Thursday, June 5, 2014

A Maker In the Making Has Moved... Sort of!

I have reached 5000 views so I am moving my site to bigger and better things. I am keeping the same domain but I changed the hosting to Amazon and am using ghost as the blogging platform. I will be leaving up until I have a chance to fix up all of the links.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Signal vs Noise

I hate Facebook. Well, hate is a strong word. I really dislike Facebook. I have a lot of reasons some of which I have talked about before. However, lately the biggest reason has been the signal to noise ratio has been really low.

Everyone knows what signal to noise ratio is, you might have never heard it that way. Suppose you are driving on a road trip and you turn on your favorite radio station or perhaps are listening to your favorite basketball team on a local station. As you get farther from town you begin to hear a little bit of static since you are further away from the tower. After a while the static gets really bad and you can barely hear the station and at some point the signal is so bad you have switch the station. The signal has been completely overtaken by the noise.

So what do I mean when I talk about signal to noise ratios as it relates to Facebook or other places where you go to get information? Signal is anything that provides meaning to your life. Pictures of your new nephew, results of your mom's surgery, or even inspiring quotes from your best friend. These all have a really high "signal" because they are providing you value. Other things like link-bait, candy crush invites, and status updates from your high school friends that you haven't seen in 15 years have really high "noise" because they provide little meaning to you.

Now that we have a definition we can ascribe values to something based on its signal to noise ratio. Say you follow 1000 people on twitter and you are just scrolling through your feed of tweets. If every tweet was somehow meaningful to you you would have an extremely high signal to noise ratio and you could say your twitter feed is very valuable to you. However if you spent 10 minutes scrolling through your feed to find something you cared about you would have a really low signal to noise ratio and you could argue that your twitter feed is not very valuable.

Ok, why does this matter? In this day and age everyone consumes so much data and often times the data we consume has little to no value to us. It is just noise. The problem is that the internet is tricky and often times we perceive value in things that don't have much value at all. This is one of the problems with pinterest. Spending an hour pinning feels like you got something accomplished but really there was probably a high signal to noise ratio, meaning you had to go though a lot of pins to find the ones you like and who knows if the ones you found are even valuable to you. Facebook also gives the perception of value but has a really low signal to noise ratio.

I say it is time for a digital makeover. Go through your Facebook feed and unfollow all of the noise you see on a daily basis. Go through your email and unsubscribe from the junk that you have to wade though to find your actual emails. Go through and delete half of your pins and then go through again and delete the other half. Unfollow those people who tweet the dribble you have to scroll past to find the gold.

Finally define what is meaningful to you and then try and boost your daily signal to noise ratio.


Monday, May 26, 2014

Gamify your life with HabitRPG

Sometimes I get into a place where I got to stop talking about doing things and start actually doing them I have got a lot of things accomplished over the last month but my list is longer than ever. I am, however, back to blogging about getting things done. The latest is HabitRPG.

A while back I read an article about how companies were increasing their results dramatically by gamifying the work environment. They added achievements, levels, and turned tasks into quests. While this may seem a little silly to some, this seemed awesome to me. I even began writing a system for this myself but didn't get very far.

Two weeks ago I stumbled upon a site called Habit RPG. It is a game when the things that you are trying to accomplish are actual things in your life. Lets say you want to say write a blog post. You can just add "Create Blog Post" to your todo list and once it is done, BOOM! You get experience and some gold. You might even level up. It is surprising how effective virtual rewards are.

A couple of us have formed a party which increases adherence even more as you see your friends leveling up and getting cool stuff. After you reach level 10 you can declare your class, be it warrior, mage, rouge or healer. I am close to level 10 so my productivity of late has been higher. As a group you can get quests from a random drop when you do a task or by purchasing them with in game currency. We are all excited about going on a quest but we have yet to get the drop.

