Weekly Review #93: All-powerful Wechat, clever Instagram data, and Chatroulette zombie FPS

If you read one article this week, read A16Z’s rundown of Wechat as The One App To Rule Them All. As the sole American in my Chinese company, I can safely say that this app blows any Western counterpart out of the water, and here is exactly why.

Likewise, Jordan Kong explains why Wechat happened over there, not here – China has better wifi and phablets, Wechat offers better devtools.

Tech

Lots of startups: Gone App - take pictures of your old electronics, they take care of the selling and pay you. Startup Timelines allows you to explore the formative years of some of the biggest companies. Improve Presentation gives you Powerpoint templates to create stellar stuff fast. Wedgies lets you poll people online, in real time, and the Knock Knock App seeks to fill the hole Bump left behind – tap phones next to each other and share contact into.

FrontApp predicts that email will become more messaging-like, AI assisted, connected to more stuff, and multiplayer. I agree.

Austen Allred’s Hacker’s Guide to User Acquisition guide isn’t done, but the Instagram and PR chapters are done, and they’re high quality.

Lifehacks

Always Sunny in San Francisco lets you explore the weather in SF neighborhoods using real time instagram photos. I wonder what other uses real time instagram data could be put to?

 An Entrepreneur interview with my father from September 2000 shows that not much has changed in Productivity in the past 15 years – meeting efficiency, process over product, and a fun culture remain important. Only change is that now you can attach things to emails :).

Bryan Franklin creates a dichotomy for entrepreneurs - create what I want, or what they want? Pt Barnum vs Henry Ford, or Larry Ellison vs Steve Jobs. His solution – become your customer, then create what you want.

Fun

Moby Dick was Translated into Emoji. You’re Welcome.

Star Wars + Daft Punk – Darth Punk. Cool!

Guy lets strangers control him through ChatRoulette, in an IRL FPS zombie shooter. Incredible!

The Hippies Were Wrong, But So Are The Businessmen

from Glamhag on flickr

I never paid much attention to hippies or the New Age movement. I’ve been too busy consuming everything I could about the tech industry instead. Peace, love, and rock n roll were for my parent’s generation, not mine.

But as I get older I find myself drawn more and more into ‘the woo-woo stuff‘. From a daily meditation routine, to gratitude journals, to appreciating the ability to spend a day doing nothing, it’s provided a healthy counterpart to my ambitious businessman side. (Stop me if I ever start babbling about the healing powers of crystals.)

However, I don’t think either extreme is a good idea – businessman or hippie. Each represents an archetype on opposing ends of the Subjective/Objective duality, and as we all know, to live well one must balance each of those sides.

The hippies did a great job of not being attached to materialistic things like money and possessions. And they spent a lot of time pursuing spiritual enlightenment through yogis, psychedelics, or meditation. Life was a party all the time, which is great! But they never really impacted anyone outside of their own subjective reality. Plus, if everyone acted like that, the modern world would fall apart. We can’t all frolic in the fields sticking it to the Man, at least not if we want to have a post-Industrial Revolution quality of life.

The archetypal businessmen, meanwhile, is motived by one thing only – profit. He spends all his time creating money, which is a neutral proxy for universal value. Therefore he spends all his time creating objective value for others – theoretically that value is measured exactly by his salary, but in reality it’s distorted somewhat. Regardless, businessmen often fall into the trap of sinking their entire lives into the firm, getting that promotion, that corner office, and that suburban mansion, only to realize on their deathbed that they were never truly happy.

The archetypal hippy and the the archetypical businessman are opposites. One seeks peace, love, happiness, an easy, calm life, and generally not taking things too seriously. Meanwhile the other seeks profit, working hard and playing hard, ‘killing it’, and taking things seriously. One fixates on the present, the other the future. Which appears closer to an artist, and which to a scientist? I hope the parallels here are obvious outside of my head….

What Would a Hippy Businessman Look Like?

I could go on. Heart and mind, intuition and logic, so on and so forth. You get the idea. But if living well is balancing the two extremeness, what would a hippy businessman look like?

A hippie businessman would be motivated both by money and by wellness. He would enjoy his work, while positively impacting others. He would follow his heart, and not just the bottom line. He is both mindful and ambitious. A stressful moneymaking venture is not his style, nor an  passive lifestyle business that allows him to sit back and rake it in. The Why is as important to him as the What.

Who are good examples of hippie businessmen? Steve Jobs is invariably the first that comes to mind, given his early days dabbling in acid, vegetarianism, and yoga. And it’s true that Apple’s take on computers is a lot more organic, friendly, and ‘soft’, than Microsoft.

