Inside Tolkein’s Creative Process

Really fantastic lecture by Brandon Rhodes walking through the beginning of Tolkein’s writing and the support of a creative community of writers to evoke his best work: (via Metafilter)

While Tolkien had friends who could devise ingenious ways to critique his work without sounding critical, he had others whose remarks were merciless and direct — to the point that Tolkien simply stopped sharing new chapters as he wrote The Lord of the Rings. As programmers we share many of the struggles of writers and artists, and we often react just as badly to critique of our code. From Tolkien’s experience we will draw lessons about how to make critique generous instead of damaging, and actionable instead of personal.

jetpack-3.2

WordPress Jetpack 3.2 Lets You Post to Your Blog from WordPress.com

This is pretty damned snazzy. The latest update to Automattic’s Jetpack plugin allows you to use the same editor as WordPress.com to post to your self-hosted WordPress blog:

With Jetpack connected, you can now publish posts to your self-hosted WordPress site with the same editor available on WordPress.com giving you one centralized place from where to publish content, irrespective of where your WordPress site is hosted. Additionally, the new editor works great on mobile and tablets (and desktops!). To try it out, head over to wordpress.com/post and pick your site from the site picker on the top left of the editing window (after connecting and updating Jetpack).

Full details http://jetpack.me/2014/11/03/jetpack-3-2/

Just update Jetpack on your self-hosted blogs and give it a whirl.

This is another step towards bringing more self-hosted WordPress users into the Automattic ecosystem. I’ve said it before: they have all the ingredients of a social network – it’ll be interesting to see if they try and blend these things together or let the behaviors emerge. Basically everyone should have jumped over to WordPress.com when we had the Ello freakout a few weeks ago.

3 Ways Perfectionism Kills Innovation

broken idea

I’ve got a new post up on the Mindjet blog:

We love to cast ourselves in this drama as we huff and puff and sweat and tear our hair out — “It’s important! Look how hard we’re working! I’m an important person working on important things!’” — but the reality is that you really can’t manage people like this all of the time. You’ll burn everyone out, and eventually, riding dangerously close to deadlines will leave your team frustrated and uninspired. When you’re drinking the cool nectar of a perfectionist fantasy future, you’re missing out on the reality of what’s right in front of you, right here: a problem that needs solving, and that you might have to take more than a few cracks at. You can only start from where you are.

Full post: 3 Ways Perfectionism Kills Innovation

SaaS Businesses: What to Measure

Doing some research on core metrics for the SaaS business model – a lot of this I’m remembering from GetSat and Typepad. KISSMetrics comes through as usual with a top five:

  • MRR – monthly recurring revenue – you can’t count a year subscription all at one time – chop it into twelfths
  • Churn – percentage of customers who bail each month – KISSMetrics says if it is in the double-digits, drop everything and focus on product
  • Cost Per Acquisition – marketing cost divided by new users
  • APC – average revenue per customer – total revenue divided by number of customers
  • Lifetime Value – average subscription length times monthly average revenue per customer

Full post

Apple boss tries to gut retail operation

“Browett, who took over the post from Steve Jobs’ hand-picked head of retail Ron Johnson earlier this year, apparently thought one of the best run retail operations in the world was “too bloated,” according to a detailed post on ifoAppleStore.com.

“[John] Browett’s decision reportedly came despite strongly-worded advice from Retail segment veterans that reducing personnel ahead of the annual Back-to-School promotion and the September introduction of the iPhone 5 could create a customer service catastrophe,” reads the report. “Browett disagreed with his staff, and said the chain needs to learn to run ‘leaner’ in all areas, even if the customer experience is compromised.” … To take one of the most heralded retail experiences in the world and gut it, stripping it of everything that makes an Apple store what it is, just doesn’t make sense. … Apple did however give a statement to Dow Jones, admitting its mistake. “Making these changes was a mistake and the changes are being reversed,”” [link]

All the Self-Help You’ll Ever Need

In a thread on Metafilter about The Verge‘s Scamworld takedown, a commenter reveals the ulimate secrets to personal empowerment:

Yes, you can live a better, happier, more fulfilling, wealthier life. You actually can do that.

