Archives For Tech

Sprint

August 8, 2013 — 2 Comments

I like to run, but I love to sprint. In 2011 I trained for my first half marathon without ever running more than five miles at once, I focused on sprint training – I finished in 1:57.

Sprinting makes you faster. Sprinting makes you leaner. Sprinting increases your stamina.

If you sprint every day you’ll injure yourself. Sprints are intense, and your body can’t handle it every day. After sprinting your muscles need rest to heal. You’ve ripped them to shreds and the rest will give them a chance to heal, a chance to grow.

The two weeks I spent interning with Seth Godin were a sprint. We pushed ourselves to work hard and to fail fast. The pace was not sustainable, but sustainability wasn’t the point of this exercise. The point of this exercise was to push ourselves close to our breaking point, to build something awesome. The point of this exercise was to make ourselves (mentally) faster and leaner.

The final push is always the hardest, but it leads to the most growth. We’ve ended our sprint, and I’m taking some time to rest and reflect.

 

I utilize my public library more now now than I have in the past eight years. This is especially surprising because I live over 8,700 miles away from it. I can’t recall ever checking a book out of the library while a high school or undergraduate student, but since moving to Sri Lanka I’ve checked out over a dozen books from my library’s online program. My downloads have ranged from Bill Clinton’s Back to Work to Haruki Murakami‘s Norwegian Wood, and I’ve read all of them on my kindle.

While at Fordham I was at the library almost daily, but I used it as a place to study and work – not as a place to look up information (isn’t that what the internet is for?). This seemed to be a pretty common practice, as my generation is more inclined to utilize google than the dewey decimal system.

The role of libraries is changing rapidly, just last week this shift was highlighted by the launch of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA).

The DPLA was launched by Harvard’s Berkaman Center, with funding coming from a variety of foundations. It is an open source archive that has partnered with the Smithsonian, the National Archives, New York Public Library, the University of Virginia, Harvard, Digital Library of Georgia, Minnesota Digital Library, Mountain West Digital Library and others. These collections are open to the world to be searched by place or time. Even in its infancy, its an intriguing collection. I expect it will become even more relevant and useful as the collection partners with more archives, libraries, and museums. 

One of the more intriguing things is that the DPLA has an API, so that developers can build off of their archives. I’m excited to see what new products come out of this partnership.

The function of libraries has changed rapidly over the past decade, and many local libraries are struggling to justify their cost to the communities. With resources like the DPLA being launched, local libraries will have even less relevance. Libraries need to revamp themselves, and they can learn a lot from coworking spaces.

Its estimated that by 2020 about 40% of America’s workforce will be freelancers. Coworking spaces allow freelancers and young companies to have flexible office space, that can scale cheaply. Libraries can be turned from stagnant spaces that foster an environment of silent study to engaging environments where creative thinkers can thrive. The content libraries can curate is constrained by their physical space, so they should embrace the digital era and help patrons to hack through the endless information available on the web. Access to the web, and data, should be the entire point of libraries. They should be spaces where community members can teach classes, in the style of Skillshare.

Our world is changing, and the old models need to be challenged and improved.

Link Structure

March 8, 2013 — 3 Comments

You might not have noticed, but last week I changed the link structure of my blog.

Previously the link to this post would have been: brightful.ly/2013/03/05/link-structure/ Now the link structure is such that the post is brightful.ly/link-structure/

Its simpler, cleaner, and easier to remember. I was inspired by a post I read from Zen Habits, a really terrific blog thats worth checking out. After thinking about it, I could see no reason why not to have a cleaner link structure. Its super helpful. There are a lot of web services out there that haven’t optimized their service to make the link structure easy to remember. Compare LinkedIn and Twitter:

LinkedIn.com/in/aseoconnor
Twitter.com/aseoconnor

Which one is easier to remember? Easier to share? Its pretty obvious that twitter thought more about their link structure from the beginning.

If you self host your WordPress site, then it is really easy to make this change. Sadly, freely hosted sites are required to use the standard WordPress link structure. To change it all you have to do is go to Settings -> Permalinks.

Check out the pictures below, and make your blog easier to navigate.

Changing your permalinks

 

Permalink options

 

Openness

February 27, 2013 — 1 Comment

The Fulbright has challenged me in more ways than I could have ever imagined. When I opted to take the Fulbright over a lucrative banking career my family was surprised, to say the least. When asked to justify my reasoning I was often at a loss for words – I didn’t know how the Fulbright would benefit my future.

Sure, the Fulbright is a prestigious academic fellowship. The alumni network is amazing, and I’ve had the opportunity to learn about a whole new region of the world. When I started my grant, I couldn’t tell you exactly how it would impact or shape me.

