June 29, 2013
Things I Never Learned in School

I recently came across this post on reddit: Why Aren’t High Schoolers Taught How to File Taxes.

It made me think about what American children are taught in school, and whether that education actually prepares them to become adults. (I grew up in Los Angeles, so your K-12 education may have been different than mine.)

One of the most important things that Americans need to deal with – personal finances – is rarely taught in school. Why do we trust someone to just “figure things out” as they go along? I spent a long time in school, and when I got my first job, I still didn’t know much about topics like taxes and mortgages.

It turns out that Americans are pretty bad at finances (e.g., building up personal savings). My own parents didn’t understand how to manage credit card debt and car loans, so I wouldn’t expect that the average American has good enough financial habits to pass on to their children.

Why aren’t we doing something about this? Here are some topics that should be mandatory in K-12 education:

  • How to build up savings in a bank account. Make sure you earn more than you spend, and that your bank account statement generally goes up. This topic can be addressed after the child has a firm grasp of addition and subtraction. We can also show children this great skit from SNL: Don’t Buy Stuff You Can’t Afford.

  • How to use credit cards properly. Learn the devastating power of compounding interest, and why you should avoid credit card debt if you can. This can be taught after students have mastered multiplication and percentages. It can be revisited after students learn about exponentiation.

  • What are taxes? How do I file them? You can’t avoid taxes, so you might as well learn about them.

  • Mortgages and auto loans. Learn about monthly payments, compounding interest, and amortization schedules. Did you know that on a 30-year loan for a house, you could pay two times the cost of your house over the lifetime of the loan? That is, for a 30-year $400,000 loan at 4.5% interest, you would end up paying ~$330,000 of interest on top of your principal, for a total of $730,000!

I actually learned more about finances from video games than I ever did in school. SimCity taught me how to manage a budget and take on / repay debt. A-Train, a sim game where you set up a railway system, had a mini game where you could invest in stocks. I would buy stocks and try to sell right before a crash. If I ever messed up, I could always reload a previous save file…. but I know this is not possible in real life. :-)

I will definitely teach my children good financial habits. But I would be much happier if all American kids were prepared for the moment they “grow up” and receive their first credit card offer in the mail (0% APR for your first 12 months!!!).

January 17, 2013
Interview with Temple Run’s Keith Shepherd

I’m a big fan of the Temple Run team. They are a huge inspiration for indie developers like me!

Check out the interview here: http://allthingsd.com/20130117/interview-temple-runs-keith-shepherd-on-freemium-staying-small-and-new-games

January 5, 2013
Learning from Mark Cuban

As a first-time entrepreneur, I love reading about successful business people. There’s always something to learn. You can be inspired and hopefully avoid mistakes as you start up your own business.

One of my inspirations is Mark Cuban. He made his fortune by selling his company to Yahoo! for $5.7 billion in 1999. If you follow sports, you’ll know him as the owner of the Dallas Mavericks. You may also recognize him from the Shark Tank TV show.

image

Recently, Mark hosted an AMA (ask me anything) on reddit. Here are my favorite snippets from the Q&A:

Cuban has written an e-book filled with advice for entrepreneurs. I found a summary here: http://www.bradaronson.com/mark-cuban-business-lessons/. One of the best quotes is about perseverance in business:

It doesn’t matter how many times you have failed, you only have to be right once.

If you are interested in his back story, you can check out the Success & Motivation posts on his blog (here and here). It’s a long but interesting read, with nuggets like:

  • I remember driving down to pick up some hard drives that I was going to put into my customers PCs….[The vendor] had just moved from the owner’s dorm room into a little office/warehouse space. I was so impressed by this young kid (I was a wise old 25 at the time), that I actually wrote a letter thanking him for the great job he was doing, and…I’m embarassed to say now, I told him that if he kept up what he was doing he was destined for far bigger and better things. I kept on doing business with PCs Limited, and Michael Dell kept on doing what he was doing.
  • Long story short, I went to the bar to get some drinks for all us, I come back, they aren’t there. Come to find out the next day, Bill [Gates] stole my girls. As I would learn later in life, money does make you extremely handsome.
  • It doesn’t matter how many times you strike out. In business, to be a success, you only have to be right once.