Want to know how?

It’s really simple, and I’m going to tell you. For free. This is how.

Decide to actually do, that which it will actually take, to actually achieve what you want.

There you go. I just saved you $10,000+ each for seminars and prayer breakfasts and self-empowerment weekends and whatever. However, like most people, you probably think that’s way, way too simple for you. It doesn’t appeal to your inner attraction to complication, and you need it explained in more detail. I’ll throw that in, ‘cos I like you and want you to succeed. (Yes, I really do.)

Think about yourself in five years. Where do you want to live? What do you want to be doing? What do you want to have? Who do you want to be? Now write all that down in detail.

Next, back-port that, a year at a time, to a year from now. If your life plan doesn’t make sense, or there isn’t enough time to achieve what you want, or whatever, edit it. It’s only ever a draft. Stuff will come up that necessitates re-drafting it; inability to accept that we cannot precisely determine the course of our lives is one of the major barriers to self-improvement. It will help with this if you subdivide your life plan into areas such as family, career, fun, money, health etc; whatever makes sense to you. You can google for example goal-setting lists.

The purpose of this exercise is to clarify what you want, and in turn, clarify exactly how, as in by what real actions, you are going to get what you want. If there’s a logical gap, fix it.

Having done this, frequently review your plan. You need to become somewhat obsessive about it. Your subconscious is powerful but it is lazy; unless you become subconsciously driven to achieve something, you probably won’t. You’ll find excuses to avoid it.

The “Law of Attraction” is a mystical name for what are basically three real things. The first thing, is clarity of intention. If you’re sitting around wondering who you are and what you’re going to do, thousands of opportunities and possibilities will pass you by unnoticed. The second thing is confirmation bias: if you’re clear that you want this, any opportunity that you see that in some way approximates to this, you will notice. Same way that if you drive a red Honda, you will see red Hondas everywhere. They were there all along; you just didn’t care. The third thing, is motivated action. The scope of your possible actions is enormous. You are overwhelmed with choices and consequent analysis paralysis. If you just pick something you want, even if it’s a bit silly, and it’s motivating enough to prompt you to some action, then you will greatly increase your chances of getting it.

There you go. Simple as that. If you don’t get it, or having got it, wish that there were some “easier way”, by all means pay the snake oil salesmen to re-explain it to you with different metaphors and in greater detail and including money. Also it is a proven fact that most humans value their experiences and possessions more, the more they paid for them, regardless of their actual utility, and accordingly paying a snake oil salesman thousands of dollars to receive advice you could get from reading an internet forum, may actually have the genuine and real effect of making you more likely to take that advice.”

Full thread on Metafilter.

How to Find People Impersonating You Using Google Image Search

Any image you see online can be easily copied and put somewhere else online and there’s not much you can do about it. Google recently updated their image search to allow you to search for images similar to one that you upload or one that is already online.

Here’s their video for it: (the drag-and-drop kinda made my jaw drop)

Most of us use the same set of pictures for our avatars and profile pics online. I put a few of the profile pics I’ve used into Google’s new image search to see where those photos showed up online. I used this one – taken at Fisherman’s Wharf with Ron and his dad after exploring the retired sub USS Pamapnito on a hot summer day:

This had been my Facebook profile picture for quite a while and I use it on Twitter and Gravatar and Disqus. So I uploaded the image into Google’s new image search. The first few pages of results were as expected: my blogs, profiles and avatars across social networks and blogs. No big schmeal. But on the third page of search results was this gem:

Which led to a blog about cross tattoos with lots of keyword stuffing and links to affiliate-based products and crap:

Now I’m totally pro-tattoo and am planning a nice Celtic/polynesian blend shoulder or chest plate, but this is bullshit. I left a comment to that effect, it’s still awaiting moderation:

Here’s how you can do the same:

  1. Find one of your profile photos – either the URL to it if it appears online or your local copy on your hard drive.
  2. Go to http://images.google.com/
  3. Drag-and-drop the image onto the search bar. Google churns a bit and then returns search results containing that image (and images of similar composition and palette).
  4. If someone is impersonating you, let ‘em have it.

And for those singles out there – this will also be useful to anybody that has personals profiles out there.

