But a Whimper

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Programming is the sort of thing where you can lift your head and find that days or weeks have gone by. It’s hard to believe it’s been two months since I slunk off to my little work hole. The archive will look really weird if there’s not at least one more entry for 2008, so I might as well give an update.

For starters, I’m broke. When I got on this ride I had a house, a stock portfolio, a 401(K), and a savings account. Now all I have is debt and bills. Even the IRS wants a piece of my ass. I’m not trying to be dramatic, I’m just telling it like it is. That’s why I haven’t been able to do anything for Club Thievey this year — I literally can’t afford the lemurs.

When I started United Lemur, I had enough in reserves that if the old man was lying and the beans weren’t magical, we’d be able to try five more times. What I didn’t expect was the entire goddamned financial industry to die shitting itself. You know that picture of the broken piggy bank yielding a gum wrapper, a penny, and a Necco Wafer? That’s my retirement — or it was.

It’s not all snips and snails — I’m still God’s gift to software development. Or so you’d think the way contracts are paying. I’ve been broke before, you betcha, but I’ve never worked so hard to get there. Some kindly souls have taken me in part time, so I should dig my way out of this hole by summer.

In the meantime, I’m going to try to get a few more apps out. I’ve got one that would literally break my heart not to ship, and a couple more in design. I’ve got a great idea for a Mac app I am really going to try to finish, and a great idea for another iPhone game that will probably never see the light of day. I’m also contributing to three books, so I’ve got plenty to keep me busy.

I’m not giving up, but I’m too married to be a blind optimist. One of three things is going to have to happen in the next six months: The situation in the App Store is going to have to get sorted out. I’m going to have to write the next Delicious Library. Or, I’m going to have to get a job. I don’t know which one is least likely, but Occam’s Razor and common sense point to which one is most likely.

It’s not the end of the world. When did I become too cool to work for Apple? Or anyone? Never mind doing it for free — I’ve been losing money at it for years. The thought of trading in worry about running a company for the chance to get back into a house? That’s a warm bowl of porridge.

The work I do between now and WWDC is not going to be my last hurrah. I suspect I’ll live to code again. What it is going to be is six months of unabashed coding. I try to avoid the regret of having never told someone how I feel. I’ve got six months to write my “love letters to the hardware,” and I intend to make them count.

I realize this is a downer for some, and great news for others, and for both these things I am sorry. If you won’t be dissuaded I need cheering up, donate some money to the lemurs. If you need to cheer yourself up, consider adopting a lemur.*

And so we leave the company of 2008, the year of hope, for 2009, the year of change. Good hunting.

* The lemurs do not come perpetrate zany antics with you at your domicile. The Duke Lemur Center cannot stress this point enough.


Daniel Jalkut
Hey, 6 months of hard coding is never too bad an idea. Good luck to you. I recommend finding a way to get focus. You describe a fragmented situation, even in after your regrouping for success. Writing books? Several products? iPhone and Mac? This spreading thin is dangerous even when you have that safety cushion of savings you alluded to. If you want to make it, pick the project most likely to be financially successful, and don’t look at any other project until you’re done.
Scott Guelich
Sorry to hear things have bounced down for you for the moment. It’s definitely hard to chase the big dreams when you’re worried about the bills, but sounds like you’ve got a good plan and already found contract work to get yourself solid again.

I agree with Daniel that simplifying might be a good idea. I don’t know that you need to cut all the way down to a single project, but maybe focusing on contract/employment with a side project or two is the best option for the moment. And working for someone else now doesn’t mean you can’t go back to being independent later.

There’s a top business school near me, and it’s interesting to see how eager the entrepreneurs there are to launch new businesses expecting to fail. Their goal is to try and learn, knowing that each time they get knocked down they’ll learn that much more for their next big idea.

Given all that you’ve helped create in the past year plus, I’m guessing you’ll have no problems coming up with your next big ideas. You definitely don’t seem like you suffer from a lack of creativity or ambition. So letting some projects go now doesn’t mean you won’t come up with a better project next year, or the year after that, or the year after that… Hang in there.
Darnell Clayton
Wow man, sad to hear! Wishing you the best in the future. ~Darnell

December 31st 2008 News

The Last Daily SearchCast: Dec. 18, 2008

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I recorded the last Daily SearchCast of the year last week. You can get it

— it’s an hour-and-a-half long. After doing that show, I also decided
it was time to hang it up on the show.