Drops can happen when you complete a task. These tasks fall into 3 different categories: Habits, Dailies, and To Dos. A habit is anything that you want to do on a regular basis. This is also an easy way to farm points. I have things like drinking a glass of water and doing pushups. Dailies are things you want to do every day like taking vitamins or clocking in at work. These give benefits as you do them multiple times in a row. They can also hurt you if you miss them. To Do's are your list of unique tasks to accomplish like replacing a headlight or writing a letter. If you leave a To Do on your list too long it will start to take away hit points but it will also be worth more points so thus a bigger incentive to do the older things first.

Finally there are rewards. These are things that you can either set yourself, so you can reward your own hard work, or purchase from the game. If you are a gamer you understand that it doesn't matter if it is digital, having sweet gear is awesome! The only way to get the gear is to actually get things done... IN. REAL. LIFE. This is a win for me and for my wife. Cleaning the house is a great way to farm up some levels.
I have found that keeping tasks small is the best way to keep the game fun so I put little tasks on the list and feel good when I get to check a bunch of them off. Especially as the levels get longer. This keeps me focused on the small pieces that make up the whole. I also use this for work and feel doubly good about my day when I get things accomplished and level up! There is so much more but you should discover it for yourself.

Check it out if you like and get ahold of me if you want an invite to our party. Maybe we could do some questing together.

Time to check off a To Do!


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Final Recap of Startup Weekend

Over the course of the last few weeks I have been blogging about my experience at the Boulder Startup Weekend. You can read part 1 and part 2. Now I would like to talk about what we did and what we were able to accomplish. Here is the story of Helpmore.

After the initial pitches I found a guy named Lorne who was trying to help the homeless. While it would have been fun to be on a team that was trying to go viral and make tons of money this seemed like a hard problem to solve and a worthy one. His main pain point was that he wanted to give money to the homeless but he didn't trust that the money would go to a good cause. That has been a pain point for me as well. My other problem was that I have stopped carrying cash and so I was hoping to solve that as well.

Along with Lorne we had an guy named Satyah who joined the team as well. We set to work trying to come up with an idea. We spent all Friday night coming up with a plan on how to work with homeless shelters to provide goods for people and went to bed.

We had found an Airbnb in walking distance so while walking home I had an idea that we could use QR codes to create vouchers on the fly. Basically the user would scan a the code and it would give them a map of near by stores that accepted them. They could then pick items from a store and add it to the card. It would then . This would allow people to purchase specific items rather than giving cash. Also getting businesses on board would allow for a viral aspect since we could allow businesses to sign up on their own. Excited about the idea i got to our place and crashed.

I pitched the idea in the morning and Lorne liked it. We started going with it. Soon two more people, Trevor and Nick, joined the team and we were firing on all cylinders. We made a proof of concept app using Wordpress and paypal and hit the streets. The good news was that the homeless loved the idea! They felt the same pain we felt and were excited about something that would build trust between the homeless and others. We talked to two nice ladies who were down on their luck. They didn't want money for drugs or alcohol. In fact they were talking about how cool it would be to start a coffee shop when we walked up.

Getting businesses on board would be our hardest hurdle. It turns out they dont like homeless people hanging around. However much they want to help, it just ends up being bad for business. We had some who would be willing to use the service if it existed so we walked away confident that we could get them on board. I also thought if Helpmore could gain enough traction then businesses would flock to it to be seen as socially conscious. That is a pipe dream though because we hadn't got the first one.

We went back to base encouraged that we had an idea that people liked and began to talk to some coaches. All of the coaches liked our idea so we were feeling pretty good. After a good nights sleep it was time to get ready for the final pitch.

For the final pitch we had 10 minutes to present to some people who had created successful startups. They were very smart and had done this thing before. The winning team got $500 and some help getting their business off the ground, so there was something at stake. Lorne and I split up the presentation. I was very nervous. I am not usually that nervous talking in front of people but since we had such a strict time schedule we decided to script it out and go off a script. I don't do well with that so I feel like my pitch was a little stilted. We also ran out of time so we didn't get to all of our information. We were able to show our prototype in action and we got our idea across.

The judges rightly pointed out our most difficult hurdle. We had to get not one, not two but three parties on board at the same time to make this work. One audience is hard enough, two is really difficult, and three is darn near impossible. They said they gave us pretty high marks but  in the end we didn't win the event but I think we had a pretty good idea.

