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Our beautiful earth

As I was reading this great article about one of Elon Musk‘s endeavor, SpaceX, this particular passage resonated beautifully.

[…] Even at that price, a one-way trip to Mars could be a tough sell. It would be fascinating to experience a deep space mission, to see the Earth receding behind you, to feel that you were afloat between worlds, to walk a strange desert under an alien sky. But one of the stars in that sky would be Earth, and one night, you might look up at it, through a telescope. At first, it might look like a blurry sapphire sphere, but as your eyes adjusted, you might be able to make out its oceans and continents. You might begin to long for its mountains and rivers, its flowers and trees, the astonishing array of life forms that roam its rainforests and seas. You might see a network of light sparkling on its dark side, and realise that its nodes were cities, where millions of lives are coming into collision. You might think of your family and friends, and the billions of other people you left behind, any one of which you could one day come to love. […]

And a little bit later the author goes:

[…] Never again would you feel the sun and wind on your skin, unmediated. Indeed, you would probably be living underground at first, in a windowless cave, only this time there would be no wild horses to sketch on the ceiling. […]

Nice :)

The p2p economy

Your input welcome

Type of spending Social Implementation(s)
Food at Home ?
Food at Restaurants voulezvousdiner.com
Housing airbnb.com, 42floors.com, loosecubes.com, eventup.com, shareddesks.net
Utilities ?
Clothes and Shoes threadflip.com, thredup.com
Transportation and Gas Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, getaround.com, relayride.com, spride.com, spinlister.com, yourmechanic.com, fun2rent.com, parkingpanda.com
Health care and Health Insurance ?
Entertainment ?
Travelling tripping.com, gidsy.com, bartercard.com
Education and Research Khanacademy, skillshare.com, scienceexchange.com
ChildCare ?
Personal Finance Lendingtree, Prosper
Other Services taskrabbit.com
Retirement Savings ?

Switched to Samsung Note 3 from iPhone

I had been an iPhone user for a few years  but as of a few weeks ago I switched to a Samsung Note 3. My last iPhone was the iPhone 5. The goal of this post is to report my experience of the switch.

General Considerations

I initially wanted to switch to Android because I was tired of giving money to Apple only to see my devices “expire” from a performance standpoint after a year or two. As I informed myself about the smartphone landscape outside of The Big A, I was surprised to find out that Android constituted well over 80% of the global market. A good enough reason to try it out. Maybe I had been caught in a bubble but it seemed that everyone around me owned an iPhone (Android’s market share is not quite as large on the US market alone). Nearly everyone I would interact with understood iPhone lingo and was happy to share their favorite app, etc. I have to say though that as I started a new job fairly recently, I found myself surrounded by younger people (early 20s) who all owned an Android phone. Not one of them is using an iPhone. Thought this was interesting. It’s as if the younger demographic of Tech-savvy people tends to go toward Android while the older crowd (30+) gravitates around the iPhone. I am thinking that this might have something to do with when the iPhone came out. The people I work with were at an age when they could not afford an iPhone therefore did not get one. Does this mean though that when people are given a choice they go for Android? That would be a bit of a stretch.

Also given that global 80% market-share picture for Apple I believe there is a bias of the media toward the iPhone where they talk about it in a disproportionate way (Compared to Android). I come to the same conclusion when looking at the not so dramatic number of the US market. Surely the fact that “iPhone” means both a device and an OS has something to do with that. Android exists in many different shapes or forms and makes it hard to round up on the context of the smartphone discussion.

Anyway – Here is the user I am – I think it might help put anything I am about to write in perspective:

  • Very little time talking on the phone – Maybe 1h a month – Thought that is a figure that for some reason is growing
  • Nearly no texting
  • Nearly no web
  • Fair amount of video watching
  • Fair amount of email reading. Little writing
  • Lots of listening to podcasts. Up to 3 hours a day
  • Carrying unlimited AT&T data plan from a few years back*

*BTW why do people insist that unlimited doesn’t matter when I use 5 to 10GB/mo for a monthly $30?

iPhone vs Samsung Note 3

My friend P got an iPhone pretty early and his was the first one I saw. I remember how anxious I was when his phone was in my hands. It felt like an amazing piece of hardware. And it was. Certainly the world had never seen something like this. Things we take for granted now felt amazing back then: Swiping. A phone that didn’t require 10 taps to make a phone call (Making a call on my HTC 8525 was actually hard to do. Convoluted. Slow. Crashing. Well it wasn’t the best choice as far as phones). (Nearly) Edge to edge screen. Light. Powerful. That thing was a great jump forward which propelled the whole industry until now. Or at least it showed the way.

