Progress

I’ve been making my way through several books and wanted to provide an update.

Web 2.0: A Strategy Guide – I made it about 75% of the way through, and put it down for good. I found it very repetitive and suspect I’m the wrong audience for the book. This Slashdot review summed it up pretty well for me:

Web 2.0 is so much more than a technology.” Priceless. I can sum up the entirety of this book quite simply: If you want to be “Web 2.0″, develop a web application that is social-based, use plenty of Flash or Ajax (Ajax preferable), and create an API that allows script kiddies everywhere to fashion useless add-ons (preferably that involve cute icons of small furry animals or various celebratory trinkets). That’s the Foreword, Prologue, and Chapters 1-5. Chapters 6-10, Epilogue, and Appendices are as follows: The magic behind the Web 2.0 movement is this: the generation of kids nowadays have grown up using computers, are computer savvy, and are used to being online. So websites have become portals for social interactivity. The more interactive you can make the sites, the more “social” they become. So ends the mystery of Web 2.0.

Practical Web 2.0 Applications with PHP is coming along well — I’m about a third of the way through the book. The fifth chapter, An Introduction to Prototype and Scriptaculous, was a relief from the confusing Model-View-Controller. Now when I do a View-Source, I see links to those libraries and proudly say to myself I know what those do. For now, my knowledge is entirely theoretical.

Designing the Obvious – This is the fourth book on web usability I’ve read in the last few months, and one of the best so far. Robert Hoekman’s writing style is the same as his preferred design style: simple, clean, and to the point.

Also came up with a web application idea while reading an article in the WSJ this weekend. A quick internet search reveals there isn’t much competition, and this is something I would use and think others would too. Its perfect for a freemium business model. Best of all, I even got the usually difficult “Thats not a bad idea” from my wife, so it must have potential. Once I get through the PHP Web 2.0 book, I’ll start on it, unless another, better idea comes along.

I must admit, after taking a break for the last few weeks to get education about this stuff, I’m anxious to start hacking away at a new project.

I recently started posting on Hacker News (see here) and have been immensely impressed with the feedback my posts have received. I haven’t commented much on other peoples’ posts, mostly out of a lack of insight/knowledge, but I’d like to give back one day. Actually there’s another site idea brewing, where I might be able to do just that.

Peace -

Horizons

From Google’s blog.

Management guru Peter Drucker noted that companies attracting the best knowledge workers will “secure the single biggest factor for competitive advantage.” We and other forward-looking companies put a lot of effort into hiring such people. What are we looking for?

At the highest level, we are looking for non-routine problem-solving skills. We expect applicants to be able to solve routine problems as a matter of course. After all, that’s what most education is concerned with. But the non-routine problems offer the opportunity to create competitive advantage, and solving those problems requires creative thought and tenacity.

Here’s a real-life example, a challenge a team of our engineers once faced: designing a spell-checker for the Google search engine. The routine solution would be to run queries through a dictionary. The non-routine, creative solution is to use the query corrections and refinements that other users have made in the past to offer spelling suggestions for new queries. This approach enables us to correct all the words that aren’t in the dictionary, helping many more users in the process.

How do we find these non-routine savants? There are many factors, of course, but we primarily look for …

… analytical reasoning. Google is a data-driven, analytic company. When an issue arises or a decision needs to be made, we start with data. That means we can talk about what we know, instead of what we think we know.

… communication skills. Marshalling and understanding the available evidence isn’t useful unless you can effectively communicate your conclusions.

… a willingness to experiment. Non-routine problems call for non-routine solutions and there is no formula for success. A well-designed experiment calls for a range of treatments, explicit control groups, and careful post-treatment analysis. Sometimes an experiment kills off a pet theory, so you need a willingness to accept the evidence even if you don’t like it.

… team players. Virtually every project at Google is run by a small team. People need to work well together and perform up to the team’s expectations.