After the event we booked it back to Lawrence and arrived home at 5 AM. I crashed pretty hard and got up at noon to go to work. It was probably not my most productive day at work.

The big question still on the table is where do we go from here. To be honest, I am not really sure. We tried to get a google hang out together but our schedules were all off. I loved working on the team and we had a great group of guys. I think there is a key time period right after the event that can make or break a team and that time might be passed. Also there is something to be said about creating a business that can make money. I really loved the idea but startups are hard work and ones that don't make money are even harder. Like I said about the Lawrence Makerspace, sometimes money can be used as a motivator to do good things. Maybe a for profit business would have been able to get us going when a non-profit didn't.


Saturday, March 29, 2014

What Has It Got in Its Pocketses? Mar 29

It's time for another edition of, What Has It Got in Its Pocketses! It has been a while but I wasn't scouring the web looking for great content when I was in Boulder. Now that I am back I am getting into the grove again.

IT Crowd Soundboard - If you havent seen the IT Crowd it is on Netflix. It is very quotable and this soundboard has some of the highlights.
Cat Shaming - Maybe you have to be a cat person but I found these really funny.
Dash Plus System - If you take notes by hand you will want to read this. Great for todo lists as well!
The Web Is Changing - This was pretty interesting. Especially if you are just getting into web marketing like I am.

Hanselman on Productivity - If you like my posts on being productive then this is a must read.
Why Candy Crush Made it Big - Interesting thoughts on mobile gaming pricing models.

Web Design Links - A toolbox of sorts for web designers.
E-Commerce Toolbox - More helpful links linked from my post full of links.

Google Will Eat Itself - Pretty nerdy concept. But it has made a lot of money so far.

The Toolbox - This guy had an idea and whipped it out in 10 hours. He explains the whole process. Pretty interesting if you are a web guy.

That's all folks. Enjoy! -jb

Thursday, March 27, 2014

When all else fails, Pivot.

Tyler  Hansbrough, pivoting like a champ!
In case you didn't know I went to a startup weekend two weekends ago and I am slowly recapping some of my experiences, starting with the vocabulary of startup people. You can read part 1 about creating the MVP. Today is about pivoting. It seems that the startup world is just borrowing terminology from the sports world because when I was growing up, pivoting was something you did in basketball. When you picked up your dribble you could pivot on one foot. If you moved your pivot foot you traveled and turned the ball over. Once again I had to fake it till I learned the meaning of the word pivot in the startup world.

When starting a new business, failure is expected. Not only is it expected but in some ways it is encouraged. Obviously you want to hit on a good idea that will make money but it just so happens that the people who are good at failing are the people who hit on the good ideas. The real trick is to fail as fast as possible.

Here is how the starting a company in a weekend works. You start with a premise for a business. I'll use the one my brother came up with today:

Corporations have nasty fridges and need an impartial service to come clean them out and organize them once a month. 

Now you need to prove that this will make money as quickly as possible. So you send out polls to business owners and go door to door and see if someone will let you clean their fridge. You also need to see how scalable your models is if people liked it.

You come to the conclusion that, yes, this is a problem but not very many companies are willing to pay for your services. Not only that but if they did want to pay for your service it wouldn't scale very well since there is no element for exponential growth. If this took three weeks to realize, you failed too slow. If this took 4 hours, congratulations, you failed fast!

One important piece of information you found: dirty fridges are a problem in corporations. You now have validated that there is a business there to be had but you just failed to get it right. This is where you pivot meaning you tweak your solution a little to better solve the problem. Next you try to come up with a web camera system that displays on people's computer wallpaper. That doesn't go over too well, pivot. Fridge dishwasher combo? Pivot. Robots? Pivot. Public shaming? Pivot.

Finally you design a cubby style fridge with a glass door and a special squeegee that is the perfect size of a cubby so they can be cleaned with one swipe. Each cubby has a dry erase label for a name and a date. You get 100 companies that say they would buy it if it existed. It's production is easily scalable once you get the money to get it off the ground. So you kickstart it for 100,000 and tons of companies jump on board.