Apple let all of its now competitors in its settling dust and if you recall they struggled greatly to catch up. At the risk of sounding late to the game: These days the competition is really close to Apple. There are devices out there which legitimately compete with the iPhone in terms of size, performance and overall quality. The Samsung Note 3 is one of them.

Certainly the Samsung Note 3 is a different beast than the iPhone. Switching from the iPhone 5, which is what I had, to the Note was not easy. The size felt awkward for a while, the buttons were not where I expected them to be. More than once I struggled to turn my phone on … Passed the initial issues thought, after a few days I started loving the Note – A lot of it having to do with its size:

  • It’s a pleasure to read on. I find myself reading a lot more than on my iPhone (too small) or my iPad (too big)
  • Videos are great too. A lot of my data usage comes from watching videos on my phone
  • It’s fast and smooth
  • Battery life is pretty good. It easily last all day which is a major plus
  • The stylus is pretty nice. I find myself using it a lot. Text recognition works pretty well
  • I bought four wall chargers for $9. USB!
  • The camera is impressive in terms of quality

… all of those things allowed me to take the decision of getting rid of my iPad, which I was using sparingly anyway. I like the idea of owning less electronic inventory.

The things I don’t like about it:

  • It’s big. I’m happy I have large hands as on-handed operation is not the easiest. Not impossible though
  • The camera seems a bit slow. Haven’t figured that one out yet but it seems that the picture is not taken right as I press the button

… all in all things I can live with.

iOS vs Android

Some of the below might sound obvious to those that have already used an Android device – I had not used it before getting the Note, and this is where I met most of my issues – A few of which I am still working on resolving. iOS is clearly designed for the iPhone, in line with one of Apple’s core principle of matching hardware and software. Things flow pretty easily on the iPhone and it’s only when those same things are not as easy to do on some other device that you realize it.

Overall, while iOS takes a lot of decision for you, telling you how things should be done, Android offers a lot more flexibility. Nearly everything can be configured and customized to your taste. It means a lot more configuration work on the Android than on the iPhone. Since I’m not a big fan of playing around with settings and finding the best combination possible, it’s a bit annoying to me. At a basic level though I do appreciate being able to set things the exact way I want them. If only someone could have done that work for me :/

Somehow, it feels like iOS is pretentious, like a high-end sophisticated product would be, while Android is cheaper and more complex. Here are few of the things I noted:

  • Need to find an app for everything. Podcasting? Weather? These things are not built in. The app I found (and paid for) for podcasting is not great
  • The phone seems to learn me. Things that I couldn’t do yesterday will be easier today. It’s seriously weird
  • Notications suck – I haven’t figured that out. It seems that the Note 3 does not allow you to create widget on the lock screen so notifications are limited. It’s a known issue of the Samsung Note 3 though so not an Android thing
  • Crapware. Both Samsung and ATT have added their own apps.
  • Google Now is okay I guess … It tells me how long my commute is going to be, which is pretty useless. I must be running a few dozens Google searches a day so I get all sorts of useless suggestions like how long it would take me to drive to the headquarter of that startup whose product I checked out
  • The OS is definitely Google Centric which is a good since in my case a lot of my online activity is centered around their products. Once I managed to enter my Google credential in the device it loaded a lot of things from my google world
  • The App Store is cheaper. Some apps that are paying on iOS are free on Android. Also it feels like there are a lot more apps
  • Speech-to-text is amazing. Far superior to Apple’s

In conclusion

The Samsung Note 3 is as  beautiful device. I do not regret switching. While there was, and there still is some growing pain, I like the choice I made, and I like that I am not dependent on Apple and throwing more money at them.

It’s probably not for everyone but the phone fits my particular usage better than an iPhone used to do. Having said all that, I am curious to know how I would feel if Apple released a larger screen iPhone.

How to get anything done (Recursively!)

OMG Waffles
OMG Waffles

Say you want to get something done: Build a product, a service, a car. Tackle malaria once and for all. Distribute free meals to the homeless. In this article I will show you how to do that. I will show you how YOU can do that.

There are no task too hard to accomplish. If you have the right amount of energy you can do anything you want and move mountains. The concepts below are not rocket-science. In fact they are pretty easy to understand, and for some, instinctive. What is hard to do, is applying them in a good disciplined way.

