Working hard to be lucky but not working too hard

When I was young people used to ask me what I what I wanted to be when I grew up. As a cheeky young lad, I’d tell them “I don’t know. It hasn’t been invented yet”. Little did I know how true that statement would end up being. Technology has evolved so fast. Most of the stuff I do on a daily basis wouldn’t have made any sense if I’d tried to explain it 10 years ago. If I went back 100 years and tried to explain it, people would think I was nuts.

I just read Jud Valeski’s post about his 3 steps to Software. Like Jud, my journey to software began with making little blocks dance around the screen with some BASIC programming on an Apple IIe computer that my dad bought my me. I’ve shared the story of how I became a programmer before and how I too became addicted to building software. There’s something incredibly powerful in building things that matter and having the chance to really impact the world with your work. The amount of influence one man with a laptop can have is mind-boggling. Yep, we’re lucky. I can’t think of a better time in history to be alive.

Earlier today I had the following exchange with Vinicius Vacanti on twitter:

While I’m certainly a believer in hard work and putting yourself in the position to be lucky, I’m not convinced that just working hard is enough. You see, at my last company, I worked my butt off for 3 years. I went 3 years without a vacation, 3 years working nights and weekends to make my dream come true. But in the end it didn’t matter. EventVue failed. Since then I’ve tried to have more balance in my life. I’ve learned to close the laptop and go outside. Today I spent my afternoon rock climbing at Castle Rock and building some new friendships. It was a much needed break after a long week of work.

I have an addiction to building things. I work hard. Although I don’t write code as much as I used to, I still get immense satisfaction from staying up all night cranking out some new functionality for Torbit. I love surprising customers with 5 minute response times to support emails that come in at 3am. Part of the reason I work so hard is I feel like I’ve been handed the best hand of cards I could ever imagine. It feels irresponsible to not make the most of it. At the same time, I’m trying to find more balance in my life. As Micah Baldwin said, I want to make sure I’m running to the right place, not just running hard.

While my search for work/life balance often feels like a losing battle, it’s helpful to have role models to emulate. Brad Feld is a living example that it’s possible to work hard and still find balance in life. Go read Brad’s post about falling into the busy trap if you haven’t yet. Elon Musk is another example of someone doing incredible work. As the founder of both Tesla and SpaceX, it’s hard to imagine a busier guy… except he’s sitting on a beach in Hawaii right now.

If Elon Musk can take a breather, so can you.

I’m a published author!

One of my life goals is to write a book. I recently came one step closer to that goal with a contribution to the new Web Performance Daybook Volume 2 from O’Reilly.

The project started out of Stoyan Stefanov‘s Performance Calendar which was a series of articles from a bunch of us in the performance industry. The articles are now published in one handy collection containing lots of insights from some of the smartest people I know. I was honored to participate in this project and wrote Chapter 7 titled “Automating Website Performance”.

The authors’ royalties will be donated to a Web Performance charity so grab a copy for everyone in your organization (Paperback, Kindle). You’ll be benefiting a good cause and learning at the same time!

We need to end the TSA

I just read a post by my friend Matt Galligan sharing a particularly bad experience he had with the TSA.

One agent began to escort me through the machine, where I assumed falsely that I could just walk straight through. When she realized I was an “opt out”, she escorted me back through. It was then that I let her know of my concern for my materials and I’d appreciate the opportunity to watch over them. Her exact words back to me: “No, no you can’t watch your stuff. You need to go back over there.”

Like Matt, I always opt out of the nudie photo makers at the airport. My experience varies from airport to airport, but more often than not I’m greeted with scowls and “are you sure you want to do that?” While I’m worried about the health issues (it says a lot that the TSA won’t let anyone test them!), it’s my small way of protesting the security theater that inconveniences everyone without making us any safer.

The fact that they don’t let you watch your items while you are waiting for a pat down is unbelievable. Hearing Matt’s story reminded me of the time I walked through for my pat down just in time to catch someone “accidentally” walking away with my brand new mac book air. He apologized and handed it back, but if TSA had kept me waiting even 30 seconds longer it would have been gone.

TSA is a joke and people need to start speaking up if we want things to change.