And one of the best comments on his post was from an early acquaintance of his:

I remember asking you to come with us to drink some beer and play water volleyball on a Sat Summer afternoon. You were in your bedroom reading some of those computer books you talked about – you just looked up and said “the sun will shine another day” I will never forget that. True story – I bet I have told that to 100 people who know nothing about you.

Mark Cuban has been a big inspiration for me. I hope you enjoyed these tidbits!

December 20, 2012
OS X Utilities I Love

I spend most days sitting in front of my laptop, writing software. This means LOTS of typing. Here are some Mac OS X utilities that make me much more efficient and happy. (I’m sure there are similar tools for Windows users.)

BetterTouchTool: http://blog.boastr.net

This allows you to create custom swipe/tap gestures for your trackpad. Here are some I use to help me quickly manage open windows:

  • 5-finger tap => Show Desktop
  • fn + 4-finger tap => Maximize Window
  • fn + tap [left|right|top|bottom] edge of track pad => Resize Window to [Left|Right|Top|Bottom] Half of the Screen
  • fn + tap a corner of track pad => Resize Window to Corresponding Quarter of the Screen

Keyboard Maestro: http://www.keyboardmaestro.com

This is my Swiss Army knife. It allows you to create hotkeys for anything your Mac can do. It also does text expansion, and maintains a clipboard history for you.

  • Hot Keys: When I’m working in JavaScript, and hit CTRL + L, it will insert console.log(); If I am in Xcode, CTRL + L inserts NSLog(@"");
  • Text Expansion: MyClass ai is automatically replaced with [[MyClass alloc] init]; I have lots of these little abbreviations. For example, #i becomes #import "" and @p turns into @property (nonatomic, retain).
  • Clipboard History: Everything I copy or cut goes into my clipboard history. I can safely cut multiple items in one area of my code and then paste them into another file. Editors like emacs have a similar feature, but this works system wide. That means I can copy snippets of code from a browser (e.g., stackoverflow) and then retrieve them later in the day.
  • Menu Items: You can add macros under the Keyboard Maestro menu item. My incoming tech support emails will frequently ask the same questions. So, I’ll go to my menu item and pick the appropriate canned email response!

Alfred: http://www.alfredapp.com

This is an app launcher & desktop search tool, and also comes with lots of shortcuts. I no longer use OS X’s Spotlight (Alfred is faster). For example: I use it to put my computer to sleep: alt + space, s, enter instead of slowly moving my mouse cursor up to the Apple menu.

f.lux: http://stereopsis.com/flux

This tool adjusts your computer’s display at night to remove the blue part of the spectrum. The first time you use it, you’ll notice that your display looks “warmer” (more orange) at night. But you’ll quickly get used to it! It turns out that sitting in front of a computer screen late at night may make it hard for you to fall asleep. This tool reduces eye strain and improves your ability to get to sleep on time.

Do you have any software tools that you love? Let me know in the comments!

November 29, 2012
Jeff Bezos: Regret Minimization Framework

via Jeff Bezos, 2001. Reblogged from bijan:

I went to my boss and said to him, “You know, I’m going to go do this crazy thing and I’m going to start this company selling books online.” This was something that I had already been talking to him about in a sort of more general context, but then he said, “Let’s go on a walk.” And, we went on a two hour walk in Central Park in New York City and the conclusion of that was this. He said, “You know, this actually sounds like a really good idea to me, but it sounds like it would be a better idea for somebody who didn’t already have a good job.” He convinced me to think about it for 48 hours before making a final decision.

So, I went away and was trying to find the right framework in which to make that kind of big decision. I had already talked to my wife about this, and she was very supportive and said, “Look, you know you can count me in 100 percent, whatever you want to do.” It’s true she had married this fairly stable guy in a stable career path, and now he wanted to go do this crazy thing, but she was 100 percent supportive. So, it really was a decision that I had to make for myself, and the framework I found which made the decision incredibly easy was what I called — which only a nerd would call — a “regret minimization framework.”

So, I wanted to project myself forward to age 80 and say, “Okay, now I’m looking back on my life. I want to have minimized the number of regrets I have.” I knew that when I was 80 I was not going to regret having tried this. I was not going to regret trying to participate in this thing called the Internet that I thought was going to be a really big deal. I knew that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not ever having tried. I knew that that would haunt me every day, and so, when I thought about it that way it was an incredibly easy decision. And, I think that’s very good. If you can project yourself out to age 80 and sort of think, “What will I think at that time?” it gets you away from some of the daily pieces of confusion. You know, I left this Wall Street firm in the middle of the year. When you do that, you walk away from your annual bonus. That’s the kind of thing that in the short-term can confuse you, but if you think about the long-term then you can really make good life decisions that you won’t regret later.

