Posts tagged ‘random’

Lessons from Högertrafikomläggningen

Yesterday afternoon I closed my laptop and went for a bike ride on the South Marshall Mesa trail. It was a beautiful day and the close proximity to the mountains and biking trails is one of my favorite things about Boulder. I’ve found jumping on a bike and getting away for a while is a great way to clear my head and reflect on life. Yesterday as I was riding my mind wandered to an historical event I discovered while I was preparing for my last Ignite talk.

On September 3rd 1967, Sweden switched from driving on the left side of the road to driving on the right. The day when the transition took place was called Högertrafikomläggningen which means “the right-hand traffic diversion”. It is often referred to as Dagen H or simply H Day. The craziest part of this story to me was that during the transition, traffic accidents actually fell by 17%. In my Ignite talk I focused on the fact that we are more careful when things feel dangerous and that making something scary is actually one of the best ways to make something safe. But today I thought about Dagen H in a new way.

Right now my life involves lots of big decisions and lots of change. But I doubt there will be many decisions in my life as drastic as having an entire country switch to driving on the opposite side of the road. I can imagine the struggle as the Swedish parliment delibererated on whether or not to make the switch. Every country around Sweden drove on the right and switching really was the most logical decision. On the other hand, switching required a ton of work and preperation and it’s not hard to envision what the negitive reprecusions could have been. The plan was also incredibly unpopular at the time.

In spite of the risk and the effort involved, Sweden made the right decision. And it worked out for them. The lesson for me is that no matter how overwhelming a decision may seem, sometimes you just have to go for it, and trust that if you do the right thing, everything will work out in the end.



I remember a couple weeks after I graduated college going to the movies with some friends.  The girl behind the counter asked “student?”  We all said “yes”.  Of course, none of us were technically students anymore, but the girl behind the counter didn’t know that and she almost certainly didn’t care.  We all still had our students ID’s and we looked the same as when we were eligible for the student discount.  We joked about how many years it would be before we got called out on this little loophole.

But then my conscience started bothering me.  You see, one of the most important things in the world to me is that people trust me.  I want to be known as someone you can count on to do the right thing.  Someone who won’t screw you over.  Someone with integrity.

And in that moment it felt like I had sacrificed all of that to save a dollar.

So in one of my prouder moments, I turned around, walked back up to the counter and said to the surprised girl behind the desk “I’m not a student anymore. Sorry I lied.”

That was three years ago and since then I’ve had far bigger opportunities to stretch the truth for my own benefit.  In fact, the temptation to compromise my integrity is everywhere.  It would be so easy to tack on a couple extra hours when billing for some contract work.  It’s so easy to lie just to make myself look a little bit better than I am.  But integrity is doing the right thing, even if no one is watching.  Every time I’m tempted I think back on the feeling I had as I walked away into that movie.

And I wouldn’t trade that for the world.


No risk, no reward

If you don’t miss a flight every now and then, you’re wasting too much time hanging around in airports.

If you’re a mountain biker without any scars, maybe it’s time to earn some.

If you haven’t wiped out in a while, maybe it’s time to push the limits once again.

If there is no danger of your heart being broken, maybe you need to take a chance at loving more.

Here’s to 2010, missed flights and new scars with awesome stories behind them.


My wish list for Facebook

I’m a big fan of Facebook.  It’s one of the few services I use every day and I find it to be invaluable for keeping up with people. One of the results of using any service a lot, is that it makes it really easy to point out the flaws and features that are missing. Here are a few things I’d love to see implemented in Facebook:

I wish Facebook had nested comments on newsfeed items. I often find myself annoyed by the flood of notifications I receive after other people interact with an item I commented on or liked. As a result, I find myself commenting less when I think it’s likely I’m going to be spammed.  Nested comments would solve this problem as I could receive notifications only for direct replies to what I said.

I wish I could untag myself in pictures. This feature doesn’t seem to be working consistently.  I click “remove tag” and Facebook redirects me to my profile page without untagging me.