1. Start with your goal

The very first thing that you have to do is defining your goal. What are you trying to accomplish? Say you want to start a company making waffles. Who doesn’t like waffles?
Your goal could be “I will make 10 Millions dollars in 10 years selling waffle”, but quite frankly, now is not the time to think about how much waffle you want to sell, and how many sport cars you will be able to buy with your waffle-fortune.
Your goal could be to make the best waffle possible. You are making the assumption that if you make the best waffle in the world, you will make it as an entrepreneur. There is a bit of a “If you build it they will come”, which some of you might say is wishful thinking, and others will call a product-centric approach.

Let’s look at it another way. Let’s say we will build a company that does all of things that are required to make the best waffle in the world. What it comes down to here is defining your goal in process terms as opposed to results – Or, expanding the initial goal to incorporate process thinking. By thinking in terms of processes, you will be focused on the steps that it takes to sell a great waffle, and will not be bounding your potential upside to the very initial $10 millions waffle empire goal that you initially had in mind. Of course, you will have to build processes that can scale up to make millions of waffles.

It’s not to say that you cannot start expressing your goals in terms of the target or results you want to hit – The point here is to look at things from an execution standpoint. What are the things that need to happen?

2. Design at a high level

Those things are the things that will allow you to make the best waffle possible. You are the CEO of a company that strive to become the number 1 waffle maker company in the world – Where do you start? That first level of designing will be the backbone of your company, so make sure you are doing it right. From a design / operational standpoint though it’ll be the easiest thing to design in your company. Mostly because companies all look alike from a distance.

  • You need to manage various resources likes office space, legal, HR, etc.
  • You need the best recipe possible. An R&D function.
  • You need waffle makers. A production function.
  • You need to market – A marketing function.
  • You need to sell – A sales function.
  • You need to support – A customer services function.

Let’s stop there. If any reader has waffle experience let me know so that we can add to the list above and make the article more accurate.

Break down your goal until you can't break it further
Break down your goal until you can’t break it further

I think you got the point. Understand what the things that need to happen for you to make the perfect waffle are. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t know how to do those things. In the next section we will talk about hiring people who do know.
One thing that we still need to do though is to establish what the goals of each functions should be. In the same way we did for the company at large, each of those function need to be described from a goal standpoint.
Once you have the goal, you can derive responsibilities, but don’t necessarily spend too much time on that because you will work with the people you hired to figure them out – You are not necessarily an expert salesman.

3. Hire the right people

Now that you know in more details what the things that need to happen are, you will need to hire people to do those things for you. We’ll take the example of the sales function – You need a Head of Sales (Or maybe you will decide to get a Head of Sales and Marketing – Your call (i.e. you can design roles by grouping goals together)). Before hiring you have to write a job description. The best thing to do is to go from the responsibilities (which should be part of the job description anyway), and derive the skills and abilities that will be required in order to execute those responsibilities in a good way. This is where it is a good idea to spend some time with mentors or books that will give you some answers as to what those are.
In fact, a great interview question would probably be the very open “I want you to sell my waffles, how would you do?”. This is a way to pick the brain of the interviewee, test their abilities to think on their feet, and test how much they know about selling waffles.
As you interview these people which will constitute your management team, and refine the Department goals -> Responsibilities -> Abilities & Skills chain, you will start seeing the design of the level below. But while it’s important for those things to happen in a good way, it’s not your role to go down to that level. Hire people your trust can do that in a good way. If you did design down to that level, you would be micro-managing. And we don’t like micro-managing.

4. Have these people start from the top (well, their top)

So you picked your head of sales. Now that person has to build a team – But you don’t start with the people, you start with the process. Only then will you know what people you will need.. Have them design around their goal, using the same methodology that you have used – They have to be process oriented, to think in terms of the things that need to happen. Probably they will need a pre-sales function, salespeople, pricing and billing, etc. … at which point they can start thinking of their head of pre-sales, head of billing, etc.

 

In case it wasn't clear - Waffle are just an example. Make whatever you want happen!
In case it wasn’t clear – Waffle are just an example. Make whatever you want to happen, happen!

Easy isn’t it? I hope I conveyed the way I see getting anything done easily. It’s all about the things that you do. All of your discussion could include things like Goals, Design, Responsibilities, Abilities, Skills. I insist, everything that you discuss or do, can be seen from the standpoint of that framework. And when you work with people who also see that framework in everything, that’s when you move mountains.

There is much more that can be written about all of this – From building your design to hiring the right people to running your design, measuring its efficiency, etc. I have thoughts on most of those things but it would probably require a 500,000 words posts. Let me know if you have any question.