Torbit demo with Robert Scoble

A few weeks ago I met up with Robert Scoble to chat about what we’ve been building at Torbit. The video he made was published today. You can check it out below.

Thanks again Robert! Rob La Gesse too!

Guest post on High Scalability

I’ve been a long time fan and reader of High Scalability, a blog about building bigger, faster, more reliable websites. It’s a great resource for anyone who cares about building websites at scale.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of writing a guest post for them titled, Averages, Web Performance Data, And How Your Analytics Product Is Lying To You. I wrote about the importance of looking beyond averages when looking at your performance data. I also talked about the importance of using Real User Measurement to make sure the numbers you are looking at are accurate.

For people who care about performance, it’s important to use a RUM product that gives you a complete view into what’s going on. You should be able to see a histogram of the loading times for every visitor to your site. You should be able to see your median load time, your 99th percentile and lots of other key metrics that are far more actionable than just looking at an average.

You can read the full article here.

What I’ve been working on lately: Torbit Insight

This week at Torbit we launched a new product called Torbit Insight. It’s a real user measurement tool that let’s you see how fast your site is loading for every visitor on every page. There’s nothing else like it on the market and it’s obviously resonating with people since we just launched and it’s already being used by some of the largest sites on the internet!

I wrote a longer post about our launch on the Torbit blog so I won’t rehash everything here. You can also see the coverage we got on TechCrunch, The Next Web, CloudAve and K9 Ventures. I particularly love the coverage we got in other countries, like this article in Spanish or this one in Chinese.

The response from everyone has been nothing short of amazing. It’s been great hearing from our users who seem particularly impressed with our real-time features. Take these tweets for example:

We worked hard on this product and it’s exciting to finally get to share it with the world. I am so grateful to everyone who had a part in making it happen. To Jon, Ilya, Mike, Dave, Chelsea, Hudson, Zack, Katie, Manu, Daniel – thank you all. I’ve never been a part of a better team. Once again, you make me feel like the luckiest guy in the world.

For my faithful readers, I hope you will measure the speed of your website, with Insight.

The caging of America

I just read The Caging of America by Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker. It’s an informative article about the sad state of affairs in America prisions. It’s well known that we lock more people up in America than any other country. Blacks are incarcerated seven times as often as whites. People with money get good lawyers and a slap on the wrist, those without, get locked up for years. And like most broken things in America, there are financial incentives for our politicians to maintain the status quo. With the privatization of prisions, millions of dollars are being spent by lobbyists to make sure we keep our prisons full.

It’s hard to think about the current state of affairs without recognizing that something is fundamentally wrong in the way we think about incarceration. William J. Stuntz blames our Bill of Rights for emphasizing process and procedure over principles of fairness and justice. Gopnik’s commentary about prison rape is quite compelling:

Prison rape is so endemic—more than seventy thousand prisoners are raped each year—that it is routinely held out as a threat, part of the punishment to be expected. The subject is standard fodder for comedy, and an uncoöperative suspect being threatened with rape in prison is now represented, every night on television, as an ordinary and rather lovable bit of policing. The normalization of prison rape—like eighteenth-century japery about watching men struggle as they die on the gallows—will surely strike our descendants as chillingly sadistic, incomprehensible on the part of people who thought themselves civilized.

For those who haven’t read it, I recommend you read the full thing. It’s well written, thought provoking and worth a read.

The war on freedom (and why I like Ron Paul)

Like many of my friends, I don’t waste much time following what’s going on in Washington. I’m disenchanted with the whole political system in the US and prefer to speed my attention on things I can actually change. It was only recently that I discovered a candidate who makes sense to me and that’s Ron Paul. Ron Paul tells it like it is. He’s intellectually consistent and fights for ideas I believe in like freedom and personal liberty. He’s the only candidate with a serious plan to balance the budget. He wants to bring our troops home, while everyone else seems impatient to start dropping bombs on Iran. As if, all we need is another war!! Ron Paul recognizes that our national debt is the biggest threat to our way of life and printing money isn’t the solution. I’ve never really identified with either the Republican or Democratic parties. Other than petty fights over contraception, both parties seem to have the same plan — more government at the expense of personal freedom. Over the last couple years I’ve noticed a frightening trend. Our personal liberties are being systematically undermined and taken away from us. We’ve wandered a long way from the freedoms laid out in our Bill of Rights. Let’s look at a few examples in this ongoing war on freedom.