October 26, 2012
Startup School 2012

Last weekend, I attended Startup School, hosted by Y Combinator on the Stanford University campus. It was an entertaining and educational event. I got to hear talks by folks such as Mark Zuckerberg, Joel Spolsky, and Ron Conway.

(photo credit: Hung Phan)

You can check out the videos and slides for yourself. But here’s my twitter-sized takeaway from each talk:

  • Mark Zuckerberg, Founder & CEO of Facebook - He never wanted to “do a startup” for the sole reason of starting a company. He just wanted to make a great tool for himself & his friends.
  • Travis Kalanick, Founder & CEO of Uber - He wanted to be a baller in SF, and have town cars pick him & his friends up. He built a product so that everyone could travel in style.
  • Jessica Livingston, Founder & Partner of Y Combinator - Make something people want. Don’t give up. Do whatever it takes (e.g., pizza delivery to contact your vacationing employee in Tahoe).
  • Patrick Collison, Founder & CEO of Stripe - When starting out, make 100 people really happy. He spent a week in Buenos Aires to hack; the nightlife allowed his team to get food 24/7.
  • Ben Silbermann, Founder & CEO of Pinterest - Build something you really believe in, even if others don’t. Don’t give up!
  • Ben Horowitz, Founder & General Partner of Andreesen Horowitz - Do something 10X better than the competition. Very few startups make lots of money; less than the number of folks who make it to the NBA.
  • Tom Preston-Werner, Founder & CEO of Github - Be able to say your mission statement in one sentence… maybe less than 10 words.
  • Ron Conway, Founder & Advisor of SV Angel - Ron invests in people, not ideas. He’ll invest in an entrepreneur for life. He didn’t get Facebook, but he understood the metrics/growth.
  • Hiroshi Mikitani, Founder & CEO of Rakuten - Learn from competitors but don’t be afraid of them. You can do something different and be better!
  • Joel Spolsky, Founder & CEO of Stack Exchange - You don’t have to start a $10 billion company. A $10 million organic growth company has much better odds. You just have to decide!
  • David Rusenko, Founder & CEO of Weebly - You can’t succeed if you quit. A year in, only 100 new users/day. 4 yrs in, 5K new users/day. Took five years to gain significant traction.

I learned a lot and had fun meeting people. I’m always really impressed to meet a 19 or 22 year old entrepreneur running his or her own company. I totally wish I had started a decade sooner!

October 21, 2012
iOS Maps

I have to believe that “iOS Maps” is now a running joke in the tech world. I heard from a friend in Tokyo that up until recently, her iPhone 5 was showing a subway stop in the middle of the Tokyo Imperial Palace! I didn’t really believe that it was that terrible until I got iOS 6 and tried it out myself.

Here’s just one simple example. I searched for “gates building” from my apartment in Mountain View, CA. Since Mountain View is very near Stanford University, I assumed that it would give me the Gates Computer Science building on the Stanford campus.

Unfortunately, iOS 6 (left) gave me a random building in San Juan Capistrano. When I loaded up Google Maps in Safari (middle), the same query gave me the correct result.

Back in Apple Maps, you can get the correct result (right) if you add an extra word to the query: gates building stanford. Notice that Google Maps also has nice building outlines for you. (I don’t really like the ugly white bar at the bottom, though.)

If iOS Maps is this flaky in the Bay Area, I am sure the experience is much worse elsewhere in the world. As an Apple fan, I really hope they shape up soon. For now, I’m looking forward to the Google Maps iOS app!

September 4, 2012
The “Lean” Startup

Kurt Varner recently answered a question on Quora about whether it would be a good idea to become “homeless” to bootstrap a startup. This summer, he lived out of his car in Mountain View to save money while working on his company.

The stunt was great publicity, but is living out of your car a legitimate method of increasing your startup’s runway?