I’ve been doing the show for over three years now, and I’ve really enjoyed
my time with it plus the many positive responses I’ve gotten back from
listeners. And I feel like I’m letting a number of you who listen in the car or
at the gym or other places down on getting your dose of search news in audio

Unfortunately, I just don’t have as much time as I used to. I’d hoped that
going to a weekly format temporarily might help. It did a bit, but I’m still
short of time. Plus with trips or meetings coming up, I’ve found that "Weekly
Daily SearchCast" was rapidly becoming the "Monthly Weekly Daily SearchCast."

If I’m going to do something, I want to do it as best I can — and I don’t
feel I’m doing it with the show. So, that’s it. Never say never, of course.
There’s a chance I might dig deep in the future and try doing some video
updates, with audio for download. I’ll leave the feed going, just in case. But
I don’t have any immediate plans to do so.

I’d like to thank all the great folks at WebmasterRadio.FM for their support
and help in making the show a success over the years. And, of course, thanks to
all my listeners.

See below for links to more
information about stories discussed.


December 23rd 2008 News

By: AmakeMamJal

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Hi all!

As a fresh http://www.thinkseer.com user i only wanted to say hello to everyone else who uses this bbs 8-)

December 19th 2008 Uncategorized

By: William Lutz

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Thank I’m always looking for ways to get greener

December 18th 2008 Uncategorized

Brooks on Outliers

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David Brooks wrote a very thoughtful column in the New York Times yesterday on "Outliers." Much of what he said was very flattering.

I have just two comments in response.

1. Brooks argues that I "slight the centrality of individual character and individual creativity" by focusing so much on the cultural and contextual determinants of success. Successful people, he says, must begin with two beliefs–"that the future can be better than the present, and I have the power to make it so." I completely agree.  The chapter on lawyers, for example, is devoted to the idea of "meaningful work," which is just what Brooks is talking about here, the perception that there is a connection in our daily life between effort and reward. It’s such that I think that the belief in meaningful work is socially constructed. Those highly successful children and grandchildren of Jewish immigrants who are the subject of that lawyers chapter were not successful because each, independently, happened to be endowed with the magical genetic trait of self-efficacy.  They were successful because their very fortunate cultural circumstances gave them that belief in meaningful work. Nurture here is driving nature, not the other way around.

2. Brooks suggests that Outliers represents a kind of social determinism. But that’s an odd comment to make in the context of a column championing the role of nature over nurture. It’s only nature that is unchangable and deterministic. Nuture, by definition, isn’t. And the last half of Outliers is devoted to showing that when we confront our cultural legacies–whether it’s in the cockpit or the classroom–we can make a big difference in how well we do our jobs. 

December 18th 2008 News

By: Adam

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That’s a pretty groovy way of using Twitter for finding leads as well as an interesting way of keeping your brews cold…lol..

December 17th 2008 Uncategorized

Teachers and Quarterbacks

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My latest New Yorker piece, "Most Likely to Succeed" is now up.

A couple of additional thoughts.

In some of the responses to the piece, I’ve seen some resistance to the idea that choosing  NFL quarterbacks and choosing public school teachers represent the same category of problem.  There are only a small number of NFL quarterbacks, and we are selecting candidates from a tiny pool of highly elite athletes. By contrast, we need a vast number of public school teachers and we’re recruiting from an enormous non-elite pool to fill that need.  So, the response has gone, it’s apples and oranges.

Precisely! But of course non-symetrical comparisons are far more interesting and thought-provoking than symetrical comparisons. If I wrote a piece about how finding good point guards in the NBA was a lot like finding good quarterbacks in the NFL, the comparison would be exact. And as a result, it would be relatively useless.  What new light does the addition of a second, identical example shed on the first?