However, I don’t think Steve is the best example of a Hippy Businessman, because his personal life is infamously chaotic. He was abrasive to both coworkers and family, barely had a life outside of work, and generally was not a person who ‘took it easy’. He was a perfectionist

A better example would be someone like Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, whose book’s subtitle “Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman” says all you need to know. His business is not the end-all, be-all in his life. He pays enough attention to it to make it successful, sustainable, and fair, but does not live to work. Nor does he work to live. He works, and he plays, and the two are not the same, although he enjoys and is fulfilled by both. He spends time with his family and makes sure that his employees can as well.

The true hippy businessman is not someone you see profiled on the front page of Fortune. Their business does well, but not incredibly so, because their business isn’t what they pour all of themselves into. They choose to be great instead of big. Instead you would know one by what their family and friends think of them. They always make it home for dinner, and they value their personal relationships as much as their professional ones. Not a corporate warrior who puts in their 9 to 5 and calls it a day, but someone who takes pleasure in being good at what they do.

Do Lifestyle Entrepreneurs Count?

I’m not sure if I know any hippy businessmen in my real life. I’ve met a few lifestyle entrepreneurs who travel the world off the funds of branding agencies, nonprofits, and consulting, but I’m hesitant to make those count. Their businesses appear to be means to and end, rather than end in itself.  But maybe I’m being too picky.

Here’s a good article about a guy who left his funded startup to start a lifestyle business that touches on the above themes. The way I see it, a hippy business would be the perfect combination of the two. Their business is more than just a source of income, but less than the reason for their existence.

Who do you think is a a good example of a hippy businessman?

Weekly Review #92: Megalomaniac computer programs and Cheryl Strayed’s journey

Not much online this week due to being stranded in the Galapagos, but that means I read a lot!

Daemon

The standout was undoubtedly Daniel Suarez’s Daemon series (Daemon and Freedom(TM)). This came highly recommended by my programmer friends, and it didn’t skimp one bit! I haven’t had this much fun reading since a Crichton novel.

Daemon is essentially Jurassic Park with computers. A millionaire computer scientist CTO dies and leaves behind a daemon computer program that reacts to real world events. So it might read on an RSS feed certain real world news, and in response, trigger an automated phone call to specific people and incentivize them to do things. Or it might lock down a house, frame someone using secret data, or otherwise twist the Internet to its nefarious means.

That’s exactly what the Daemon does – crashing stock markets towards it’s own goal, giving nerdy hackers digital superpowers and unlimited cash, telling corrupt reports where to be and what to report on – all things a computer could plausibly do. That’s what makes Daemon so electrifying – it’s far more realistic than cloning dinosaurs.

And oh, but do things get spicy. It’s weapons of choice are automated cars hooked up to the internet than hone in on infrared humans, which makes them impervious to anything less than bazooka rounds. Oh, and there’s also luxury motorcycles covered in razor sharp swords and laser blinding boxes, so they blind you and then cut you to pieces. All built by unwitting humans who don’t ask questions since they’re paid handsomely for their efforts.

The first book is classic technothriller, and the second is a bit more nuanced, anti-corporate philosophical far. Both are completely worth the read! (Though I must warn, they do read like a hyped up twentysomething programmer’s wet dream sometimes)

Cheryl Strayed

I also read both of Cheryl Strayed’s works - Tiny Beautiful Things and Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Both are essentially memoirs of her life, but TBT is told through an advice column, while Wild is told through her hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (Rocky mountains, from Mexico to Canada). She’s had a helluva rough life (absent father, dead mother, heroin addiction, divorce, impoverished upbringing), and she’s a great writer, so somehow these stand out from most ‘oh my good listen to how hard my life was’ memoir fare.

It also lend her advice a certain gravity. Some writer would write in talking about truly terrible situations, and she would immediately respond with something equally terrible or analogously so from her own life, and offer how she dealt with it. And even when she had nothing to compare with (like a dead son) she would offer an exceptionally nuanced and compassionate response offering her take.

She says all her letters fall into two camps – people who are genuinely lost, and people who know what they must do but shirk away from it. Interesting to see such a pattern.

Wild was a little more typical, but a more linear look at her life and the loss of her mother. I like Cheryl and I think she’s spunky, so I enjoyed hearing about her unique life experience, especially being a solo woman hiker, but maybe it’s not for all. I see parallels between her, the Eat Pray Love woman, and Elle Luna, but Cheryl is probably my favorite of the bunch.

It all makes me wonder – must one experience terrible emotions to make great art? Could Strayed give advice that rang true without having lived through terror and squalor? Would anybody care about her hike if her mom didn’t die? It seems unlikely, and yet that’s so terrible, to have suffered for her art. Then again, what is a life if not lived colorfully? I just feel bad for her…

Galapagos Vacation: Fun, But Low Bang For Your Buck

Made a friend at the “visitor center” lol love that logo #galapagos

A photo posted by Corey Breier (@itscoreyb) on


Just got back from a  week in the Galapagos, and I can’t say that I can recommend it as a destination. It’s regarded as one of those places you must visit before you die, for it’s ecological variety and historical importance as the location where Darwin formulated his theory of evolution. One has happy visions of  island-hopping and encountering endless marine iguanas, giant tortoises, and other exotic animals. But the reality is a bit more mundane.