One of my biggest challenges has been remaining open to the experiences and opportunities here in Sri Lanka. I get overwhelmed at times, and just want to close myself off.

I found myself in a situation like that two weeks ago. I had a particularly rough set of days, and just wanted to escape Sri Lanka for a little while. I had to travel to Colombo, and was all set for my overnight train ride. The battery on my laptop was fully charged, and I had queued up several episodes of The West Wing to get me through the train ride. I got into my cabin and my bunkmate was sitting on his bunk. I briefly acknowledged him as I dropped down my bags, and chatted on the phone with my brother (its amazing that a 15 minute phone call to the states cost me less than $2.00…).

The screech of the station master’s whistle signaled the start of my trip, and I bid my brother farewell. Getting into my cabin, I just wanted to climb into bed and shut myself off from the world. My traveling companion struck up a conversation with me, and we chatted for a few minutes. One thing led to another, and a few minutes turned into a few hours.

As it happened I was traveling with an optometrist, who worked for Vision Care. He had been in Trinco conducting free screenings and educational seminars to spot vision problems. I found out about several government schemes to provide free eye glasses to those who can’t afford them. At the end of our conversation, we arranged to conduct a session at my school in the middle of March. There are several students who need specs (as they’re called in Sri Lankan English), but don’t have the resources to afford them.

Had I closed myself off, and let the troubles of my week weigh me down, I would have missed this amazing opportunity. By turning off my iPod and taking out my headphones, I opened myself up to a conversation that turned out to be engaging and fulfilling.

Looking back on my days at University in NYC, I wonder how many engaging encounters I missed by closing myself off to the world. Openness brings opportunities.

Article Published

February 12, 2013 — 1 Comment

In light of my New Year’s resolution of getting more article published, I’m happy to announce that I’ve gotten a new article posted on Under30CEO: How to Host a Dinner Party That Gets Everyone Talking.

The post was inspired by an ebook written by Michelle Welsch.

And now, for an excerpt:

The internet is the greatest connector in the world, it facilitates meaningful and powerful connections. Over the past several years there have been waves of startups that are trying to leverage this connection machine. There are firms like Twitter and Facebook, whose entire model is based upon connecting people and building a community. There are also the less obvious firms, likeShapeways or Quirky, that have built communities as an integral part of their business model. They have been successful because they create value by connecting people around their products. More and more companies are realizing that to be successful they have to connect individuals and build a community.
Seth Godin defines the Connection Economy, in his new book the Icarus Deception, as “value created not by industry, but by trust and interaction.” Digital connections have become more prevalent, but they should not replace offline connections. In the era of digital collaboration, the face-to-face element can be lost. There is something so remarkable about sharing a meal with someone else, and the web has yet to replicate that experience.

To continue reading click here.

Google Maps is back on the iPhone. Happy days b

A visual comparison says it all.

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A few days ago I ordered dinner from Maldivian Bliss, a restaurant that is right up the road from the bungalow where I am staying. I stopped in on my walk back from the grocery store, around 5 pm, and ordered food to be delivered between 6:30 and 7pm.

After getting home and unpacking my groceries 7pm quickly rolled past, and I still had no food. By 7:15 I was really hungry, and getting cranky. I searched Apple Maps on my iPhone; unsurprisingly I could not find the listing. The new Apple Maps might be bad in America, but its worthless in Sri Lanka. For some reason Apple thinks its best to show me roads in Columbus, Ohio over roads in Colombo, Sri Lanka. I quickly switched to Google Maps, which is usually quite good here, and was frustrated when I couldn’t find the restaurant listing.

I figured as a shot in the dark that I’d do a quick search on Google, and I was shocked that the restaurant had a foursquare listing. I called the number listed on the page and was connected with the manager of the restaurant, who told me the delivery boy had gotten lost on a side street while trying to find my bungalow. A few minutes later, after being connected to the delivery boy, I had a delicious serving of chicken cheese Koththu Roti. It was really surprising that FourSquare was the platform which enabled me to find the restaurant I was looking for, especially since Google didn’t have the listing.

Since this happened I’ve been utilizing FourSquare much more on my iPhone, and its been really helpful in finding restaurants when I’m wandering through city streets in Sri Lanka. I’ve used it with great success in Colombo and Kandy, and I’m curious to see if any listings have been built up out in Trinco – which doesn’t have many tourists visting.

FourSquare has a great opportunity to build its listings in tourist destinations. If they were to partner with someone like Lonely Planet they would be able to capture vast amounts of information and help make it more accessible, by letting travelers comment and build upon the data base. Lonely Planet has great guide books, and a decent forum. Whereas FourSquare is built around discoverability; if I find a great new restaurant I’m a lot more likely to check in with Foursquare than email Lonely Planet about it.

