Archive for May, 2011


Update on Rolling Curl

Back in 2009 I blogged about using curl_multi() in PHP without blocking. The goal was to provide a better way to process multiple HTTP requests in parallel. The code was well received and I ended up turning my original snippet of code into a full blown PHP Class.

And then I got busy. Meanwhile the list of bugs and feature requests began to pile up.

Thankfully, a few guys have picked up my slack on the project. Alexander Makarow has been diligently maintaining the code for me, fixing bugs and making it better. Fabian Franz forked it on Github and added some of the top requested features.

Thanks to their efforts, Rolling Curl is in better shape than ever. This is why I love open source.

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3 types of winning

Each month I pay Comcast for internet access at my house and their service sucks. I have the option to switch to Qwest but I’ve heard they are just as bad. As a customer, I’m not very happy but dropping my internet isn’t exactly an option. In this transaction there’s one clear winner, and it’s not me.

When I go to concerts, I often end up buying tickets through Ticketmaster. When I do, Ticketmaster makes money and the venue that selected Ticketmaster as the payment system gets a financial kickback. Event-goers are pissed over the exorbitant fees, but both the company (Ticketmaster) and the customer (the venues) are happy. It’s a win for both the company and the customer.

Occasionally you’ll find a company that provides a triple win. I click on Google ads as they’re often helpful. Advertisers are happy to pay for my clicks because on average I’m going to spend far more on their store than I’m going to cost them. Google, of course, is happy to take their cut as well – a great example of a win/win/win. Everyone is happy: the company, the customer and the world.

There aren’t many companies that can get away with being a single winner. These types of wins are really only possible when they have near-monopolistic control of the market. Since everyone hates them, they’re guaranteed to be overturned unless there’s some large market force keeping the status quo.

The vast majority of companies in the world are a double win. You have to make at least one customer happy to have a business. Most double win companies aren’t hated by the rest of the world like Ticketmaster, they’re just invisible since they don’t make much of a difference to anyone besides the customer.

Triple win companies are pretty rare. It’s hard enough trying to satisfy your customers without trying to please everyone else while you’re at it. But of the three types of companies, triple wins are the most fun. Other than your competitors, the entire world is cheering for you to succeed (well, at least until you get big).

One of the reasons I’m having so much fun working on Torbit is that our product is a triple win. I regularly see tweets from people recommending Torbit to websites that are slow. Everyone on the Internet appreciates fast loading websites, even if they have no idea who we are or have no conscious recognition of the difference we make. Our customers love us because we make them more money by making their websites faster. And of course, as long as we’re providing value, people will happily pay us as well.

At the company where you work, who’s winning? For the entrepreneur, what kind of company are you building? I want to make money just as much as the next guy, but it’s not what drives me to get out of bed in the morning. You can be wildly profitable no matter which path you choose, but my guess is you’ll have a lot more fun if you find a way to make the world a better place while you’re at it.

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Talking about Torbit at BDNT

A few weeks ago Robert Reich called me up and asked if I would present Torbit at the Boulder New Tech Meetup. They’d had a cancelation and needed someone to fill in at the last minute. Of course, I jumped at the chance. Here’s 5 minutes of me talking about my favorite company in the world and answering a few questions at the end:

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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.

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Don’t wait for permission

A few years ago I wrote a post titled Looking for a job? Don’t be this guy. Today I want to share a positive example of what you should do instead if you’re looking for a job.

I love the 360 panorama app from Occipital. It’s the easiest way to make a panoramic and the scenes that people share are often stunning. Back in December, I tweeted that I hoped that Occipital would make a gallery of their 360 panos. Mick Thompson saw my tweet and apparently agreed with me. But instead of just retweeting my request, he got to work and actually built it. The 360 gallery he created was awesome.

Unknown to both of us, Occipital had been talking internally about building a gallery themselves. When they saw Micks work they immediately got in touch with him and asked if he’d be interested in joining them. Today, Occipital announced that Mick will be joining them in a full time role.

Mick is an example of exactly the kind of guy I want to hire. You’ll be amazed at how much a little initiative will set you apart from the crowd. If you’re struggling to find a job, the best advice I have for you is to find a way to copy Mick. I think this lesson applies to lots of other areas in life too. If you want something to exist, don’t sit around talking about it. Just do it.

Congrats to both Mick and Occipital. I can’t wait to see what you guys build next.

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Book review: Moonwalking with Einstein

I just finished reading Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer. I first heard about the book on the Colbert Report and it turned out to be a fascinating read. The book is a autobiography about a journalist who covers a memory competition. He is intrigued by the memory athletes in the competition and decides to learn more. Foer ends up embarking on a year-long study of memory techniques before competing himself and landing the title of US Memory Champion.

The memory athletes perform seemingly incredible feats like memorizing an entire deck of cards in 30 seconds or reciting back thousands of random digits in under an hour. The amazing thing is that these memory athletes are just ordinary people with average memories. They’ve just learned how to train their minds and have learned old tricks for effectively remembering things.

The basic premise of most of the memory techniques is that our memories are incredible visual and spacial. For example, picture the home you grew up in. You may not have seen it in years, but I bet you can still walk around that building in your mind and recall the layout with incredible detail. Our minds are also really good at remembering things that are out of the ordinary, sexual or absurd. By drawing connections in your mind and laying scenes around “memory palaces” you can transform the kinds of things you usually forget into the kind your brain is naturally good at remembering.

Foer also talks a lot about the history of memorization. Memory skills used to be considered a lot more important than they are today. He talks with natural savants and the worlds smartest trained minds. He discusses the process of becoming an expert and how to stop yourself from plateauing in your quest for mastery. I was fascinated by the techniques he used and challenged to simply pay more attention and be more intentional about the things that I want to remember.

One of the key take-aways for me is that anyone could become an expert, but it takes time and commitment. Foer had to do a massive amount of brute force memorization to build up a dictionary of shortcuts in his mind before he could memorize anything fast. He points out that invention and inventory come from the same root word. Invention can’t come without having an inventory of experiences and knowledge to build on. It’s all very recursive.

No matter how good your memory is now, I think you’ll enjoy Moonwalking with Einstein. If you’re looking for a good book, check it out. It’s an interesting look into the internal workings of our minds.

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