diversity of your network?

Great leaders have the capacity to develop relationshiops with people who are different from themselves.

3.   Are you courageous enough to abandon a practice that has made you successful in the past?

Great leaders don’t talk about taking risks…they do it!

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March 13th, 2014 at 10:07 am

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Sayta Nadella on Leadership

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From today’s New York Times, Microsoft’s new CEO on leadership. [Emphasis mine.]

Q. Your company has acknowledged that it needs to create much more of a unified “one Microsoft” culture. How are you going to do that?

A. One thing we’ve talked a lot about, even in the first leadership meeting, was, what’s the purpose of our leadership team? The framework we came up with is the notion that our purpose is to bring clarity, alignment and intensity. What is it that we want to get done? Are we aligned in order to be able to get it done? And are we pursuing that with intensity? That’s really the job.

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February 20th, 2014 at 1:19 pm

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Wanna Get Ahead, Part II? Learn SQL

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One of the best skills you can teach yourself to get ahead in your career is SQL.   In a world so driven by data, being able to pull your own data is very empowering. It’s also a way to get ahead. People who can pull their own data are less reliant on others.

SQLAt Rover.com, we’re teaching all of our people, from customer service to marketing to the CEO, how to run their own SQL queries.  We have a read-only version of our database, so that anybody in the company can pull their own data and run their own reports.

How can you learn SQL?

It turns out that SQL is more mysterious and scary than difficult.  The basics are really very simple, and you’ll pick up 80% of it in a few hours.  It’s like music: there’s only 14 notes in a scale…the magic comes in how you put them together.

A quick search for “SQL tutorial” or “learn SQL online” will yield plenty of results.  Here’s a few that I found:

As background,  SQL stands for “structured query language”…it’s the language used to get data out of database server or RDBMS, i.e. “relational database management system”.

There are many database servers, but the most common are:

  • Microsoft SQL Server — runs on Windows
  • Oracle — mucho $$$$
  • MySQL — open source
  • SQLite — open source and super light weight

You may need to install a DB in order to learn from the tutorials.

SQLite is insanely simple and easy to use. It’s just a text file that gets treated like a database. I don’t even think there is a server to install, just a client. The client I personally use is RazorSQL.

If for some reason SQLite isn’t robust enough for the tutorial you’re working on, then you’ll want to get MySQL. It’s free. For that, you’ll need to install the database server (MySQL) and a client tool (called MySQL Workbench).  A lot of companies use MySQL (including Rover).

SQLite is used a lot too, but mostly by developers who embed it within an application. That being said, from a “learning SQL” perspective, you’ll learn the same with each of them.

If you’re learning, don’t bother with MS SQL Server or Oracle.  They’re overly complicated for your initial needs.  If you know how to query SQLite or MySQL then jumping over and learning how to query those databases is easy. Conceptually, they are the same, though there are semantic differences, but nothing that you wouldn’t figure out quickly. For example, in MySQL you get the current time by typing “Now()” and in SQL Server it’s “GetDate()”.

Most importantly, have fun!  Remember, you’re only a beginner, so it’s going to be difficult at first.  But, with lots of searches, you can usually get all your questions answered!

 

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November 13th, 2013 at 10:00 am

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Wanna get ahead in your career? Here’s how…

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Wanna get ahead in your career? Here’s how…

Be a person who takes things off your boss’ plate.

Your boss might be internal…like you work at a company.

Or, they might be external…like a client.

Like you, they have too much work to do. So, be a person who makes it so they have one less thing to do.

It goes for more than bosses. Works for co-workers too.

Be a person who takes things off peoples plate and you’ll be a person that people want to work with.the-band-the-weight-capitol

Of course, you can’t always be the person to make work go away, but you can help someone make it go away on their own.  In other words, you don’t always need to take things off their plate. If you’re a person who empowers people to get stuff of their own plate faster, then the same axiom applies.

Now, consider the opposite: someone who, by asking them to help you, actually puts more work on your plate. Who wants to work with a person like that?

I’ve worked with many over my career.  When I ask for help, the work this person does creates more work for me.

For example, all the code they write, I have to double-check it because they don’t show attention detail.

Or, the reports they run create more questions than they answer, so I have to ask them to dig further to get to the bottom of the issue.

This person doesn’t take work off my plate. Rather, they just fill up my inbox with emails that I dread reading…

…because I know it means more work for me.

In business-speak, you hear  employers want “problem solvers”. I think when people say that what they mean is, “people who can take work off my plate…because my problem is too much to do.”

If I’m doing something for someone else, I want to reduce the burdens on them, not add to them.

This doesn’t mean that I never ask someone to do something for me…because we all have to do that in life. Nobody can get through life without a helping hand.

Rather, it means the opposite: when someone else asks me to do something for them that I take the burden completely off of them…and not just put more burden on them.

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November 8th, 2013 at 1:22 pm

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What is the measure of failure?

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A common best practice in the workplace when people are trying to be smart about a project is to ask, “what is the measure of success?”  I would propose that a more pertinent question is, “what is the measure of failure?”