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Google Maps is usually spot on when finding locations in Sri Lanka. Since Apple released iOS 6, Google Maps is no longer the native map app. This means I have to access it as a web app, which can render it unusable at times in Colombo – especially when I’m trying to figure out when to get off the bus.

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Apple Maps, the native app in iOS 6, is built upon TomTom’s database. It’s utterly useless in Sri Lanka. It cannot find common locations such as the US Embassy or Galle Face Hotel. and it doesn’t recognize addresses inputted into it. Many of the street names are incorrect, like School Road on this map; if you look Google Maps it is correctly labeled as College Avenue. It’s only use is determining your location.

 

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Foursquare, which on the iPhone utilizes Apple’s Maps, is surprisingly helpful. As it utilizes the native app, its able to provide real time tracking about my location (which is really helpful when I’m making sure my tuk-tuk driver is headed in the correct direction). Since it has users provide GPS coordinates for businesses when they ‘check-in’ to a location, it is able to plot them on a map. It has been incredibly helpful using FourSquare to get around, and I’m sure that this app will become one of the most valuable ones on my phone.

Shangri-La Bungalow

October 14, 2012 — 1 Comment

For the first month of my Fulbright I will be staying at Shangri La Bungalow, in  Nedimala, Dehiwala. I’m here with my fellow ETA’s. It’s about thirty minutes to downtown Colombo from this location, and the house is beautiful. If you care to see where it is on a map, click here.

The house is quite spacious, and we have a great caretaker – Siva. He tends to the property and helps us with various odds and ends. Every morning he has a pot of Sri Lankan tea for us; its black tea mixed with milk, sugar, and spices. As he speaks Tamil, communication is a bit of a challenge, but we manage.

Yesterday I purchased a coconut from a store, and Siva shook his head. A moment later he was climbing a tree and grabbing a coconut off of it, and bringing it in the house.

Our Sinhalese classes will be held here, and they being tomorrow.

Here are some pictures (click to expand them!)

Can you patent round corners?

Google was unaware that you could, according to David Lawee, vice president for corporate development at Google. In an interview with Bloomberg David made it clear that Google was not aggressive enough with their patent strategy.

Apple’s victory over Samsung and Google sets a disturbing precedent. I fail to see how their patent, Design patent ‘305. Rounded square icons on the home screen interface, is non obvious or new. Look at the Blackberry below, don’t those home icons look rounded?

Consider the apparel industry, which has had a historically loose approach to intelectual property. There is currently a pending lawsuit over the design of yoga pants, which just seems ridiculous.

I believe that this is the approach which should be taken in application of patent law. It’s important to note that patents serve to encourage innovation, and are a necessary part of our economy. But when patents are given out blindly, and lawsuits are considered part of doing business, doesn’t this hurt innovation more than someone copying your rounded corners?

Open does not conflict with making money, according to Venture Capitalist Fred Wilson, by many accounts the top VC in NYC.

To me, Samsung’s official statement says it all:

Today’s verdict should not be viewed as a win for Apple, but as a loss for the American consumer. It will lead to fewer choices, less innovation, and potentially higher prices. It is unfortunate that patent law can be manipulated to give one company a monopoly over rectangles with rounded corners, or technology that is being improved every day by Samsung and other companies.

 

Economics of Happiness

August 7, 2012 — 4 Comments

“Textbooks describe economics as the study of the allocation of scarce resources.  That definition may indeed be the “what,” but it certainly is not the ‘why.'”

-Ben Bernanke

On Monday Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Federal Reserve, gave a speech about economic measurements. This speech was unusual because he was not focusing on indicators such as GDP, inflation, and unemployment rates; the Chairman instead took a philosophical approach and questioned the relevancy of these traditional statistics to happiness.

Before I continue, it is important to note that the Federal reserve focuses on the aforementioned numbers because our Central Bank has a dual mandate – to keep inflation within a standard range while maximizing employment. (note that the European Central Bank does not have a dual mandate, and focuses exclusively on inflation).

Bernanke details a number of other economic indicators which might be able to guide the Federal Reserve towards making more informed economic decisions: How secure do Americans feel in their jobs? How confident are they in their future job prospects? How prepared are families for financial shocks?

This is an interesting and exciting development, and I firmly believe that our economy could use more detailed and thoughtful economic analysis. The amount of data available to Economists today is mind-boggling. Innovative Central Banks, such as Israel’s, have been utilizing Google Search Results to inform their decision making. According to a paper by Google Chief Economist, Hal Varian, adding Google Trends to traditional indicators leads to an 18% improvement in predictions for ‘Motor vehicles and Parts’ and a 12% improvement for ‘New Housing Starts’.

The Federal Reserve works in a deliberate fashion, but I’m excited for the potential of leveraging the vast amounts of data produced by internet users to improve economic decision making.