RSS is Dying (Again)

Kroc Camen has a post about the impending death of RSS.

RSS Button Having been a strong advocate of RSS (and also ATOM) for years (see MessageCast), I tend to read posts/rants about the soon-to-be-dead data format with some suspicion. Some posts are pure link bait (who could forget this?) While some are much more reasoned.

Kroc Carmen’s post falls into the latter category – he obviously values RSS and in his view, the lack of adoption (Mozilla claims a measly 3 - 7% utilization of the RSS “subscribe” features and is removing them from Firefox 4.0) is due simply to poor Web UI

The browser RSS button is the worst piece of UI since 2004.

I hadn’t stopped to consider this. After Firefox and IE added RSS support 5+ years ago things seemed to moving in the right direction. However, it was obvious that RSS is a geek-type thing that was never going to be adopted by the masses. Most people just don’t get what structured data feeds are all about (and of course, calling RSS “structured” is being kind)

Asa Dotzler (who btw follows 0 folks on Twitter??) has some great points in the post as well, check it out.

Portland Marathon 2010 - Finisher!

A little late on the post, but last month we ran the 2010 Portland Marathon. This was my third time running Portland and my tenth marathon overall.

The Sunday weather forecast of rain and temps in the 50s turned out to be correct. We got to the start and huddled under overhangs with everyone else, trying to stay dry. This was the first year that a half marathon was offered, so the race has transformed into corrals with wave starts. Despite the rain and wind, things got off to a smooth start.

Portland Marathon 2010 Start

The course was the same as the last time we ran Portland (2008), just with a lot more people. The half and full share the same course until Mile 11, so the rail yard section of the course (especially the “back” part of the out-and-back) was a bit too crowded for my liking. Once we split off from the half, there was more room to run and less paranoia about crashing.

The rain never let up, but it was warm and as with previous runs in Portland, the crowd support after the St. John’s Bridge was fantastic. The neighborhoods there cheer for all the runners!

My finish time was a bit slower than the previous race, but the hill training I’ve been doing really paid off – I am no longer afraid of the hill at the St. John’s Bridge!

Overall, here's how the run rates in my book:

Organization – Like previous times, very well organized and staffed. Grade: A

Course - Fairly scenic, but crowded now that the half has been added. Grade: B

Aid-stations - Well staffed and stocked, approximately every 2 miles. Like last time, the honey-based gel was nasty. Grade: A

Swag – Serious upgrade on the swag: two shirts, medal, commemorative coin and other items. Wow! Grade: A+

Bonus: Watching the Giants win against the Phillies (NLCS) and dinner at the Bridgeport Brewery. Grade: A+

Race Report: San Francisco U.S. Half Marathon

Yesterday (11/7/2010) we ran the U.S. Half Marathon in San Francisco. After running the inaugural event in 2002 (my first half btw) we decided to sign up for this despite having run the Portland Marathon just a few weeks ago.

Like the Portland Marathon, it rained from start to finish. Fortunately, the temperature was in the low 50s and winds were about 8mph. There were 3,000 registered runners, and despite the weather, a good number of them showed.

The course started in San Francisco at Aquatic Park and went west through the Presidio. After some hills, the course headed out to the Golden Gate Bridge, across to Marin and then back to San Francisco. It was a bit different than 2002, with more hills and a very different turn-around on the bridge (an actual dirt trail, which due to the rain, was a muddy mess)

U.S. Half Marathon - Golden Gate Bridge Turnaround

Despite being beaten at the finish line by a guy dressed head-to-toe as a carrot, I would highly recommend this half. The organizers hold the same race in the Spring (people that run both receive a special medal)

U.S. Half Marathon - Fort Point

Overall, here's how the run rates in my book:

Organization – Well organized and staffed. Grade: A

Course – Even with the rain, courses don’t get much more scenic than this. Really, really hard to beat. Grade: A+

Aid-stations – Every few miles, as marked on the map. Water from rubber hoses, poured into garbage cans. Yep, I brought my own. Grade: C

Swag – Nice shirt and medal. Grade: A

Bonus: Registered via killer Groupon deal (50% off). Nice!

Eclipse Day at the GooglePlex

Last Thursday (8/26/2010) I attended Eclipse Day, held once again at Google.

In addition to the keynote by Ian Skerrett from the Eclipse Foundation, there were twelve presentations and an “unconference” session with 8 different topics of interest.

Overall, Eclipse Day rocked! Great presenters, some extremely relevant to my world including:

There were also presentations on mobile, git and various toolsets. (All the presentations are here)

If you use Eclipse, I recommend checking this out next time they come to Mt View

Six Books I Read to Understand the Financial Collapse of 2008

Like most people, I watched the collapse of the global financial system in 2008 but didn’t really understand the root cause. Bear Stearns, Lehman, AIG and on and on. Just like 2001, I did notice that my brokerage statements got ugly quick.