Note this though: Having the perfect processes will not make you a winning waffle making company. There are things that relate to strategy that are not covered here.

Writting a job description is the first step to a successful hire

Hire for a job, not for a headcount – Here is where you should probably start anything that you want to do, including building a team and hiring people: Understand what you are trying to achieve. As simple as it might sound, too often I see job descriptions being pointless as a result of not asking that question. Writing a job description is easy. Writing a job description that actually delivers value is harder.

Step 1: Understand what your goals are

It all starts with what you are trying to achieve. You might be recruiting someone to join a specific team: You should have a good idea of what your strategy is for the team, what its mission is. In fact, it should be coming to you from a higher level, and be aligned with the corporate strategy. For example, a CEO might decide that he or she needs his organization to have an IT function. He or she will chose someone that they think can run with the IT department. That person, in turn, will decide that the IT department needs development, QA and support groups. The support manager might create a Level 1 support team, and a Level 2 support team.

From the very top level of the company should trickle an orientation, a strategy or a vision. If you are not getting this, then you have a problem. If you don’t have clear goals, you should hold your management accountable to giving them to you. This is true at every level of the organization, for every job.

So ask yourself, what will the goal of that position be?

Step 2: Derive responsibilities

Responsibilities are the concrete tasks that someone will have to do in their job in order for the goal of the group or team to be fulfilled. When working on a goal, ask yourself “What are the tasks that I, or that my team will have to run in order to produce reliable and quality results in line with my goal?”

You should probably have no more than 5 or 6 of those. For example, the responsibility of our support person could be to

  • Triage incoming incidents and requests as they come in
  • Resolve incidents and requests within SLAs
  • Relay user enhancement requests to the development group
  • Provide training and guidance to new users and new team members

Step 3: Describe who can do that.

Now that you know what you expect that person to be doing, it is time to understand how that person should be. From each responsibility you should be able to derive abilities and skills that best describe someone that you know will be capable of running those responsibilities. In our example this might be:

  • Goal orientation
  • Problem solving abilities
  • Ability to deal with pressure
  • Familiarity with ITIL processes
  • Knowledge of Perl or other scripting language
  • Etc.

Note that those are at a different level – Abilities, skills, competencies can all be refined and understood further.

Step 4: Selecting people

The job description should include both the list of responsibilities and the list of abilities and skills, on top of the usual company description, benefit disclosure, etc.

Further, sourcing resume, screening them and interviewing people should all make use of this framework for selecting the right people. The discussions with the candidate as well as the deliberation regarding the fit of that person for the position should be using the framework. Too often I see people conducting “thumbs-up/down” interviews. They get into a room, ask various questions from “Talk about yourself” to “How many barbecues exist on the island of Manhattan”, but are still unable to understand the person to the degree that is required to weed out the bad and detect the good. I call those voodoo interviews and they are an indicator that the interviewing process is not taken seriously in the organization. There is much to be talked about on the matter.

Step 5: Taking it one step further

Since you now have a deep understanding of the role you are creating, and the qualities of the people that can run with those responsibilities, you can use this information for things like performance reviews. Rate your people explicitly against their responsibilities. I have seen everything from overall ratings (both opaque and useless), to generic frameworks built by HR departments with things like “Quality of work”, “Quantity of work”, “Team player”, etc. The goal of the performance review does not end with the rating itself! Here again there is much that can be said but that’s not the point of this post.

 

Like many things, hiring comes down to knowing what you are trying to achieve, and doing the things that make sense to get there. By understanding the what and the how, you’ll make the best who decisions.

How to hire skilled people and be wrong about it

The worst job interview I ever went through was years ago, for a trading support role in an investment bank, when I was asked advanced Perl scripting questions for about 3 hours, from 4 different people – 45 minutes each. This happened after I told the hiring manager, who I met first, that while I knew Perl well enough, I was not a Perl expert. I spent most of those 3 hours answering questions with “I don’t know how to do that”. At some point I was given a sheet of paper, a pencil and 30 minutes to write a Perl Algo!

If this was happening nowadays I would probably, and politely, walk out of the interview. Ah, I was young and I was impressionable.

Flash forward to now: New headcount was recently approved in my team – Looking at the company’s hiring process and how inefficient it was, I realized that I would have to redesign it – I re-wrote the job description and reviewed the selection process. I will save the explanation of my methodology for a later post – My point here is about the approach that most companies, and candidates, currently use.

It has always annoyed me, in my own job searches, that job descriptions are mostly a list of skills and consequently do not offer a real window into what the job will be like. Resumes too are a list of skills sprinkled with elements of the past. Where did the candidate go to school, where did they work, etc.

