Prototyping science fiction

“The future cannot be predicted, but futures can be invented.” –
Dennis Gabor

Tiago Forte wrote a great piece about “What I Learned About the Future by Reading 100 Science Fiction Books“.  The article is one of the more inspirational posts about how to imagine, define and build a future for humanity. So much of what we as designers do is try to imagine a future. The devices, the interactions, the business models, the behaviours and the implications of choices played out on different timescales.

I also read a lot of science fiction (you can see what’s on my Kindle) but I had never thought about it as providing a near or long-term impact on to my speculations on the human condition. Here are a list of books including the Briand David Johnson book identified in the Tiago Forte piece that I need to add to my library and reading queue.

Photo credit: Ron Brinkmann CC-BY-NC-SA-20

The Calendaring Land Grab

There is a lot of chatter about calendar being the next native iOS application (much like Mailbox and Taskbox for Mail) that is set to be out replaced by a startup.

Atlas Scheduling Re-Invented - Today Feed  - Events & TasksJust looking at my phone you’ll find:

I’m hopeful for Atlas because it has the potential to replace and improve on, ScheduleOnce, Doodle, Skedge and others (see Adam Popescu’s article on Mashable). I’m hopeful that it is as useful a calendar as Sunrise, but the advanced scheduling features are something I still crave post Zaplet (it’s funny, I remember building those screenshots back in late 1999).  The group scheduling application is feature, not a fully functional calendar.

I seem to struggle with  the business model for calendaring applications. I understand why companies like Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft need to have applications that are engaging and functional for users on their respective platforms. But it feels like a user acquisition land grab. But one that is focused on engagement and not monetization. I guess a queue of >500,000 users can net you an acquisition around $100MM users.

Chief Shit Disturber

My friend Howard Gwin (LinkedIn) has said the perfect role for me would be one of “Chief Shit Disturber”.

“an individual who creates unnecessary conflict and unhappiness where it is especially not required” – Urban Dictionary

I’m not sure that this is quite what Howard intended. But that I live in the creative tension between product, marketing, development, customers and growth. It’s a chaotic place where the demands change instantaneously and often change due to forces unrelated to the company or the team. (Or at least that is what I hope Howard means, and not that he thinks I stir up trouble unnecessarily.)

I have often thought that the perfect role for me would be one like James Higa, who Steve Jobs picked as “his right hand man”.

“One was an ability to be frank, honest, and able to go toe-to-toe with him on any question. The other was wide peripheral vision. He’s always wanted that in the people around him. The ability to connect dots is really important. A Renaissance perspective on the world. Because it was always about the intersection of technology and liberal arts. BusinessInsider

Not to say, I won’t do the founder thing again. Founding Influitive was exciting/fun/stressful. Leaving wasn’t easy, but it was the right thing to do for me, for my cofounder and for the company. It gave Mark the room he needed to operate more effectively. I have enjoyed going toe-to-toe with Mark on everything from product design, to customer acquisition, to fundraising, to hiring, to company culture. I think Mark appreciated the candor and insight, as he has a Chief of Staff role that sounds strangely familiar to me.

But it has me on a new career path. I am back in a world as a consultant. I’m not sure that this consulting thing is going to be a permanent thing (see Teehan+Lax: A Happy Accident), but I will try it, at least part-time. I am spending part of time at OMERS Ventures, where I get to see how the sausage is made. But I’m trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my time.

I have worked with startups for a very long time. Some have been successful. Some haven’t. But I know I add value. The challenge with early-stage companies (pre-Series A) is that they can’t afford to pay me (for more reasons why this is important). I am looking for models that work and don’t work for a consulting practice. Yes, yes beware the consultant. And consulting math versus software math. And you can read my thoughts on being/using a funding broker, ain’t happening.

It would be easy to pay for bits or bit development. But we’re talking advice. Kind of like a lawyer. I can’t figure out how to make this work. Any thoughts?