Update: I’d emailed the email address in the WHOIS record for this domain. The site is currently down.

Forever 21, Facebook and Brand You

Fantastic essay from N+1, The Accidental Bricoleurs by Rob Horning. Read the whole thing. Discussion of this essay on Metafilter. My favorite quotes:

“Forever 21 was a brilliant name for a fast-fashion retailer. These two words succinctly encapsulate consumerism’s mission statement: to evoke the dream of perpetual youth through constant shopping.”

“The all-purpose excuse for sweatshop practices once was the overriding need to offer bargain prices to Western consumers who have come to regard inexpensive clothes as an entitlement.”

‘Zara “can design, produce, and deliver a new garment and put it on display in its stores worldwide in a mere 15 days.”‘

“Assessing Peters’s article in One Market Under God in 2000, Thomas Frank found it almost self-evident that personal branding was a form of coercive self-surveillance that corporations were anxious to induce. He heralded “The Brand Called You” as “a terrifying glimpse of the coming total-corporate state, a sort of Dress for Success rewritten by Chairman Mao.””

“Just as fast fashion seeks to pressure shoppers with the urgency of now or never, social media hope to convince us that we always have something new and important to say—as long as we say it right away. And they are designed to make us feel anxious and left out if we don’t say it, as their interfaces favor the users who update frequently and tend to make less engaged users disappear.”

“By coating consumer culture detritus with an aesthetic veneer, design ideology helps makes the idea of a self anchored in fonts and Uniqlo tolerable. Armed with the auric criteria of design, we can regard goods and ads and memes on websites as a rich source of inspiration ….not as an inescapable blight.”

“Neoliberalism demands that more and more of the working population tolerate a lack of job security, evince flexibility, and revise customary ways of doing things. Workers must be comfortable living off short-term projects secured through whatever means necessary—ceaseless networking and bootlicking, ruthless leveraging of friends and family contacts, spinning a series of half-truths on a résumé—and they must be more or less self-motivated to produce, to regard themselves as creative forces, to generate economic value in every aspect of how they live, instrumentalizing it all.”

Your Email Can Be Seized Without Warrant After Six Months

Back when everyone downloaded their email to their machine every time they checked email the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act considered email older than 180 days to be ‘abandoned.’

A coalition of internet service providers and other groups, known as Digital Due Process, has lobbied for an update to the law to treat both cloud- and home-stored e-mail the same, and thus require a probable-cause warrant for access. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on that topic Tuesday.

Surely an administration led by a constitutional scholar would welcome adjusting the law to keep the fourth amendment in good faith:

But the Obama administration testified that imposing constitutional safeguards on e-mail stored in the cloud would be an unnecessary burden on the government. Probable-cause warrants would only get in the government’s way.

I’m guessing they’ll claim either terrorism or child porn as the bugaboos:

“In one recent case, for example, law enforcement officers knew that a child exploitation subject had used one account to send and receive child pornography, and officers discovered that he had another email account, but they lacked evidence about his use of the second account.”

Ding!

“The government’s ability to access, review, analyze and act promptly upon the communications of criminals that we acquire lawfully, as well as data pertaining to such communications, is vital to our mission to protect the public from terrorists, spies, organized criminals, kidnappers and other malicious actors,” (.pdf) Baker testified.

Double-ding.

The process of obtaining warrants is supposed to get in the way. That’s the point.

Email Marketing and Paid Search Still Beat Social Media

Forrester Research analyst Sucharita Mulpur interviewed 24 tech vendors on their experiences using Facebook for marketing and engagement:

A social-network presence, she found, was less effective at customer acquisition and retention than e-mail and paid search. The study found that the average Facebook metrics are a 1% click-through rate and a 2% conversion rate. E-mail marketing, by comparison, has an 11% click-through rate and a 4% average conversion rate. … Though companies theoretically show up on the news feed of their Facebook fans, the analyst said companies are unsure how frequently or prominently their posts do show up on the feeds. When retailers put like buttons on their product-detail pages, are they really thinking?” she said. “Your competitors can see what products are more liked than others. Are you exposing your sales information? So why would expose this information?”

Article from WSJ.