Thoughts on Technology and Business
I’ve almost talked myself out of this post. It’s a lot of self-disclosure. However, I’m going to try and put on my big-boy pants and realize this might be useful to other people.
A lot of us build up a persona. We want to be thought of as smart, competent professionals. We do a lot to support this: our blog posts, open-source contributions, public speaking, participation in local users groups. Not all of this has ulterior motives. It’s a lot of fun to build worthwhile things, to collaborate with smart people.
But let’s be clear. The smartest of us have dumb days. The more I get to know highly-respected people, the more I see them as human, like me. They are still laudable, but they have their quirks, their weaknesses and blind spots.
So do I.
The trouble with Seven Databases in Seven Weeks is that it’s a bit of a playground. Ostensibly, it’s about becoming a well-rounded developer. That probably works, if you push through this in seven weeks. I’ve been picking it up more for fun than for progress. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
I have been bugged by the TV commercials 5-Hour Energy has been running during the Olympics. I was first irked by how many factors they threw into a 30-second commercial. I was then irked by how much fine print they slapped into that commercial. They are suggesting their product is healthy, even approved by doctors.
To my eyes, it seems not unlike cigarette commercials showing doctor recommendations.
Here’s what they’re saying, in a nutshell:
- 5,000 doctors were approached in person
- 2,500 of those responded
- 73% would recommend a low-calorie energy drink if the patient is already using energy drinks and is healthy
- 56% would recommend 5-Hour Energy for those patients that already use energy drinks and are healthy
Of course, they do it with a professional-looking woman rattling off numbers next to about 15 reams of paper. The impression is a lie.
As far as I know, no doctors are saying to use energy drinks. That’s the first issue. Everything doctors actually recommend seems to be to run away from those as fast as you can. But, if you’re going to do this kind of thing, and you are healthy, you might as well take a low-calorie approach.
What if I assume the 2,500 doctors who wouldn’t participate in this kind of study would not recommend any energy drink under these conditions? Then we’re saying that about 28% of doctors would recommend using 5-hour Energy to those that are using energy drinks and are healthy. So, if they’re not recommending low-calorie energy drinks, are they recommending high-calorie energy drinks? Not likely.
Do I have to point this out? Doctors don’t want you using these things. 5-Hour Energy is the snake oil vendor of today.
Ranting about this is kind of silly. Here I am, acting a generation older than I am, yelling at the TV. Sheesh! It’s just grimy business, and they invaded my living room.
OK, I’m going to confess something here. I’m terribly envious of Leigh Dodds. Maybe you have people like this in your world? Bright, effective and young? The guy has done some amazing things, and done them gracefully. Privately, I’ve referred to the ever-nagging problem of keeping sharp as the Leigh Dodds Problem. Leigh is a concrete example of someone that makes me look like a doddering old fool before my time.
When you were a kid, did you like showing off to your mom? Look, I can ride a bike! Look what I made you! Look, a bug!!
Once I took some extra housing wire, stripped the insulation off of the copper and made a ring out of it. I then wrapped the top part of it with a colorful pipe cleaner and gave it to her for her birthday. She loved it. She kept it in her jewelry box. I was so proud. I came up with that idea on my own. Well, my older brother might have helped. I don’t remember that, but he usually did back then.
When I did that, I wasn’t comparing myself to jewelers. They had gold and silver and jewels and training, I was just a kid. I was having fun. I was learning something. It worked. That was enough.
It turns out that this way of doing things is, like the best. (I’m channeling a little sister there, when she was a teenager.) Having fun, being curious, giving ourselves permission to make mistakes is how we get it done.
The other day my ex-wife was joking with me about why I choose to write code. At the end of our marriage, I was just learning Rails. It was 2005 and I was overwhelmed with too much responsibility and too little ability. I was mad, crazed even, trying to resolve issues that had overcome me. I was constantly swearing, constantly pacing. From my ex-wife’s perspective, writing software was a delirious process. From my perspective, it was one more stress in a monumentally stressful time.
A lot has happened since then. We’ve made peace, my ex and I.
I’m also making peace with the things I build. This is harder than I thought it would be. The following is a letter to anyone starting out, anyone learning a new skill, someone who has a dream and a long road in front of them.
I’m collecting success stories. People who have delivered the goods, overcome their fears, learned to live at a happier level. I’m looking at people I respect. I’m looking for people you may know that inspire you. Who do you know that has overcome their self-limiting beliefs? Who has reached for the stars and given their best?
Here is a message from someone I know to his son. This person is quite successful in his life. I’ll keep his name anonymous, since I haven’t asked his permission to use his name here.
How many people are on this earth? 7 billion? 7 billion people competing for each others’ position in life. At times we compete with small groups of them, and the ones who are competing at a worldwide level have already passed you. But here is how you can get to their level and pass them: take advantage of opportunities wherever they come up. Don’t be afraid to fail, that is how we succeed, how we become better people. The people at the top of the world are winning too often, that slows down their rate of learning from their opportunities and being the best. The people who learn the most are the ones who are not afraid of failing and take advantage of their opportunities. Compete to the level where YOU are the one leading, NOT FOLLOWING. I know we are all good enough to be the best at what we do. Don’t be afraid of taking your chances.
Tell me stories of people that inspire you.
Jason Patorti asked this today. Lots of thinking ensues. I’m OK with my next product being something simple. It is looking like it will be a knowledge management product. I’m almost to the point where I can say that for sure. Here’s a dialog that went on in my head:
When I first heard about sabbaticals, I wanted in. I was young, probably in high school or even junior high. The idea that someone would get paid to do whatever they wanted sounded about right to me. Imaginative thinking is the best kind of thinking. In my mind, I pictured bright thought leaders taking time to do brilliant things. I wanted to grow up to be that guy.
Unplanned mini sabbaticals come up for consulting. Consulting has its highs and lows. For technical consultants, if things are going right, a few things take place:
The nub: for people thinking about filtering data, power tags may be a concept to show distinction.
I’ve been thinking a lot about information relevance. I think I’ve written 50 pages of irrelevant essays on the topic (ironic, huh?). In order for something to be relevant, it could have a lot of qualities: timely, rational, focused, conclusive, comprehensive, etc. One particular quality that I’ve been exploring is distinction. What stands out? Which are the outliers? Why is it different?