Halifax Pop Explosion

I had a great time at NxNE. It wasn’t representative of the time I’ve spent at SxSW. But this is probably a good thing. I was on a panel hosted by Dave Senior of Playground Inc. with Michael Litt (@michaellitt) of Vidyard and Raja Bhatia (@raja) of Confluence Labs. Great fun talking about startups, traction, funding, teams, marketing, etc. It’s funny, it was a great panel, I spent a lot of time heckling Mike. But I guess the reviews were positive. Because my friend Meghan Warby (@withoutayard) invited to Halifax to attend Halifax Pop Explosion.

I have a few confessions:

  1. I have never been to Halifax.
  2. I am going because I get to see my friends Jevon (@jevon) and Ben (@byosko)
  3. I am putting together new material

I’m in Halifax from Tuesday, Oct 16 until Friday, Oct 19. It’s a short stay, but I am choosing to be home for dinner on Friday with the kidlets. I’m looking for food recommendations, a place to have a pint, and some sights. Any suggestions on where to eat?

I’m also putting together a new presentation. The program description for my talk, titled How to Start a Startup, is:

Everyday more and more web startups are getting founded by entrepreneurs tenured and new. However, most abandon basic business pillars when building a venture in the digital economy. Not every start-up requires the same advice, but there a similar threads that apply to almost every company attempting to build a new digital product. We will be discussing the 5 things every startup must have to succeed.

I need to build a new talk and slide deck. I was thinking I could do something fun, like try to only build a presentation using quotes from The Social Network. Which in looking through the IMDB quotes could be surprisingly difficult.  I need to make this presentation a little more fun. Otherwise it’s going to feel like a “how to” guide for the basics of a startup. Which isn’t a bad plan, but I’m not sure I would sit through an hour long talk. Maybe I can use Paul Graham’s Want to Start a Startup:

  • The Idea
  • People
  • What Customers Want
  • Raising Money
  • Not Spending It

And just intersperse stories I have from Influitive, Maintenance Assistant and the startups I’ve worked with. I think coupled with Thomas Tunguz’s Your startups top 3 priorities

  • Distribution
  • Monetization
  • Engagement
I guess I can talk about my experiences along The Startup Curve. And since I’ve never seen the Acquisition fo Liquidity or Upside  of Buyer, my experience will be limited.
Paul Graham's Startup Curve

Strangely I haven’t given a presentation in what feels like a long time. It’s a good time to build a new deck that is engaging and fun. Maybe I need to start with a simple hypothesis and build out the supporting materials.

Featured Image: AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Some rights reserved by Steve Dinn

Not your typical tech startup incubator

This is just too awesome. It looks like the Hyperdrive team staring as a Blue Man like group doing an interpretive dance number. And because when you’re trying to stand out as a startup incubator/accelerator/cyclotron you need to think different in order to change the world.

I guess I know why I’m ordering a red body suit.

The Cocky Rooster

The Cocky Rooster

I had never had a michelada. I didn’t even know they existed until early this morning. I haven’t had a Bloody Caesar in about six years, they are delicious but since I’m now watching my salt intake, I can’t justify 36% in a cup of clamato.

Mott’s Clamato Nutritional Facts

Amount per 8 fl oz. (1 cup)
Calories 50
Total Fat 0g 0%
Sodium 870mg 36%
Carbohydrates 11g 4%
Dietary Fiber 1g 4%
Sugars 9g
Protein 1g
Vitamin A 6%
Vitamin C 4%
Calcium 2%
Iron 2%
* Percent daily values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

My friend Zak agreed to be an unlucky participant in my pre-noon beer concoction and curiosity. And it wouldn’t be any michelada, it would be a variant from An Choi Bahn Mi in NYC. Thanks to one tweet from Liv, I decided that today would be my initiation.

I couldn’t find any “33” Export at the LCBO. So I figured that a bottle of my favourite Mill Street Organic Lager.