… passion and leadership. This could be professional or in other life experiences: learning languages or saving forests, for example. The main thing, to paraphrase Mr. Drucker, is to be motivated by a sense of importance about what you do.

These characteristics are not just important in our business, but in every business, as well as in government, philanthropy, and academia. The challenge for the up-and-coming generation is how to acquire them. It’s easy to educate for the routine, and hard to educate for the novel. Keep in mind that many required skills will change: developers today code in something called Python, but when I was in school C was all the rage. The need for reasoning, though, remains constant, so we believe in taking the most challenging courses in core disciplines: math, sciences, humanities.

And then keep on challenging yourself, because learning doesn’t end with graduation. In fact, in the real world, while the answers to the odd-numbered problems are not in the back of the textbook, the tests are all open book, and your success is inexorably determined by the lessons you glean from the free market. Learning, it turns out, is a lifelong major.

Posted by Jonathan Rosenberg, Senior VP, Product Management

Knowledge Connects Everything.

I came across this article by Marc Andreessen a few weeks ago titled The Psychology of Entrepreneurial Misjudgment. (Yes, I really like Andreessen’s articles). The article, which explains how psychological biases affect business decisions, is based on a speech given by Warren Buffet’s partner, Charlie Munger. Interested, I purchased Poor Charlie’s Almanac, a collection of Munger’s speeches and thoughts, which contains the speech Andreessen alluded to.

I’m not very far through it, but it has me thinking a lot about the importance seeing relationships in seemingly unrelated things and more specifically, how to do it. He graduated Harvard Law in ’48, which is likely a symptom of his intelligence, not the cause of it. So he’s very well educated, but not just in the formal sense. He reads everything he can get his hands on, from daily newspapers to scientific articles to random ingredient labels. Why? He makes use of this broad range of knowledge to make these connections, which enables him to make better life and investing decisions.

Our ability to see these relationships will be determined a lot on our genes, but it’s not the only factor. Our breadth of knowledge is what we draw the connections from. Some people know a lot of information – dates, names, facts, etc – but don’t know how any of it is relevant to their daily lives. Others don’t know much at all, but are brilliant because they can make better connections with the limited things they do know. Regardless, the more knowledgeable you are, the more connections you will be able to make. It’s somewhat similar to fishing. No matter how good a fisherman you are, if you’re fishing in an empty pond, you won’t catch anything. On the other hand, you might be the worst fisherman in the world, but if your pond is overflowing with fish, you’ll catch plenty.

I wish they had made this clearer to us in school. If you really want to be successful, it is not enough to just be good at computer science or politics or biology. What makes you really valuable is your ability to see how computer science and politics and biology are related. Unfortunately, if you’re a computer science guru but never paid attention in biology class, you won’t have the tools necessary to make those connections. You won’t know what you don’t know.

Next time you’re stuck wondering “How the hell am I ever going to use this?” just think of the fish.

WSJ

From Marc Andreessen’s Guide to Career Planning:

Also, make an investment in yourself by reading the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal every day. Read those two papers cover to cover for five years and you’ll know a lot of what you need to know.

And so I subscribed to WSJ home edition two weeks ago.

He implies that a person can get through it in an hour a day. Maybe I’m just a slow reader, but I think I’d be lucky if I could get through it in three. I wish I had paid more attention in my high school or college econ classes. The world news I can follow just fine, but when I get to the Marketplace and Finance sections, I quickly get lost. My lack of a financial background could be why it takes me so long to get through the articles…

Frustrated, I started looking things up. The internet is great like that. Here’s a list of terms and explanations from a few articles from a single day last week:

FDIC – Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, insures checking and savings deposits up the $100k/person/bank. IRAs are covered for $250k as of 2005.

Solvency – Ability to pay debts/long term fixed expenses with existing cash. You can be profitable without being solvent, such as when you’re expanding rapidly. You can also be solvent and unprofitable, but not sure how.