I wish the vertical spacing on the top header was even in the new design. I’m OCD. Small details like this tend to drive me crazy.

I wish the messaging system worked better. The two main things I want are reply-by-email and my inbox count in facebook to be automatically decremented after I read a notification email. This could easily implemented by adding a simple beacon to the notification emails.

I wish chat worked with XMPP as promised over a year ago.

I really wish Facebook would let me use the API to map Facebook ID’s to a given list of email addresses.

That’s my list.  What did I miss?


Verifying domain name ownership

I got a nice shout-out on TechCrunch today for discovering an issue with the new Kindle Publisher program.  The vulnerability allowed anyone to claim a blog as their own and take advantage of the 30% rev-share that Amazon offers on their $1.99 subscription fee.  Erick Schonfeld did a nice job covering the issue and explaining the implications of the hack.  You can read about it on the TechCrunch article.

The interesting thing about this vulnerability is that there are already accepted methods in place for verifying that someone owns a domain name.  I understand that Amazon may have wanted to remove the friction from getting people started, but this stuff matters too much to get wrong — especially when there is a large audience and money to be gained.

For those who are interested in the best way to do domain name ownership (ahem, Amazon) Google would be a great role model for you to follow.  There is a nice explanation on how Google’s domain verification process works on their help pages:

To verify that you own a site, you can either add a meta tag to your home page (proving that you have access to the source files), or upload an HTML file with the name you specify to your server (proving that you have access to the server).

Each verification method has its advantages. Verifying using a meta tag is ideal if you aren’t able to upload a file to your server. If you have direct access to your server, you may find it easier and faster to upload an HTML file.

Amazon would do well to follow Google’s lead.


Learning from wipe-outs

Over the weekend I had the privilege of hanging out with twelve of my best friends from Clemson. They flew in for MLK weekend, and we spent our time skiing and boarding up in the mountains at Breckenridge.

If you spend any time on the slopes there is one phrase you will hear a lot:

I didn’t fall this time!

I started wondering — is that really the best we can do? Is staying on your feet the best metric of success?

Sure, I could get down most slopes without falling — so why do I fall so much? I’d rather go through some brutal wipe-outs and and improve my snowboarding skills than risk becoming stagnant in my ability.

You might argue that the experience is a lot less enjoyable if you spend most of it on your face in the snow. Why not recognize your limitations and have a good time on the bunny slopes? You have a pretty valid argument. The only problem is this: you’ll spend the rest of your life on the bunny slopes. You’ll never know what it’s like to push yourself and actually succeed. Sure there will be frustration in between, but it might just be worth it.

What about you? Are you continually pushing the envelope and trying new things or are you content setting the bar just high enough not to get hurt?

Is it worth it?


A roommate’s perspective

This is a guest blog from my roommate, Mike Soltys. Mike and I graduated from Clemson together and now he’s working on his PHD at CU. Here are Mike’s thoughts on start-up life:

Hey Tech-blog world! My name is Mike and I’m a guest blogger for Josh. As many of you who read this blog may or may not know, my roommates are starting up the “startup” company “EventVue“. Now, you’ll have to forgive me for poor tech-terminology and the like because I’m by no means a techy, but I’m going to try to give you my outside view of the tech-startup world.

I’d first like to talk about the cost of starting up a company. I’m in college. I’ve been in college for just about as long as I can remember and I’ll be in college for quite some time. As a college student, I’m poor as dirt but Its OK because I really don’t work that hard. My roommates on the other hand don’t even know the meaning of “weekend” and they’re just as poor as me. They say that some day they will be millionaires, and when thats the case I guess all that hard work will pay off… but in the mean time is it really worth eating cold pop-tarts because you can’t afford a toaster (or the energy to run one?)

The second major qualm I have against being a start-up dude myself is the heavy use of Mac’s. I’m writing this very blog on a Mac and I’m hating every minute of it. Do Mac users think they are “above” right clicking, or was the right mouse button just too visually displeasing to include on their laptops?