Cocky Rooster
An Choi, N.Y.C.
Makes one cocktail

1 lime wedge
Kosher salt
1 oz. lime juice
Several generous squeezes of Sriracha
3 dashes Maggi sauce
2 jalapeño slices
1 bottle “33” Export beer

Rub the rim of a pint glass with the lime wedge, then coat the rim in kosher salt. Fill the glass with ice and add lime juice, Sriracha, Maggi, and jalapeño. Add beer and garnish with wedge.

Read More

These are spice, but they are delicious. I’d do it again anytime.

ebooks, monopolies, monopsonies, DRM and me

I was late last night reading. I had finished reading Evan Currie’s Valkyrie Burning (Warrior’s Wings Book Three) on Amazon. I went looking for new publications from Evan which included The Heart of Matter: Odyssey One. But there was a change in price, The Heart of the Matter is $7.99. Sure it’s not a lot of money. But I’ve previously bought 4 of Evan’s books (including the price I paid):

So from an average price of $3.49 to a new book of $7.99. A 229% price increase. I want my authors to get paid. I like them earning more and generating more and better content. But a 229% price increase, and it’s not just the popularity of authors but current events and my choice of operating system that have me paying more. So I support an author and they become “famous” or “popular”, and I’m am supposed to grin and bear it because I can. I’m all for paying for integrated services, I’m all for authors earning more, I’m all for a better experience. But seriously a 229% price increase, something doesn’t feel right.

Amazon Prime pricing for $0.00

But wait, I can get the book for $0.00 as a Prime member. I didn’t think Amazon Prime was available to me in Canada. I was on, but my credit card and my shipping address is Canadian. Maybe with hope that Amazon Prime was finally available in Canada. I don’t think so, Kindle Owner’ Lending Library is only available in the US. I was just being hopeful that perhaps another large company had decided to invest in the Canadian market, much like Netflix and take on the regional licensing restrictions. </sigh>

I am trying to better understand the implications of my choices, i.e, buying and consuming DRM books in a closed ecosystem (see Kindle SF). I like integrated services. I like unified experiences. But I don’t like being taken advantage of, or having freedoms taken away.

Distribution, Disintermediation, and Monopsony

I was trying to understand Amazon’s ebook strategy and what its implications mean for me as a consumer in Canada.

We’re use to monopolies, well really ogliopolies (wireless companies, banks, internet service providers, we’re good on this one) and monopsonies (Canadian Wheat Board that ended Aug 1, 2012) . But I was surprised in Charles Stross’ analysis of Amazon, was they were playing both sides of the monopoly/monopsony market equation.

“And the peculiar evil genius of Amazon is that Amazon seems to be trying to simultaneously establish a wholesale monopsony and a retail monopoly in the ebook sector.” Charles Stross

One explanation for the increase in kindle prices is predatory pricing. And it’s not like the DOJ is investigating Amazon, Apple and the big six publishers for predatory pricing of ebooks. This has disintermediated retailers and how consumers purchase and consume books. Next to disintermediate the publishers themselves, and Amazon with Kindle Direct Publishing has given authors a way to get large distribution and forego publishers. The ebook market is growing at 200 percent per year, and Amazon owns “70 to 80 percent of the [ebooks] market“.

 “By foolishly insisting on DRM, and then selling to Amazon on a wholesale basis, the publishers handed Amazon a monopoly on their customers—and thereby empowered a predatory monopsony.” Charles Stross

Crap, I fell for it. Other consumers fell for it. Publishers fell for it. What to do next?