I would never go to such an extreme, as the stress of being “homeless” would distract me from working on my company, and offset the cash I saved. To save money while bootstrapping a startup, I would find a really good friend and crash on his couch. Or, I’d split the cost of a cheap apartment with several like-minded entrepreneurs.

Having access to your own refrigerator/kitchen can save you lots of money. You can buy rice, beans, and other inexpensive food in bulk. You wouldn’t have to rely on Triscuits, Cup Noodles, Thomas’ Bagels, and canned goods (as seen in Varner’s video).

It is fun, however, to experiment with ways to save money while enjoying a diverse diet. Here are some food hacks I’ve used while bootstrapping my own startup over the last two years.

Food Hacks for the Lean Startup

Free Breakfast at IKEA: Over the past year, IKEA has been giving out free breakfast until 11am every Monday. This offer is good until at least December 2012. I encountered two issues:

  • There was no WiFi, but this allowed me to concentrate on hacking without wasting time on Facebook. If I had a question I needed to answer, I’d write it down in a text file and look it up later.
  • Mothers with young children show up at around 11:30 for lunch. It gets loud at around lunch time. My sound-isolating earbuds were not up to the challenge.

Free Samples at Costco: Find a friend who has a membership, and ask him to buy you a $5 Costco Cash Card. Present this card as you walk into your nearest Costco at around lunchtime. Walk around to all the sample stands and grab free samples. If you are bold, grab two. Make sure you walk around at least twice. On a recent trip, I enjoyed Tony Roma’s ribs, chicken, sausage, pasta, Coca Cola, chocolate milk, turkey jerky, buttered toast, taquitos, yogurt, and cheddar cheese.

  • If the samples aren’t enough, go to the Costco food court to buy a hot dog and soft drink for $1.50. Pile on the onions and ketchup. You don’t need a membership to purchase from the food court. 

Coffee & Food Sample at Trader Joe’s: If you need a coffee fix, you can go to the sample station at Trader Joe’s. The best way to save money, of course, would be to quit coffee. Trader Joe’s is also home to the 19-cent banana. It’s packed with fiber and vitamins.

Cheese Samples at the Milk Pail Market: this local market in Mountain View has free cheese samples in the back. Use a fresh toothpick/spoon between samples! You can also find great deals on fresh fruit here. Buy an orange or kiwi on the way out, to avoid scurvy.

Whole Foods: Whaaa? Yes, you can print out coupons and get some nice deals. Recently, I bought some fruit/nut/chocolate bars for $0.25 each ($1 off). Whole Foods also sometimes has samples of fresh fruit, sushi, and grass-fed beef. 

For a quick fix, drop in on McDonald’s. I bought hash browns for $1, and sat in their McCafe area to use the WiFi. It’s not very healthy, but the 150 Calories (along with your stash of nut bars in your backpack) will power you through to lunchtime.

All-You-Can-Eat Salad Bars: To diversify your diet, you can visit a salad bar like Fresh Choice or Sweet Tomatoes. With a web coupon, you can get a weekday meal for $8. Load up on your greens. Top it off with cornbread, soup, and a soft-serve sundae. 

Hope you enjoyed these food hacks!

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August 27, 2012
Learning Computer Science

Recently, John Resig of Khan Academy described their new platform for introducing people to the concepts of computer programming.

I played with it a bit tonight, and am really excited about what I saw. It really reminds me of when I first experienced computer programming, with LOGO on the Apple IIe.

With their javascript code editor and live preview pane, you can experiment and draw cool images like this:

image

I’m a huge fan of Khan Academy and their work on providing free educational resources for everyone. If you’d like to pick up some programming concepts, go check out their curriculum at http://www.khanacademy.org/cs

April 20, 2011
Will Wright on Play and Education

Originally posted on April 20, 2011 on my Posterous blog:

http://vimeo.com/22670388

I’ve always loved listening to Will Wright’s lectures. Here he talks about how playing games affects education. With play, you can fail and try again, while you build a mental model of what works and what doesn’t work. This is related to apprenticeship, an older model of learning a trade (e.g., crafting a chair). In contrast, modern education concentrates on theories. We teach you all the steps before you actually do anything, so that you can avoid failure.

His presentation style is very high bandwidth—he speaks very quickly and presents lots of related/cool pictures… until he hits his last slide, which says: “Stop Talking.” :-)

On one of his slides is a quote: “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” ~William Butler Yeats