While training for the North Olympic Discovery Marathon, I decided to get a bunch of books on the subject and figure out what was behind all the TLAs I kept seeing (CDO, CDS, etc). After reading a ton of books, I found the six books below to be quite helpful and I now have a much better understanding of what it means to be highly leveraged and why there has been such a ruckus about regulating (or not) derivatives.

 

Towers of Gold – Great book about the history of banking in the Old West, Wells Fargo and gold. Very helpful in understanding the origins of the U.S. banking system. Here’s an interesting blog post by the author as well.

 

The Ascent of Money – Niall Ferguson examines the history of currency as we know it today, along with major historical bubbles and their impact.

 

 

The Big Short – Another excellent Michael Lewis book. The author follows two hedge fund managers that figure out exactly how over-leveraged the housing market is and profit hugely (warning people all the while; their message fell on deaf ears). One of their big problems was trying to find the worst of the worst CDOs and their synthetic counterpart, the CDS. There were so many terrible offerings, it was hard to choose the worst.

Too Big To Fail – A massive tome, written from the perspective of the bankers, the Fed and the Treasury. The failure of Lehman figures prominently. I came away with a better appreciation of Paulson, Geithner and Bernanke.

 

The End of Wall Street – Lowenstein looks at what happened before 2008 (i.e. how *did* we get in this mess?). He delves into the world of the Maestro (Greenspan) and provides some additional insight into WAMU and Citibank that wasn’t covered in Too Big To Fail.

 

Past Due – Written by Peter Goodman from the New York Times, this book examines how the average American was affected by the meltdown. The author looks in the house-is-my-ATM meme and discovers that some surprising things.

I was seriously depressed after reading this book. Goodman tries to lay out a path for the U.S. to be successful in the future in the last two chapters. It didn’t cheer me up.

Iterating in the Open Presentation

I’ve been working with the folks at SSE Labs (aka the “Stanford Incubator”) this summer and as a Mentor, I was asked to give a presentation to the current teams.

Based on previous experiences and the work Bacon (Mike) and I did with PersistentFan, my presentation focused heavily on how to launch with a minimum desirable product and iterate quickly. As you might guess, it emphasized openness instead of going stealth.

Presentation is embedded below:

North Olympic Discovery Marathon – Finisher (Again)!

Last Sunday (6/6/2010), we ran the North Olympic Discovery Marathon. (I ran this marathon 5 years ago; race report is here) Runner’s World calls this marathon a “boutique” event due to the smallish nature, which was part of the attraction after running San Antonio in November with 30,000 other folks.

Training for the NODM was a bit more haphazard than my last marathon. Between injuries and cold/flu/allergies I felt like I missed half my training (although my running log tells me I made all my long runs)

Like last time, we flew into SEA on Saturday and drove out to Port Angeles, this time making a detour through Port Townsend. Very scenic drive with gorgeous weather (which wouldn’t hold). We hit the tiny expo, picked up our numbers and then were off to the excellent pasta feed (note: when the pasta feed is sponsored by the Sons of Italy, it is going to be a good meal).

The race started at 9am (!) and we had to catch a bus to the start. Heading to the finish line, we caught the bus at 6:45 and around 7:15 arrived at the starting line. The weather was threatening rain, but the temperature was a very nice 55 degrees and the race sponsors had a nice dry largish building open for the 400 marathoners while we waited for the starting gun.

Initially, we ran a 5 mile loop, which took us south-east of Sequim and then back to the start. From there we headed in a westerly direction, across some incredibly beautiful terrain. The course was very similar to the last time I ran this race, however, the Olympic Discovery Trail has expanded somewhat so we spent less time on the streets of Sequim. We crossed several rivers/creeks with wooden bridges and great views.

Like last time, the 3 ravines were larger than life, especially the last one at Mile 20. The weather starting spitting around Mile 16 and finally turned into solid rain around Mile 25 (which was ok with me). The finish was great, even with the rain. We cooled down for 30 minutes or so, headed off to Starbucks (I am *not* the mayor of Starbucks in Port Angeles unfortunately) and then hit the Y for a shower. One long drive and big steak dinner later, I slept like the dead until it was time to catch a flight home the next morning.