 What makes an idea thought-provoking, to my mind, is the extent to which we are forced to make an effort to assimilate apparently contradictory or at least antagonistic notions. Roger Martin, the dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, has a wonderful book out on this very idea ("The Opposable Mind").  He argues that what distinguishes successful business leaders is their ability to reconcile apparently irreconcilable options.  So, for example, the genius of Izzy Sharpe, the founder of the Four Seasons chain, is that he was the first to understand that a hotelier doesn’t have to choose between the advantages of a large hotel (breadth of services) and the advantages of a small hotel (intimacy). For years everyone assumed those were mutually exclusive categories. Sharpe realized that you can, in fact, do both. Martin’s book made me think that there is value in pushing the envelope on comparisons.

All of this is a long way of saying that instead of resisting the implausibility of the pairing of NFL quarterbacks and teachers, it is actually more interesting to embrace it. And what happens when you do that? You discover that the psychological situation facing the gatekeeper in both cases is identical: that confronted with a prediction deficit, the human impulse is to tighten standards, when it fact it should be to loosen standards.

Second point:

One weakness of the piece, I think, is that I didn’t spell out another of the parallels between good quarterbacks and good teachers. One of the obvious implications of the notion that the college experience does not predict professional quarterback success is that professional quarterbacking is a skill learned only in the pros. That is, what matters more than anything in predicting professional success is the quality of the learning environment that the quarterback is drafted into, not the quality of the experience he was drafted from.  (Think Matt Cassell’s rather remarkable performance this year: surely that’s a consequence of being drafted into one of the league’s best learning cultures).

My brother, an elementary school principal, believes very strongly along these same lines: that effective mentoring of a new teacher can make an enormous difference in that person’s ability to become a "star" teacher. But the problem, he argues, is that the process of mentorship is much too haphazard. As he says, "It’s like training NFL quarterbacks by randomly sending them out to teams – some CFL teams, some Division III teams, some Division I College teams, some community teams, and a few to NFL teams." 

It strikes me that one very logical response to the quarterback problem is not just to lower entry standards, and be willing to make after-the-fact judgments of quality, but also to spend a great deal more time and attention on the issue of talent development. If Matt Cassell can thrive in the NFL, after essentially zero college quarterback experience, what exactly is New England doing right? And what can the rest of the league learn from them? Maybe that should be the subject of a follow-up piece.

December 17th 2008 News

By: Adam

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Thanks Maria & Seth! Making the most of what you’re currently spending & finding ways to get it cheaper at the same quality is critical, recession or not. Why not use less expensive outlets (or free in twitter’s case).

December 12th 2008 Uncategorized

By: Seth Goldstein

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Great Post! You really highlight what companies need to do to stay afloat in these turbulent times.

December 12th 2008 Uncategorized

Outliers update

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In my new book "Outliers," I spend a chapter trying to explain why Asian schoolchildren perform so much better at mathematics than their Western counterparts. The principal source of data on international math achievement is what’s called TIMS–which is a standardized test adminsitered to kids around the world every four years. At the time of writing, the results of the 2007 TIMS were not yet in. But now they are, and they reaffirm what I was trying to address in Outliers. The gap between the Japan, South Korean, Hong Kong, Tawian and Singapore–and the rest of the world–is enormous and growing. Here’s the relevant paragraph from the TIMS executive summary:

Remarkable percentages of students in Asian countries reached the

Advanced International Benchmark for mathematics, representing

fluency on items involving the most complex topics and reasoning skills.

In particular, at the fourth grade, Singapore and Hong Kong SAR had

41 and 40 percent of their students, respectively, achieving at or above

the Advanced International Benchmark. At the eighth grade, Chinese

Taipei, Korea, and Singapore had 40 to 45 percent of their students

achieving at or above the Advanced International Benchmark. The

median percentage of students reaching this Benchmark was 5 percent

at the fourth grade and 2 percent at the eighth grade.

A more modest gap between Asian and the rest of the world could, I think, be safely explained with conventional arguments about differences in pedagogy, or school funding or some such. But 40 percent versus 5 percnet? Differences of this magnitude require more fundamental explanations, which is why I felt it necessary to make such a strong cultural/historical  claim in my book.

December 11th 2008 News