The truth is that most projects neither succeed wildly, nor fail spectacularly.  Rather, most linger in a middle ground of neither.  These are the worst types of projects because we continue to spend valuable resources—time, money and mental capacity—to support them when, really, they’re not all that beneficial to whatever we’re trying to accomplish.  Given opportunity cost, they’re probably a net minus.

Naturally, the hardest part about these middle ground projects is that we’ve put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into them, so it’s hard to let them go.  We know, just know, that with a little more time or effort the thing might be a success.  Or, we suffer the Sunk Cost Fallacy: that we’ve invested so much and come so far, that it makes sense to go all the way.  Probably, though, we’re better off cutting our losses.

Truth is, it’s not in our nature to cut our losses.  Not cutting our losses is deeply imbedded in our DNA.  Unlike other species, such as say a spider or a fish, humans don’t birth hundreds or thousands offspring hoping some will survive.  We birth just a few offspring and protect each one like it’s…our baby.

Never discount Human Nature.  In our modern, professional world, it’s more powerful than we give it credit for.  In fact, it’s all-powerful, only second to Mother Nature.  Remember the Scorpion and the Frog

A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream and the scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The frog asks, “How do I know you won’t sting me?” The scorpion says, “Because if I do, we will both sink and drown in the stream, and I will die too.”

The frog is satisfied, and they set out, but in midstream, the scorpion stings the frog. The frog feels the onset of paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown, but has just enough time to gasp “Why?”

Replies the scorpion: “It’s my nature…”

So, next time you’re getting a project off the ground keep in mind that for certain aspects of professional life it might be better of to act not like a human, but to act like a robot…ruthlessly logical…and ask yourself, “under what circumstances will we kill this project?”

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November 2nd, 2013 at 8:04 am

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Lessons from Cannabis Legalization in California and The Backfire Effect

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I was in Boulder, Colorado earlier this week.  When casually talking to locals the inevitable came up: in just a few weeks, Washington State and Colorado will be the first states in the union to allow marijuana to be sold like alcohol.

marijuana-californiaNow, nothing makes me happier than when facts trump assumptions.  It’s just one of the many obnoxious, nerdy aspect of my personality.  So, when I saw this in the paper this morning, my interest was piqued:

California Finds Fears Unfounded With Cannabis Use: California’s experience as the first state to legalize medical marijuana offers surprising lessons, experts say.

[A]t a time when polls show widening public support for legalization…California’s 17-year experience as the first state to legalize medical marijuana offers surprising lessons, experts say.

Warnings voiced against partial legalization — of civic disorder, increased lawlessness and a drastic rise in other drug use — have proved unfounded.

Instead, research suggests both that marijuana has become an alcohol substitute for younger people here and in other states that have legalized medical marijuana, and that while driving under the influence of any intoxicant is dangerous, driving after smoking marijuana is less dangerous than after drinking alcohol.

Although marijuana is legal here only for medical use, it is widely available. There is no evidence that its use by teenagers has risen since the 1996 legalization, though it is an open question whether outright legalization would make the drug that much easier for young people to get, and thus contribute to increased use.

And though Los Angeles has struggled to regulate marijuana dispensaries, with neighborhoods upset at their sheer number, the threat of unsavory street traffic and the stigma of marijuana shops on the corner, communities that imposed early and strict regulations on their operations have not experienced such disruption.

Imposing a local tax on medical marijuana, as Oakland, San Jose and other communities have done, has not pushed consumers to drug dealers as some analysts expected. Presumably that is because it is so easy to get reliable and high-quality marijuana legally.

Finally, for consumers, the era of legalized medical marijuana has meant an expanded market and often cheaper prices.

Following upon on the contrast between Los Angeles and other cities:

In Los Angeles, repeated attempts to regulate the stores have failed, causing an uproar in quiet neighborhoods like Larchmont and Mar Vista. Yet there is a lesson here: San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley, which imposed strict regulations on the shops from the start, have had few problems.

“Those cities really took charge in 1996, saying: ‘We have to figure out how we are going to regulate this. We need to figure out how marijuana could be sold, how it will be regulated, what it will mean for tax revenue,’ ” Ms. Reiman said. “As a result, those three cities have seen little to no issues in terms of crime or public safety issues.”

Naturally, despite evidence to the contrary, there are still opposing voices…just another case of The Backfire Effect, ”When your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger.”

 

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October 27th, 2013 at 8:16 am

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An Email to the NSA

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To: Scott Porad <scottporad@gmail.com>
From: Scott Porad <scottporad@gmail.com>
Date: October 26, 2013
Subject: NSA for TSA Swap

 

Dear NSA,

I have an idea for you, and since you’re reading my e-mail anyhow, I figured sending an email to myself was the easiest way to tell you about it.

An intervention: you have a problem. Admit it. Like an alcoholic who owns a bar, you can’t see that you’re completely out of control, illegally spying on all sorts of people, domestic and foreign alike. You think that you’re just doing your job, serving up drinks and being the life of the party, when what you’re really doing is making a fool of yourself to your patrons.