The approach for both the employer and the potential employee seems to be to look at skills. If they match, then the candidate is a good one and the hiring process can start. (I’m sure though – In fact I know for a fact  and from my own experience – that there are exceptions out there, meaning companies who spent time making sure they understand what hiring well means).

In average – 46% of new hires fail within the first 18 months. Nearly half of the people you hire will leave the company withing the first 1.5 years! That’s a large number that support the notion that the current way of hiring is inefficient. In fact, out of those 46% failures, 11% of the time the employee leaves because of skills. 89% of the time, they leave for attitudinal reasons [link]. Think about it, think about the people around you who left their job – Did they leave because of their skills?

I believe that there is a lot of value in understanding that disconnect – What makes people successful hires? Why do they stick around? How does that translate to our hiring process? Our resume flow? Our interviewing methodology?

That bank that I was mentioning at the beginning at this post does not exist anymore – It collapsed in 2008. Certainly their interviewing technique is not what caused their demise, but surely it reflected a certain company culture. While correlation does not mean causation – Correlation still means correlation.

Looking closely at the ATV incident from this summer

A few months ago I managed to “crash” an ATV while riding in the outskirts of Phoenix. I managed to hurt my knee in the process. I was wearing my heartrate monitor  and just pulled this information from it. On the graphs below you can see how my heartrate spiked as I was sliding down the ravine, being pulled by the ATV. Unfortunately my battery died literally a few minutes after this happened.

Here is a link to the story

Here is a link to the data from my GPS watch

And the charts:

 

 

We all have our luxuries

There is probably an area where you don’t mind spending money to get what you consider to be “Luxury”. It might be a nice car, good wine, nice vacations or a big TV. You spend that money because that is something that makes you feel good. You enjoy driving, drinking, traveling or watching it. It doesn’t matter the price of the luxury. If you are poor, a “luxurious” car is different than if you are middle-class, but you can still have your version of “luxury”. The key is to getting joy from that luxury element and appreciate it.

You have a problem when you start not getting luxury because they make you feel good, but because you want all the luxuries in the world, or because you want a better car than your neighbors. It’s a combination of extreme consumerism and keeping up with the Joneses where the object or service itself is not what you are after – You are after owning the object and the associated process of acquisition. You don’t own what you have. What you have owns you. You lose track of what makes you happy, and under the illusion that having is what drives you, you build huge credit card debts and lose yourself.


 

Why I hate Pros and Cons list

I hear people talking about making a “pros and cons list” all the time. And it annoys me.

You know those lists very well: Usually the column on the left is pros; the column on the right is cons. Some swear by them whenever they have to make a decision. In my view they are a terrible tool when trying to assess anything: When building them, you tend to focus on the assessment as opposed to how you assess things.

Most of our choices, whether we are conscious of this or not, are made in order to accomplish a specific goal. Whether you are choosing a new apartment, or a new car, you do have a set of goals in mind (From which you might derive “criteria” – But the semantic does not matter much). For some people, going from point A to point B is what they are looking for. For some others, social recognition, fuel economy or maybe performance is what they are looking for.

This is what Goal attachment is – Do you understand why you are doing things, do you understand what is important to you? Over the long run, not knowing will cost you opportunities and create pain. In the context of my current job search I get to assess often whether or not certain job offers are appealing to me. I could go with “I like the salary but don’t like where the offices are located, and the industry the company is in is dying” – Which is essentially me spitting out my gut-feeling about the job offer in an unstructured way. Instead of doing this, I am better off sitting down in front of a white piece of paper, and thinking long and hard about what is important for me in a job, in an absolute manner. Things like “Job interest”, “Compensation”, “Resume Impact” are the type of things that should be my criteria. Once I have that list, I can order it by order of importance. This will constitute my basis for assessing my interest in specific jobs. I can then literally grade jobs against each of those dimensions – Which will also be very helpful in comparing them with one another.

Generally speaking, we benefit for taking the time to think about how we do things, rather than just jumping in the mud and getting things done. The “pros and cons” thing above is very much a meta point so it can get confusing. We reach our goals depending on the set of decisions that we made along the way. Thinking about how to take those decisions, I realize that understanding what my goals are in the first place is key. Goal-attachment is a very implicit process for most. But it should not be. How do you drive somewhere if you don’t know the address? How are you going to be happy in life if you don’t know what really matters to you. Is that money? Is that a nice apartment, a nice car or personal relationships?