No Wild Tortoises, and Immobile Iguanas

Humans did their human thing and introduced nasty animals to a pristine island ecosystem, so there are very few giant tortoises left in the wild. You’re guaranteed to see them at a breeding center, but that’s basically a zoo full of only tortoises. There’s hope, since we can breed them in captivity, but they live more than 150 years so it will take a few generations before you can find them ranging the wild hills.

What you will see is a lot of marine iguanas and sea lions. Sea lions are nothing special since you can find them around the world, but it is fun to see them doing their playful thing nearly everywhere. Marine iguanas (and their larger, orange land based cousins) are  found all over the beaches, but as it turns out, they aren’t much fun. All they do is lie on rocks in immobile packs, and sometimes spit excess salt from their nostrils. The most exciting aspect was when they went swimming or came back to shore. They lazily swim using their tail as a propeller, and stoically get washed in or out by pulsing waves, only to grab purchase of the rocks with their claws when they can and nonchalantly swagger in to find a rock to sit on.

These animals, coupled with a few weird looking finches and a desolate volcanic landscape, are exciting for 2 or 3 days. But then it all becomes repeats. You see the same fishes snorkeling, the same iguanas hiking, and the same landscape on all of the islands. We were there for 6 days on a boat cruise, and I felt that it was twice as long as it needed to be (yachts are glorified houseboats, and you end up spending more time on them than on land).

Just Another Tropical Destination

Stripped of ecological novelty and wild tortoise, the Galapagos becomes just another tropical vacation destination, good for warm waters, weird fauna, and endless sun. Except it fares quite poorly as a tropical vacation, given that the water is rather chilly, the island is very remote, and there’s not much in the way of local culture. There’s only two towns of any significance, and they don’t have much to offer beyond a few touristy restaurants. You could do far better in a tropical destination where the islands are closer together, there’s more local culture, and legitimately warms waters (with reef diving! There’s no reef here).

Fort Lauderdale and Miami

This Breier vacation included layover nights in Houston, Quito, and Ft Lauderdale, oddly enough. We were stranded in Houston after missing a flight due to delays, and there’s really nothing to say about Houston. We didn’t even get to explore Quito given the flight layout, and the fact that a nearby volcano had erupted and there were some demonstrators rioting in the streets, apparently. Most of our time there was in the airport.

Ft Lauderdale was the most worthy stop, surprisingly. It’s part of metropolitan Miami, which I’ve never been to, and it had all the elements of a tropical destination I mentioned above, minus animals. The water there is crazy warm – almost too warm! No wonder it’s the default US spring break destination – miles on miles of high rise hotels sit next to the pristine beach, which a promenade dotted with restaurants, ice cream, and jet ski rentals in between. The people watching was almost better than the infamous Venice Beach in LA, which is saying something.

Plus you get Miami’s Latin flavor, which means there’s a lot of Spanish on the streets and in the features of the locals. I popped down to Miami proper for a few hours just to see the infamous South Beach in the flesh (typical overpriced tourist party spot, think Ibiza), drive around downtown (crazy huge skyscrapers amongst canal-like waterways), and poke around the Wynwood district (artsy, gorgeous beautiful murals and art galleries for blocks on blocks on blocks). Definitely want to come back and explore more.

Weekly Review #91: ‘Great Men’ of tech, Coliving Movements, and father/son beyond the grave

Tech

Leo Widrich on How to Get Tech Coverage For Your Startup - be a write, know the writers, time it right, and nail the pitch. One of the best resources I have seen on this topic yet.

Argument that Elon Musk and Steve Jobs become who they are due to a confluence of economic factors, not their individual work alone. I’m not sure where I stand – it’s definitely more than one man’s work – but you need someone to be the tip of the spear and icon for the movement. This is basically the modern version of Caryle’s “Great Man” theory of history.

Jason Cohen outlines why most startup bizdev deals don’t work – it’s not about win-wins, it’s about finding a win for the other guy that helps you.

Jun Loayza ditched his VC-backed startup to do a lifestyle business, and here’s why. It’s a perspective not often seen in Silicon Valley, but then again, as of 2015 he’s at another startup, so I don’t think a true hustler could last without trying to go big.

Here’s a good rundown of The World Domination Summit I crashed a few weeks back – see, no need to watch the talks when people make summary posts like this!

Lifehacks

Buzzfeed sure doesn’t like coliving spaces, but they did a great job detailing all the big ones in NYC, SF, and elsewhere in their piece on WeWork

Fun

Father dies and leaves letters for his son to open at key junctures of life. Sad, but innovative way to stay in touch.