Justus: Five Laws for Good Product

1. Don’t let the seams show.

Steve Jobs had it right. The experience should be separate from the engineering. Most people have no idea what the inside of their iPhones look like, and its better that way. A great experience is seamless. If you can’t make the experience seamless, then you’re trying to do too much, which means you’re breaking law # 2…

2. Do one thing at a time.

Build the most valuable feature and get it right. You’ll know its right when your user can’t live without the feature. When she tells her friends about the feature. Only once you have a seamless and delightful feature should you move onto the next feature.

3. Default to transparency.

Do you have an idea for a product or feature? Tell people. Have you told people about your idea? Have some people indicated that that idea would be useful to them? Start designing the idea. Show people your designs at every step. Get feedback on WIP’s. Use feedback as the guard rails that keep you on the road. When you’re in development, do the same thing. Stealth mode is silly. That which is conceived in shadows, tends to remain in the shadows. That which is conceived in the light, tends to remain enlightened.

4. Be uncompromising.

Product quality is literally the most important thing in the world. What we make is a reflection of our values. If we compromise quality in our generated agents, then we will compromise quality in our morals, our thoughts, and our society. The things we make, make us what we are.

5. Practice darwinism.

Make 100 ideas, design ten, and develop one. The one idea will be the strongest.

What I read in January 2016

Man’s Search for Meaning

Victor Frankl’s popular work detailing his experience in Nazi concentration camps and the emergent practice of logotherapy that he developed as a result.

I took a few things away from this book. There is a theme around suffering and the value of suffering that I found extremely compelling. Frankl compares our suffering to that of an ape undergoing medical experimentation. The ape does not understand the value of his suffering and neither do we. Our suffering might have some divine or cosmic value that we are unaware of, or unable to understand. Thus, we should value our suffering. And suffer with dignity.

The people who perished in the camps were frequently those who gave up the will to live. Having a purpose helped Frankl and other survivors to continue on.

The Old Man and The Sea

Ernest Hemingway wrote this book late in his career and won a nobel prize at least partially because of it. The work is short and incredibly poignant.

The old man is a fisherman who has suffered a stint of bad luck. 84 days without a catch. On the 85th day, the man hooks a huge marlin, the biggest he’d ever seen. For days, the man wrestles with the beast, striving against hunger, thirst, and fatigue. He talks to himself and reveals a profound respect for wild life and I am struck by the honor of such a hunt.

I am reminded that man is meant to hunt and kill his food. We are meant to strive for survival. We are meant to savor the hunt, honor the kill, and risk everything to do so.

The Screwtape Letters

C.S. Lewis’s thought experiment consists of letters written from a demon to his nephew. Each letter includes instructions that advise the younger demon on the ways of human corruption.

From a Christian perspective, the letters expound on the potentialities of demonic corruption. These are the ways in which the forces of evil work against us. They confound and deceive us at every turn. They twist our righteousness against us. They use our virtue against us. All that is good to them, is bad to us.

The finale of the book relates well to Man’s Search for Meaning which I was reading at the same time.

The demons derive no pleasure from human death. A man of faith, who dies in good faith, is no use to the demon. In fact, an honorable and faithful death is considered a tremendous loss to the demons

Death is not inherently bad. Only a dishonorable death, or a death outside the love of God, is to be feared.

Think and Grow Rich (Again)

A lot of Napoleon’s Hill popular work strikes me as gimmicky. Few of his ideas are founded on modern, scientifically valid ideas. Still, there is much in this book that is useful.

First of all, the concept of autosuggestion and affirmation is immensely useful. I do not know how it works, but I observe the consequences regularly. Ask and you shall receive applies well here. Perhaps the mechanism is a form of subconscious priming. Perhaps there really is a subatomic law of attraction that can’t be easily measured. Whatever the underlying mechanics, autosuggestions and affirmations tend to be useful, at least in my life.

Hill goes into some interesting ideas around using sexual energy to drive positive action. He doesn’t provide specific tactics to do so. In fact, very little of the book is devoted to specific tactics.

Here’s the philosophy of Think and Grow Rich in nutshell:

  1. Clearly define a life purpose. Write it down and say aloud, over and over.
  2. Articulate a plan to achieve said life purpose.
  3. Execute the plan faithfully.
  4. Refine the plan in response to feedback.

All-in, I’d recommend the book because it’s short and motivational. Just don’t take it too seriously.

Antifragile (Again)

I’ve got to write a longer exposition of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s work on the concept of antifragility. I read it for the first time last year and consider it one of the greatest works of my lifetime.

The philosophy Taleb espouses regarding complex systems and how they react to stressors is fundamentally consequential to everyone’s life. Some things lose from disorder, some things are unaffected, and some things gain from disorder. This book is about antifragility and the things that fall into the third category.

Taleb comes from a background in options trading. The work is itself antifragile. I suspect his sales will spike periodically with economic downturns.

One thing I’ve really pulled away from this book is that people who give advice should have skin in the game. Financial advisors should lose when their clients lose. Guidance counselors should lose when their students lose. A maker’s well-being should be directly tied to the quality of their work.

More on these ideas to come…

Zero to One (Again)

I first read Peter Thiel’s Zero to One in late 2014. I have since listened to it at least three or four times.

The book defines zero-to-one improvements as innovations that are at least ten times better than the next closest alternative. That means more-than incremental improvements.

Thiel says that these innovations are the only kinds of innovations that can produce monopolistic technology companies that reap monopoly profits.

He also goes into the cultural paradigms that lead to or away from innovation. There are:

  1. Definite optimism – the world is going to be better and I know why. e.g. technology
  2. Indefinite optimism – the world is going to be better but I don’t know why. e.g finance
  3. Definite pessimism – the world is going to be worse, and here’s why
  4. Indefinite pessimism – the world is going to be worse and I don’t know why.