Today, you can donate money online to the Ku Klux Klan, but not Wikileaks. Regardless of your feelings for Julian Assange or Wikileaks, our Bill of Rights is pretty clear regarding freedom of the press. The financial blockade against Wikileaks is unprecedented and a worrying sign of how things work.

When I go to the airport, I have two choices — pose in the nudie photo maker or subject myself to a grope-down. Whatever happened to “probable cause”? Never mind the fact that the whole experience is nothing more than security theater. Our liberties are slowly being taken away and we’re adjusting to it like frogs being slowly cooked to death.

SOPA and PIPA got a lot of attention, but even without those laws websites are being seized all the time without due process (compliments of Homeland Security’s ICE department). Bradley Manning was stuck in solitary confinement for months without being so much as charged with a crime or being tried in front a jury. Oh, and case you missed it, Obama signed the NDAA bill allowing Americans to be detained indefinitely without trial.

So, why Ron Paul? Look at his voting record. He’s served 12-terms in congress and has been preaching the same message of liberty and fiscal responsibility the whole time. Listening to the media, you’d think he’s a fringe candidate with no chance of being elected. But then I happened to notice a few maps on Remember how the media raved about Obama’s organization and ground support? Let’s compare how Ron Paul and Barack Obama compare as far as meetups go (click the images to see the results for yourself).

Wow, pretty remarkable. I would have never guessed that from listening to CNN or any other traditional media. How about the other GOP candidates? How do they stack up?

Both Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich were surging for a while. They have lots of crazy ideas, but not a lot of support from the American people of It’s turn out, not many people care about advancing the careers of more corrupt politicians. Mitt Romney might have lots of money, but he doesn’t inspire a lot of passion from his supporters.

Ron Paul actually stands for something. He inspires people. And he’s gaining momentum as people are fed up with the lies, the pointless wars and the endless spending. The media may ignore him, but people are waking up. The cool thing for me is that supporting Ron Paul isn’t about propping up another politician. I still don’t care for politics. I care about the principles at stake. I care about the defense of liberty. Ron Paul is bringing attention to values I really care about and for that I am grateful. As Ronald Reagan said:

Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.

Join top sites in protesting censorship on the web

Recently many large sites on the web, like Reddit and Wikipedia have announced plans to black out their sites in opposition to the bills that have been proposed in the US House and Senate in the name of “stopping piracy”. The problem with these bills is that they would give the government the power to censor content on the web while breaking the underlying infrastructure of the internet. Corporate supporters of HR3261 (SOPA) and S968 (PIPA) demand the ability to take down any web site that affects their profits, without due process or judicial oversight. Hoping you wouldn’t notice or care, the majority of our elected representatives want to give them that right.

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP (PIPA) act are just another instance of the government meddling in things they don’t understand while giving themselves more power.

While progress is being made at stopping these bills, it is important that we continue to raise awareness of what’s going on. There have already been illegal seizures by Homeland Security’s ICE that highlight the danger of allowing the government to block sites at will.

This weekend at Torbit, we built a JavaScript widget that makes it easy for any site to join the protest against SOPA, PIPA and other censorship on the web. Just paste a snippet of JavaScript into your website to add an interstitial to your site with information about SOPA and how to contact your local representatives. By default it will only be displayed on January 18th from 8am–8pm EST (1300–0100 UTC). It’s available as a WordPress plugin, Blogger widget, Typepad widget, as well as a simple javascript snippet. Check out the screenshot below to see what it looks like or click here to try it out.

What are you doing with your talent and energy?

Bill Gates to members of the Harvard community:

I hope you will reflect on what you’ve done with your talent and energy. I hope you will judge yourselves not on your professional accomplishments alone, but also on how well you work to address the world’s deepest inequities, on how well you treat people a world away who have nothing in common with you but their humanity.