That's the gist of it. Failure is not bad unless you are not willing to part with your idea. If you can't adjust, it can be disastrous because you will spend hundreds of hours working on something that nobody wants. When you fail, learn what you can and move on. This idea is very central to developing a process over a goal. The process of pivoting allows you to move on where the goal of starting your business might have had you beating your head against the wall trying to make your idea work.

So remember when all else fails, pivot.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Baby steps... This is the last bus to Winnipesaukee Bob!

I am back from the Startup Weekend Boulder! Well I have been back for a week now. It took me a while to recover from the weekend since I got back at 5 am on Monday morning! I have seemed to be in a creative vacuum ever since. I think it is a combination of the intense creative marathon, some really hard workouts at Crossfit, and of course march madness. Whatever the reason I have been feeling lethargic and unmotivated this week. This brings me to a key concept I learned from the startup weekend and a lesson about getting things done in general. You need to focus on the MVP!

So I went to Startup Weekend knowing nothing about how startups work or the lingo that they use. Everybody was saying that we needed to have an MVP by the end of the weekend but nobody was saying whether or not they were willing to step up and be the MVP. I kept wondering what it took to be the MVP of a nerdy weekend like this. Maybe l33t hacker skills or something like that. About halfway through the weekend I started understand that what they meant by MVP isnt what I understood MVP to mean. I eventually had to ask since I couldn't quite figure it out from context. In the startup world MVP stands for "Minimum Viable Product". It is the simplest form of your product that somebody is willing to buy. There are big props to you if you can sell some of that product before the end of the weekend.

The concept of MVP is so important and I got it right away. You see I have a history of starting projects and working really hard on them for a week and then stopping. The idea of the MVP is: what are you able to make that is worth value today. Once you define that you need to stick to that and only that. My github is filled with the code of good ideas that got too big too soon. Programmers like to think big and while that is good it gets you into trouble because if you cant get people using it you will lose interest. And if an idea is too big you will become overwhelmed with the amount of work that is needed to be done to finish.

If the idea is too big I see two problems. First of all you wont be motivated to start and secondly you will lose interest before you finish.

What is the solution? Baby steps Bob, baby steps. I love this scene from What About Bob. It captures the very essence of what it means to break big tasks into the tiniest of steps. Keeping the steps small is so important. Lets deal with these two issues on their own.

Getting started is probably the biggest battle. It is for me, I know that. 9 times out of 10 I will finish a job if I can just get it started. I put off writing this post all week and now that I am doing it I am really enjoying it. I just had to start. Getting started is so important for big things like starting a business or doing something you don't normally do. You will be tempted to do tons of research before you start to make sure you don't fail (I will talk about the benefits of failure in another post). With the internet we can spend more time researching our tasks than we will actually spend on them.

I strongly disagree with the research heavy approach. You don't know any of the problems you are going to face until you face them so you may waste a lot of time researching something that in the end would not have been an issue for you.  Some research is ok but you have to start at some point. A popular saying is that you can't steer a ship that is not moving. Research should be done while you are in motion trying to do and not too much before you start. Is there something big you have been wanting to do? Take a baby step and just start it.

The second problem is scope. Here is how my ideas often go, "Oh I should write a little program to remind me to water my plants. Oh better yet I could write a program to water my plants. Then I could add a sensor that lets me tell if they have gotten enough enough sunlight. Oh then if they dont it could turn on a grow light and give them more light. I could then package this up and sell it to home gardeners. Wow that would take a long time. Ill just watch another episode of Archer." We all love to dream but when the scope grows too fast it can kill a dream. Keep your ideas super small. Something you could do in an afternoon.

It's ironic that we are told in school to dream big but the best way to be successful is to dream just a little bit bigger than where you are. I could write an app that could be sold to home gardeners that keeps track of their plants but it would start with the first step of just having it remind me and then build from there.

Focus on the MVP and get that done. That can be a launching point to keep going. Baby steps.