For a free version of Zero to One. Try Blake Master’s class notes on CS183 taught by Thiel at Stanford . I’ve heard they’re better anyway (reading them now, I’ll let you know).

 

How Primer’s Browser Tab Notification Got Me to Opt in

If I had a list of top ten blogs for startup entrepreneurs, First Round Review would be near the top. They caught my eye with an article on designing mobile apps for explosive growth featuring Kamo AsatryanOf course I had to check out his latest project so I navigate over to http://goprimer.com

I’m met with a…

Primer-landing-page
primer-notification

Here’s a closer look at the tab:

primer-notification-closeup

First of all, I was so impressed by this conversion tactic that I immediately went back to the page and signed up. Sure, I probably would have signed up anyway given the fact that I help startups build apps for a living. But maybe not? It’s certainly not uncommon for me to just kill every tab for sake of killing tabs. This little UI feature reminded me that this tab is important.

Now, I’m on Primer’s wait list and I sent the product to several of my colleagues. All because of a red dot on a browser tab.

Good job Primer 😀

Habit Hack: Spotify’s Discover Weekly Feature

Finally, automated music recommendations as good as my own.

Ok, let’s tone down the vanity for a minute.

This might qualify as a Habit Hack. “How to Expand Your Music Library Efficiently”. Over the last few weeks, I’ve added 20 new jams to my starred list thanks to this new habit.

Here’s a screenshot for you scavengers:

spotify-new-jams

A couple that I really like: Hang Me Up to Dry, Woodstock, Kygo’s Sexual Healing Remix, and Hold Back the River.

Also, Wasted, it’s just a catchy tune man.

Alright, if you don’t already use Spotify, I can’t help you. If you do use Spotify, you should definitely check out the “Discover Weekly” Feature, because the recommendations are on point.

Here’s the idea: Every Monday, you get a new list of 20 recommendations, tailored to your preferences. They’re generally pretty good. I play through the list a few times during the week, picking out my favorites as I go.

Here’s a screenshot for navigating to the playlist.

how-to-spotify-discover-weekly

It’s the simple things in life that make us happy. Thanks Spotify.

P.S. You can follow me on Spotify by clicking here.

 

What I’m Reading Right Now (Week of 8/2/2015)

I recently re-discovered Tai Lopez and am so glad I did. He’s inspired me to reinvest in my already prolific reading habit. Now, I’d like to share a bit of that good habit with you. Check out some of the non-fiction (and one piece of fiction) that I’m reading right now.

Beyond the Self: Teachings on the Middle Way by Thich Nhat Hanh

This book was gifted to me by a close friend recently and I’ve burnt through it only a couple of days. This is the third book I’ve read by the famous buddhist monk (Be Free Where You Are and True Love) and am astounded at the insight this guy packs into less than 100 pages.

His works are, more and more, becoming my constant companions. I return to them whenever I need consolation or peace. 10/10 would recommend.

Disclaimer: I recommend almost every book I read. I attribute this to the fact that I only read books that either (A) come highly recommended from a reputable source or (B) are written by a highly reputable source.

Lectures to Young Men by Henry Ward Beecher

My copy of this book was published in 1893, found in the Beacon Hill Friend’s House library. I’ve only read the first chapter (on “industry and idleness”) and am totally enthralled. Beecher’s 19th century style is delightful to my personal taste and the biting wit with which he describes “sluggards” and “grog merchants” is both hilarious and a little scary.

I have a feeling I’m going to plow through this work and I promise to record some readings and post them here for you :)

The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt

This one has sat on my shelf collecting dust for a while. Oh, the height of my hubris! How arrogant I must have been to not even crack the spine. And when I finally did? Well, I immediately recorded this video to share a couple of poignant nuggets of ancient wisdom.

Haidt has clearly done his research into human psychology and I am looking forward to further consuming his ideas.

If you come to our book club in Boston next week, I shall read another passage pertaining to our theme of “Summer Love” :)

Robert E. Lee on Leadership by H.W. Crocker III

Crocker puts together an excellent biography on Lee that focuses on his leadership qualities, which he was acclaimed in his lifetime for. I’ve been fascinated by Lee since college and continue to be inspired by his chivalrous example.

If you’re a northerner, don’t discount Lee for political reasons. He was an honorable and charismatic man known and respected for the strength of his character.

If you’re a young man, who prides himself on “gentlemanly conduct”, check out Lee’s Definition of a Gentleman:

The forbearing use of power does not only form a touchstone, but the manner in which an individual enjoys certain advantages over others is a test of a true gentleman.

The power which the strong have over the weak, the employer over the employed, the educated over the unlettered, the experienced over the confiding, even the clever over the silly–the forbearing or inoffensive use of all this power or authority, or a total abstinence from it when the case admits it, will show the gentleman in a plain light

The gentleman does not needlessly and unnecessarily remind an offender of a wrong he may have committed against him. He cannot only forgive, he can forget; and he strives for that nobleness of self and mildness of character which impart sufficient strength to let the past be but the past. A true man of honor feels humbled himself when he cannot help humbling others.

Fiction Pick

Dune by Frank Herbert

I always keep a new piece of fiction in my rotation as it helps me sleep at night. At first Herbert’s writing turned me off as it seems very “young adult”-esque. I quickly came around though, and fell in love with the main characters in whom I recognize many excellent leadership qualities.

Dune is a piece of fiction that imparts real life lessons about what it means to be an inspiring leader. I’m glad I didn’t give up on it for stylistic reasons. The substance of the work is well worth it.

If you like these lists, let me know in the comments or on twitter and I’ll keep it up :)

Hack your morning routine and close loops with a LONG walk

Quotes from the Buddha and Plato in The Happiness Hypothesis