“And the only viable Plan C, for breaking Amazon’s death-grip on the consumers, is to break DRM.” Charles Stross

O'Reilly eBooks Advantage - No DRM

This means changing my behaviour to support authors and publishers that publish DRM-free content. Thank you O’Reilly, all of the technical books I’ve purchased are available without DRM. It also means that I might consider removing the DRM from my existing Kindle purchases, oh wait, I can’t do that any more. It might violate the Terms of Service for Kindle, which you, like me, probably didn’t read. It’s too bad that I have bought a “limited license to use the product, rather than actual ownership of an object” with the ebooks (yah, it surprised Bruce Willis about his iTunes collection). It is why for a long time, I purchased movies on DVD rather than iTunes. At least, I could back them up.

But the goal isn’t to put the books back on my Kindle, but to have a back up copy that is future proofed.

Bill C-11 and Changes in Canada

But I can’t do that in Canada since Bill C-11 which passed in June 2012. It includes a digital locks provision that is “one of the most restrictive digital lock approaches in the world“. It seems that my worries in Dissident, Citizen were more about the Canadian government. And it seems that my worst nightmares about copyright and content are coming true.

I am going to have to rethink all of my media consumption behaviours. Ranging from ebooks to mp3s to DVDs.

I’m starting to really understand companies like Wattpad, Smashwords, CD Baby, O’Reilly and others that offer distribution, monetization and consumer choice related to DRM.

Additional Reading

reply, Reply All and bcc:

There is a difference between small ‘r’ reply and a big ‘R’ reply all. There seems to be a group that insists on the “me too”, “count me in”, “+1”  emails. This existed in grad school, it was particularly prevalent at Microsoft, and seems to continue. Maybe it is that I use 3 email address, the first I started using in 1994, the second in 2001 and the third in 2004. Email addresses 1 & 2 forward to email address 3. I get a lot of email. And the “count me in”, “+1” behaviour adds zero signal to email conversations when used with the “Reply All”.

The other thing that has been driving me a little batty is the Introduction. I am trying to follow the advice of David Cohen and Fred Wilson, aka The Double Opt-In Introduction. On blind introductions, I try to ask each person to “opt-in” to the introduction to the other. This requires additional email, but it also requires that I separately compose an introduction email with relevant information (think LinkedIn profiles, Twitter accounts, URLs, etc.), my reasons for why I think the connection is valuable to both parties, my expected action from the recipient, and an expected/requested timeframe for action. Once both parties have “opted in” I add both to the “To:” line of a message and include the previous information, my reasoning and the desired actions and timeframes.

(Okay, I don’t always do the double opt-in. I don’t do blind introductions. But there are situations where people ask for intros to friends, and if I know the friend has an open policy on these introductions I will do a bit of diligence and make the connection).

The breakdown that I’m seeing is post introduction. When the 2 parties reply to each other. They continue to reply to or include me on the cc: to the conversation thread. What I would like to see instead is the initial respondent move me to the BCC: line. This provides social proof that the individual has received and  acknowledged my request/introduction. But allows me to not participate in the ongoing conversation.

Reply to Introductions & BCC: the connector

What are other email tips?

Kindle SF

It has been 2 years since my Kindle arrived (September 2, 2010 to be exact). Sure not exactly an early adopter, it was more than 3 years after the initial launch of the device and part of the product and marketing blitz that allowed Kindle books to outsell print books in Q4 2010. And for the most part I have switched my consumption to digital books. Not including technical books (thank you O’Reilly), I have purchased and read 85 science fiction books on the Kindle (almost 1 book per week).

I started reading digital editions of Hugo and Nebula award winners. I started with John Scalzi’s
award winning Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony, and Zoe’s Tale. These books are amazing, they are a great romp through crazy military and technology. I continued with The Evolutionary Void continuation of the Void Trilogy (which was part of Peter F Hamilton’s Commonwealth Saga including Pandora’s Star and Judas Unchained possibly 2 of my favorite books in the past 10 years). I was waiting for new new releases from Charles Stross, Alastair Reynolds, Richard Morgan, Cory Doctorow and Orson Scott Card. While waiting I decided to switch strategies, I would try to find books that were $0.99-$2.99 in price. My reasoning, my engagement per book was just greater than 7 days, I figured like renting a movie (approximately $5.99 for 2 hours on iTunes HD) that would be my threshold. Unless a book was part of a series I had read previously, or an author I was following my limit was $2.99/book.