The benefit of being a start-up dude is the party’s. I’ve been fortunate enough to be invited to a few tech party’s which are actually pretty classy (even though they usually do lack ladies). They usually feature good beer, good food and stimulating conversation about the latest website that I just have to go to.

I guess thats why they do it… the party’s, but honestly I think I’m happy with being the roommate of a techie and being invited to the occasional party without the hard work, low pay, and the stupid Macs. Well, until we meet again, take care tech world!
– Mike


A picture of life at TechStars

It’s 10:45 on a Wednesday night and the TechStars office is hopping! There are 13 guys working here at the office right now. That’s start-up life for you!

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The big push.

This week has been crazy, exciting and a lot of fun!

Recently David has been pushing us to get our products out for people to start using them. We took his challenge to heart and had an early alpha launch with our first online community for a conference in Palo Alto, CA called Community Next. It’s a big deal for us to finally have real users interacting with our product. We are pumped!

Community Next is a conference on viral marketing which is organized by Adam Kalamchi and Noah Kagan. Last I heard, they still have 25 tickets left if you want to attend. They have some great speakers lined up and an impressive list of attendees. The EventVue community is only available to those who register, so if you want to be in on the action, you’ve gotta sign up! What more incentive could you need!?

The EventVue launch for Community Next wasn’t the only big push that took place yesterday. Here’s a fun video that Aaron from Villij posted earlier. Enjoy!


Content aggregation: Am I missing something?

With new web services appearing every day our information is increasingly spread out over a myriad of different platforms. As a result, active web users are forced to log into dozens of different sites to keep up with their online life. There are a lot of people currently working to solve this problem with content aggregation. The idea is that you should be able to log in to one website and see all your relevant information in one place. It’s a great idea, but there are some big challenges that are worth considering.

Let me start by sharing a personal story. When the Google Maps API first came out I built a mash-up that allowed people to move around a map and see the names, addresses and phone numbers of everyone who lived in that area. I used a reverse geocoder to convert GPS coordinates to street addresses and then an address lookup service to get the information about the people who lived on each street. Since I didn’t have access to these databases myself, I extracted the data from several other websites. Everything worked great until someone found my site and posted a link on digg. About 10 minutes after my website made the front page of digg, two of the services I was using blocked my IP address. My 10 minutes of fame were over. My site was as dead as a doornail.

I learned an important lesson from this incident. When you pull content from another website you are ALWAYS at their mercy.

A good number of websites now provide API’s that allow third parties to interact with their data. Theoretically this makes the task of content aggregation more reliable since you have defined methods by which to access information from that provider. Unfortunately, even with API’s you are still defenseless to the actions of the API provider. For example, last week Facebook made several code updates that broke the majority of applications on their platform. I’ve experienced the same issues while using API’s for PayPal Pro and Google Maps. In each case, they made an “update” to their code which put my website out of business for a day. When you use an API, you must understand that it can (and will) change at any time. There will also be times when it will be broken or unavailable.

The bigger concern is when you need to aggregate content from websites that don’t have an API. The reality of the internet today is that API-offering websites make up a tiny percentage of all the websites on the internet. To provide a truly valuable aggregator you need to scrape data from all relevant websites, not just those that offer API access. The problem is that you are completely vulnerable when you are scraping data. Any time a change is made in their code, it has the potential to break everything you are doing. If they ever decide they don’t like you anymore, blocking you is as simple as adding your IP address to a restriction list. No matter what, you are at their mercy.

Keep in mind that few websites have an economic incentive to let you scrape their data. This is especially true for websites that make their money from advertising. When you scrap their content you are depriving them of their main source of revenue. If they ever decide they don’t like you, there’s not much you can do about it.

For those of you who are currently working on building content aggregators, I am curious to hear how you plan to address these issues. Is there another side to this that I am missing?

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