OTS – Office of Thrift Supervision, part of Department of the Treasury, regulates federal savings associations (federal savings bank and federal savings and loans).

Savings and loan association – S&L, aka a thrift (hence the thrift supervision) accepts savings deposits and makes mortgage loans

Fire sale – sale of goods at an extremely discounted price, such as when seller face bankruptcy. Term may have originated after fires, when damaged goods were sold very cheaply.

Insurance assessment – ?

Blue Chip – a well established company w/stable earnings and no extensive liabilities. There is not a defined list of blue chip stocks, it’s just a description for a type of stocks. Term is from casino blue chips, which had the highest value.

Earnings report – official doc published by publicly traded companies showing earnings, expenses, and net. Can be published quarterly or yearly (what determines this?). kind of like a report card for the company.

Fannie May – Federal National Mortgage Association issues loans and loan guarantees, but not directly to home buyers. They also buy mortgages from lenders, which they use to issue more mortgages. Lenders purchase loans and pay Fannie May a fee for assuming the credit risk. If a borrower doesn’t repay the loan, Fannie May pays back the lender. Since lots of people aren’t paying back their mortgage loans, Fannie May is losing a lot of money, which is why its stock price as plummeted recently. Fannie May and Freddie Mac guarantee almost half the home loans in the US. Oops. (Why not more? How much is the fee?) They currently receive no government funding. (Good site: http://www.annaly.com/ie/ffmfaq.html)

Freddie Mac – Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation buys mortgages (How?), combines them, and sells them as mortgage-backed securities to investors.

MBS – Mortgage-Backed Securities – Fannie May and Freddie Mac issue these to lenders exchange for mortgages. MBS’s are a more liquid asset.

Federal Reserve System – The Fed – the central banking system of the US. There are 12 Federal Reserve Banks throughout the US. The FRS manages the nation’s money supply and policies.

Liquidity – how easily something can be converted (?) by buying or selling without causing it to lose value. Exchanging a less liquid asset for a more liquid asset is liquidation. In a liquid market, there are lots of buyers and sellers available.

Loan guarantee – It lets small businesses owners borrow money from lenders.

Secondary mortgage market – a market in which existing mortgages are traded (why would you want to trade a mortgage?)

Mortgage backed security – a security backed by a pool of mortgages. (?)

Security – head asplode. Its an investment.

Discount Window – Allows banks to borrow money from their regional Federal Reserve Bank’s lending facility to meet money shortages. The central bank charges the banks an interest rate, called the discount rate or primary rate.

Crude – Petroleum in its unprocessed form.

Petroleum – Oily, flammable liquid found 1 to 2 miles below the surface in rock formations where plants died and were compressed over hundreds of millions of years. Crude oil is liquid petroleum.

Dollop – a large portion of solid matter, like a dollop of ice cream ;)

Legg Mason – an investment company

Shares outstanding – shares held by insiders + shares held by the public, but not shares repurchased by the company (why would they do this?)

Hormesis – when the body reacts favorably to small doses of toxins

Mithridatism – taking small doses of a toxin to prevent yourself from being harmed by it, named after Mithridates VI, a general-king who supposedly did this out of fear of being poisoned.

Syndicating a bid – ?

To determine what terms I should look up, I ask myself whether I could explain it to somebody if they asked. If I couldn’t give them a confident answer, I look it up. I’ve considered getting up an hour early to read, since I often find it difficult to make time at work, but there’s no way I would stick to it. A better idea is to set aside an hour during lunch — away from my office — and read it then.

I hope one day I’m not confused as hell =)

Quotes

From Gustavo Duarte’s blog.

Few things are better than spending time in a creative haze, consumed by ideas, watching your work come to life, going to bed eager to wake up quickly and go try things out.

If you find yourself stuck in a place that’s killing your innate passion for technology, by all means, move the hell on! Don’t stay put while your enthusiasm is slowly drained. It’s hard to find motivated people to hire so you’ve got a major asset already; there are plenty of employers – and companies to be started – that will better suit you.