Overall, here's how the run rates in my book:

Organization – Well-organized with the course clearly marked. Mile markers were accurate. Grade: A+

Course – Incredible scenery Miles 0 – 5 and 8 – 26.2. Grade: A

Aid-stations – Water and Heed at every station, which were staffed by local organizations which made it a lot of fun. Grade: A+

Swag – Long sleeve, dri-fit shirt. Grade: A

Lunch with the Interns

I was recently invited to attend a luncheon for new Microsoft interns.  They wanted me to discuss my background and thoughts about how to be successful in a tech-focused career.

After thinking about it for a while, I came up with three points to share with the group – I thought it was interesting enough (based on the questions/feedback) to share here:

  1. Be passionate about what you do – the best work experiences in my life have been when I’ve worked on things I am extremely passionate about. Conversely, the least favorite experiences have been when I’ve worked about things where my interest level is lukewarm.

    Life is short; spend your time working on things for which you have a true passion. These will vary by person but have similar characteristics. You’ll know you’re in deep when you don’t notice/care what time/day it is. When your bills start piling up because you’re never home. When your significant other starts calling herself a “startup widow”. When you’ve lived in the same place for three years and you meet some neighbors who tell you that they thought your place was “vacant for the last three years”.

    If you find yourself in a position that you aren’t passionate about, move on and do it quickly.

  2. Stay up to date – Mary Meeker states (Slide 5) that there will be more Smart phones shipping in 2012 than desktops/laptops. There wasn’t an intern in the room whose undergrad curriculum focused on this – the point being that things are forever changing in technology. Whatever your area of passion is (from #1 above), once you embark on a career you have to constantly work to stay abreast of the changes via blogs, thought leaders on Twitter, etc.

  3. Get your hands dirty – experience increases your value immensely. Whether this means choosing from a wider variety of projects within a company and/or ability to raise venture and start a company. The best way to gain experience is to dive headfirst into a project and immerse yourself. If you’re a developer, the best thing (IMO) to do is to write code as much as possible. Sitting in meetings all day won’t get you to the magic 10,000 hours you are going to need to become an expert.

Customer Loyalty and Rewards with Location-based Services

I’m the Mayor of my local Starbucks (aka the Peninsula office for PersistentFan) and regularly check-in on foursquare to retain my title.

This morning, I placed my usual order and was informed that my drink would be gratis as a reward for being the Mayor.

Very cool!

(A while back I checked into my fifth different Starbucks and received the Barista badge but wasn’t offered any discounts or coupons.)

 

There have been a ton of posts about Foursquare, GoWalla etc working with brick and mortar retailers to implement reward systems. The opportunities to utilize location data are large and some of scenarios are pretty compelling (witness the rumored $100m+ acquisition of foursquare )

Having now experienced one of the aforementioned customer rewards scenarios, I am even more bullish (and more of a fanboi) than I was yesterday. Now if I could just win back the Mayor of Taqueria La Bamba from Norm Y …

CTO/VP Engineering – What’s the Difference?

Mark Suster has an excellent post entitled “Want to Know the Difference Between a CTO and a VP Engineering?”

In his post, Mark discussed both the attributes of a CTO and VPE and when they are needed in a company’s lifecycle. In summary:

  • CTO – visionary, technically astute, not a great people manager
  • VPE – technical (knows how to code), process-oriented (builds, unit tests, automation, schedules) and can manage people

He also has some interesting thoughts from a VC viewpoint regarding about teams that have a consulting firm build their initial product

If you want to build a great technology company, you’ll need a “rockstar” engineering lead.  Every great tech startup needs one.  Whenever I meet a team that had a consulting firm (even a great one) build their product it’s an immediate “pass” from me.  If you don’t have somebody

inside your organization who is setting the technology direction then I’m convinced you’ll never head for greatness.  I know this will fall like a lead balloon to the many people who believe it is possible to have a [insert: startup incubator or technology accelerator or technology consultant or outsource firm] build your technology.  I don’t believe it.  Either your core is innately technical or it’s not.  It’s what makes Google Google and Facebook Facebook.

Mark suggests the proper time to bring in a VPE is when the CTO is managing more than 3 developers.

Based on my experience, I generally agree with Mark, however, I would add a few things:

  1. The VPE *has* to write code when the team is small (less than 10 people). I have been an advisor to two companies where the VPE managed a team of 4-6 people and did not code. They generally were clueless about the architecture, the process of actually getting things done (e.g. where the SVN drop was, how to build, write a unit test, deployment, etc). At a company of this size, the VPE should be a contributing member of the team; in both situations the VPE was ineffective and ended up leaving the company.
  2. Adding a VPE and CTO when the company has 4 or more developers seems really (!) top heavy. Personally, I would expect that the CTO could scale a bit better than that, even if the CEO has to help out with some of the “softer” skills on the people management side.