My plan would help Mother Jones relax!

Given that I use all sorts of online services, I have no doubt that the you’ve illegally intercepted a bunch of my personal data. Am I okay with that? I don’t know.. maybe, maybe not. Privacy is a complicated subject, and I haven’t made my mind up yet.

But, you know what I do know: I have absolutely nothing to hide. You could look at every web site I’ve ever surfed, every email I’ve ever sent, all my telephone, banking and credit card records, my travel records, my photos, Facebook, Twitter…whatever.

Yes, there will definitely be a few embarrassing things found, but I swear to goodness, there is nothing even remotely resembling a national security threat in there.

My life is just not that interesting.  Sorry to disaapoint.

Now, hold that thought because I want to tell you that this week I traveled from Seattle to Denver. (Haha! You already knew that.) This trip meant two passes through the TSA security screening. As you know, the TSA is a giant hassle. Most people I know hate the TSA, but we don’t need to go there right now. You’ve heard the stories.

And, like most people I know, I really wish I didn’t have to deal with the TSA.

This got me to thinking: it turns out that we each have something the other wants. I want less headache at the airport, and you want to validate that I’m not a terrorist. In other words, time is valuable to me and information is valuable to you.

So, let’s make a deal: I will give the you permission to read all my personal, private stuff and in exchange you will make it so that I can skip the TSA at the airport.

And, of course, if after reading through my stuff it turns out that I am a terrorist, then you can just come and get me since my mobile phone will tell you my location.

Whaddya think?  Seems like a fair deal to me.  A real genuine win-win.

Sincerely yours,

Scott

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October 26th, 2013 at 8:53 am

Must See TV: Congressional Hearings on healthcare.gov issues

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Following upon my earlier post about the problems with healthcare.gov, Twitter follower ‏@lukeoreilly sent me a link to a great article: Notes and Translations for the New York Times coverage of healthcare.gov software.  It’s totally worth a read, though my favorite part was this:

“Nevertheless, disarray has distinguished the project. In the last 10 months alone, [...] officials modified hardware and software requirements for the exchange seven times. It went live on Oct. 1 before the government and contractors had fully tested the complete system. Delays by the government in issuing specifications for the system reduced the time available for testing.”

Now this really makes me want to cry, because this is going to be the crux of the matter when the Congressional Committees grill the contractors. It is not going to be pretty. There is going to be a lot of drill-down on matters that the contractors have a hard time explaining, and the committee members are going to have a hard time understanding. It is going to be extremely tedious television, I assure you.

As someone who has spent a lot of time squirming in a chair trying to explain why some software project was off schedule, I cannot wait to watch those hearings.  Full on Train Wreck TV™.

Look: some of the very best minds I know have completely given up on attempting to create accurate schedules for software development.  It’s not like building a house where we have several thousands of years of experience with construction practices and timelines.  The discipline is just too new, and the technology is changing too rapidly.

Think about it: our government has standardized building codes for how to construct a house….that’s how well we understand home construction, to the point where we can codify it!  Nobody has that for software development.  Ask 3 engineers how to build any given software, and you’ll get 5 opinions.

Coming soon on Train Wreck TV™: Congressional Hearings on Healtcare.gov!!  I can’t wait!

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October 22nd, 2013 at 11:29 am

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How predictable were the problems with Healthcare.gov?

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If you read this blog, I have never kept my political inclinations a secret.  Since the early-mid 2000′s I’ve increasingly become more of a liberal…to the point where I’m practically a socialist these days.  (Dear NSA analyist reading this: I’m not really a socialist, and even if I were, that’s not a crime.)  So, it’s no surprise that I’m a big supporter of Obamacare.

But, when I read this about the problems surrounding healthcare.gov, I had to laugh:

One specialist said that as many as five million lines of software code may need to be rewritten before the Web site runs properly.

Show me a web site with five million lines of code and I’ll show you a recipe for disaster.

Look, in the long run, it’s all going to work out.  Even well-designed software has problems, and fixing those problems is fairly mechanical: identify the issues, make a list, prioritize the list and work through the issues.  It might take a little time, and the teams working on it might be a little stressed right now, but any software development professional can tell you this is fairly routine.

Frankly, to me, it was no surprise that healthcare.gov was a mess at launch.  And, I bet that 4 out of 5 people who have been building web sites professionally would agree.  I mean, I could see this debacle coming from a mile a way…just do the math:

Multiple outsourced contractors
+ government spec’d project
+ waterfall-style development process
+ an eagerly anticipated launch
+ to an enormous audience 
= Guaranteed Fiasco

Seriously, for those of us who run iterative, Agile-style development processes with private betas and plenty of user testing…50% of the time we make mistakes.  For people to expect anything less than what’s currently happening with healthcare.gov…well, that was just completely unrealistic.

So, you know what, chillax…give it time.  In a few months, the software will have the bugs worked out.  The web site will be easy to use.  People will find great insurance at a great price.  And, in just a few years, we’ll have people saying “Keep your government hands off my Obamacare!

 

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October 22nd, 2013 at 9:36 am

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