There are a lot of interesting books but here are my favorite series and authors. What are you reading?

Wool by Hugh Howey

Hugh Howey Wool Omnibus

This might be the best SF I have read in a long time. The Wool series is one of the most engaging dystopian futures I have read. I starting reading based on a tweet by John Lilly. It’s just an amazing series.

Spinward Fringe by Randolph Lalonde

Another Canadian. This one living in Sudbury. Like many others I’m waiting Broadcasts 7 & 8. This incorporated a lot of future tech I have seen elsewhere but it is the characters and the story lines that make it worth the read.

Spinward Fringe - Broadcast 3: Triton

Prides of Sol by Rod Rogers

Vaughn Heppner

Invasion AlaskaVaughn Heppner is a Canadian living in California. Hoping this counts as Can-Con. The Doom Star series is a little out there – genetic engineering, cyborgs, space battles, subterranean cities. But it’s a fun read, the characters are relatable

Evan Currie

Another Canadian. Hmmm, I wonder if there is a trend. The Warrior’s Wings series is one of my recent favourites. It’s great romp of military science fiction.

BV Larson Follow @bvlarson

This is a strange series. I disliked BV Larson’s Mech series, I disliked the books so much that for the first time I did not finish the series. But I have enjoyed the expanding Star Force Series. The simplicity of programmed circuits and logic for a species is very interesting, particularly when matched against the less than binary humans.

Maker’s mode

CC-BY-NC-ND-20  Some rights reserved by drp
AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by drp

It has been a long time since I built anything. I was trying to think through my last set of projects where I did the “making”.

  • Influitive – I started Influitive with Mark Organ (@markorgan) in the fall of 2010. We built the first set of mockups, screen flows, wireframes and prototypes with a very small team. It was a ton of fun, it wasn’t easy, but it was fun.
  • Spadina Optometry – I have the unfortunate task of being the cobbler. It’s nothing fancy, Wordrpress on Dreamhost but it’s HTML5, CSS and some PHP to keep me engaged.
  • StartupNorth/DemoCamp/Founders & Funders – StartupNorth is a blog, written, primarily, 3 guys about Canadian startups and the issues that affect high tech, high potential growth software/SaaS/mobile/etc. companies in Canada. This was about building connections and helping to facilitate a community in Toronto (and across Canada). But StartupEmpire was in 2008, the last DemoCamp was back in 2011. But no one expects that StartupNorth is set to be a game changing media play, it’s a regional blog about high tech entrepreneurship and emerging business models and technology.

I look at my friends that are all very successful in different ways:

They are all making stuff. Whether it is communities, sensor networks, conferences, software companies, it seems to be about making. And they are not alone:

What is making?

Authors produce books. Musicians produce albums (and tours). Vinters produce wine. Master distillers produce whisky. Developers produce software. Entrepreneurs produce companies. I think I need to get my head around making.

“MAKE unites, inspires, informs, and entertains a growing community of resourceful people who undertake amazing projects in their backyards, basements, and garages. MAKE celebrates your right to tweak, hack, and bend any technology to your will. The MAKE audience continues to be a growing culture and community that believes in bettering ourselves, our environment, our educational system—our entire world. This is much more than an audience, it’s a worldwide movement that Make is leading—we call it the Maker Movement.” From Make Magazine

When  I look back on the projects, activities, and companies I had the most fun being a part of in the past 15 years since grad school, they all involved making. Undertaking projects in “backyards, basements and garages”. Some were successful, others were less successful but just as much, maybe more fun.

I’m starting to think rather than looking for a job, I need to start to look for what I’m going to make.

Time to undertake a new project.

Under-related Resources