If only it was so easy ;)

Learning Zend Framework

I’ve been reading Quentin Zervaas’s Practical Web 2.0 Applications with PHP for about the last week and a half. Despite working with Visual Basic for the last, I dont know, 8 years, I’ve had a tough time picking up the Model-View-Controller of Zend Framework. MVC, as it is known in the biz, is a way to break up the code so that the code for the logic and the code for the display are stored in separate places.

The thing that makes ZF great is the same thing I’m frustrated with right now: there are a lot of libraries. One for authorization, one for control lists, one for this, one for that, and so on. It’s a bit overwhelming at first, but I can see how it becomes really useful once you’ve become familiar with everything the libraries can do.

Learning about YouTube

YouTube was sold to Google for $1.65 billion in Nov 2006. 1.65 billion dollars. How is that possible? Thats what I’m trying to figure out. This post starts small, covering the history of YouTube. In future posts, I’ll dig deeper, and try to find out what’s going on.

Founders

YouTube was founded by three former PayPal employees: Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim.

Chad went to Indiana University of Pennsylvania where he got a Fine Arts degree [1]. After he graduated, he went to work for PayPal where he met the other two YouTube founders. According to Wikipedia, he designed the PayPal logo and according to a speech he gave recently [2], he designed the YouTube logo as well. It would seem like he’s got an eye for design (hence the Fine Arts degree). Its interesting to note that it doesn’t seem like he’s got a formal  technical or business education, yet he’s currently YouTube’s CEO.

Steve went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), not positive on what degree. According to Valleywag [3] he worked at Facebook temporarily after starting YouTube, to pull a paycheck. When YouTube started taking off, I guess he went back to work on it full time. He’s currently the YouTube’s CTO, indicated he probably had a CS degree.

The third and apparently less well known founder was Jawed Karem. He’s another UIUC grad, with a CS degree, who went to work for PayPal, where he worked with Steve, who he already knew from school [7], and Chad [4]. He helped found YouTube — the idea for it was his — but never held a major roll in the company. After it started taking off, he went back to grad school at Stanford, where he served as an informal adviser to the company. You get the impression reading about him that he’s a really smart and really modest. He wants to be a professor one day. The NY Times article on him [4] has a lot of good information on him, if anyone is interested in reading more.

Timeline

2005

  • Jan – “The three of them would meet at night at Max’s Operate Café, near Stanford, to discuss their ideas.” And so it starts [4]. The original idea was to make videos for online auction sites.
  • Feb 15 – Domain is registered
  • April 23 – First YouTube video posted, of Karem at the Zoo [5]
  • April 28 – First archive.org entry. The about page reads only: “YouTube is the first online community site that allows members to post and share personal videos.” The site isn’t much to look at, but given that they only started developing it four months earlier, you can’t really say too much. There’s something to learn from that.
  • May – Preview to the world. “To try to attract viewers, the three figured the best thing would do would be to get hot chicks involved. So, Karim recounts, they posted an ad on Craigslist in Los Angeles promising attractive females $100 if they’d post 10 videos on YouTube. They got not a single reply.” [6]
  • June – Adds viral growth features: related video recommendations, one click sent to a friend invites, video comments, and an external video player
  • July 7 – First blog entry on their site
  • Nov – Sequoia invests $3.5M

2006

  • April – Sequoia invests $8M more
  • 2006 – July – 100M clips viewed daily
  • 2006 – Oct 9 – Announced that Google was purchasing YouTube for $1.65B

References

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chad_Hurley

[3] http://valleywag.com/tech/rumormonger/steve-chen-millionaire-laptop-borrower-293378.php

[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/12/technology/12tube.htm

[5] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jNQXAC9IVRw

[6] http://gigaom.com/2006/10/26/jawed-karim-how-youtube-took-off/

[7] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_YouTube

[8] http://web.archive.org/web/20060113091101/youtube.com/blog