Hacker Tourism

Tech strategy consigliere.

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Something only two people know about Haml

Did you ever wonder about the origin of the !!! doctype directive that’s at the top of almost every Haml file?

It must have some deep, historically significant meaning that pays tribute to Turing or Minsky, right?

In May of 2006, Hampton and the of the folks at Unspace were really into !!!, The Go! Team, Sunset Rubdown, Tapes and Tapes, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Junior Senior and Stereolab.

And now at least three people know.

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Several years ago I went through the laborious task of switching email addresses. This time I really wanted it to stick, because in addition to notifying everyone that I interact with about the change, it takes literally days to manually change the contact details for every web site I use — and that’s with a password manager providing me with a handy checklist. I can’t even imagine trying to make a list of accounts across the web off the top of my head.

I knew that I was going to use my peteforde.com domain, but that left the small question of what my new email address should be.

  • [email protected]
  • [email protected]
  • [email protected]
  • [email protected]
  • [email protected]

Believe it or not, I stared at this list so long that I ended up sending an informal survey to about 40 of my friends seeking opinions. I’ve seen them all used, but there’s no convention.

[email protected] was a...

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Never estimate the size of someone else’s job

I got your note. I’d be happy to try and refer you to someone that can do your small project.

Here are some questions that maybe you could answer first?

What is the budget?

What is the criteria for a successful project execution?
Is this intended to be an HTML5 web and mobile app? A native iOS or Android app? Or something else entirely?
What is the timeline? Is it a one-off or does it require support?
Is this going to be a new project or does it build on earlier work?
Is this the first attempt or has someone else already failed?
Are you soliciting bids / is there an RFP?
Who is the person running the project on your end and what is their background? Are they empowered to make decisions?
Where will the project be deployed?
Are there any legal or technical constraints which must be considered?
Are there any strong opinions about technology choices on the table?
What languages must be...

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Pretty commonplace

“It was pretty commonplace.”

Lived as kings

There’s always a first time that you see a new turn of phrase enter the common vernacular. Remember when Jon Stewart brought “douchebag” back into regular use?

Most of the time it’s much more subtle than that. It could be regional or perhaps it’ll seem like a phrase is taking off but then it doesn’t. The first time I ever heard the term “no homo” was in an awesome Jay Smooth video explaining why we shouldn’t use the term — it’s not funny anymore and it wasn’t funny originally. Noted and check!

Suddenly I started seeing “pretty commonplace” everywhere. It sounded British and therefore a bit exotic and sophisticated. I liked that it seemed to be used in contexts that seemed contrary to the emphasis the speaker appeared to want to convey. Ironic self-deprecation? I was reminded of my lifelong difficulty remembering that to “luck out” was a really good...

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Two things I wish someone had told me about starting a consultancy

I made lots of mistakes building Unspace. Advance warning will not give you immunity, but G.I. Joe taught us that “knowing is half the battle.”

Billable Viking Hours

  1. There is a chasm of sorrow that starts the moment you hire your first employee and lasts until your team is roughly 10 people

    How many founding partners do you have? Call that n. Stay n big as long as you possibly can. You will soon look back at this era as simpler times that you wish you could go back to.

    If any of your founding partners are not going to stick around, this is precisely when you should figure that out. If you stay n-big for two years, that’s not a bad thing. You’ll figure out what your values are and one day notice that you have a culture.

    It’s very rare for a company to suddenly become design-first if there’s no founding design partner. During the early days you might notice that you don’t have a marketing genius or a...

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How to tell your friend that their startup idea sucks

Someone on Hacker News asked “How do I tell my friend his startup idea sucks” and as it happens, this is something I have a lot of experience with.

Your friend is lucky to have a friend that is willing to tell them the truth; most people are cowards when it comes to saying the most important things until it’s already too late. We’re trained from birth to tell people what we think that they want to hear because it feels good to tell someone that they’re brilliant.

Giving someone the hard truth feels awful. Yet if we only ever tell someone that their idea is great, what do we do when their next idea is actually great? “This one is really really great!” “Last time I was lying but this time it’s actually great!”

A startup is a temporary business structure that exists only to prove or disprove a hypothesis about a market opportunity with the fewest number of steps (time, money, resources).


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How many watches can one person wear?

Forget “eyeballs”. With so many eager Pebble clones on the horizon, could wrist real-estate bottleneck the Internet of Things?

Synchronize Swatches

At 35 years old, I just barely sneak in at the tail end of Generation X — and most of my friends that are similar in age don’t wear watches.

“Kids” younger than me? They really don’t wear watches. Like… at all.

I didn’t wear a watch for many years, but I grew to really love the design aesthetics of the Nixon Rotolog:

Nixon Rotolog

Later, I fell hard for the LIP Diode:

LIP Diode

Both of these beautiful watches now collect dust because I’m completely dependent upon my Pebble. It’s dorky looking, but it has dramatically improved the quality of my life in a very simple way: my phone no longer rings or vibrates, ever.

There are two dramatic ramifications of this, both of which massively over-shadow any particular “feature”.

First, when I’m meeting with someone and my job is to...

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Gun bag: good art makes us uncomfortable

Last year, I bought my ex a purse that could get her killed.

Guardian Angel, by Vlieger & Vandam

She’d seen Vlieger & Vandam’s “Guardian Angel” bag at MoMA, and finding the one she wanted to surprise her with became a quest. She was a design expert living in Netherlands, and I don’t know anything about handbags but I was happy to be with someone quirky enough to appreciate such a polarizing accessory.

As soon as we had it in hand, I started to get nervous. The bag was in the US and we live in Canada. I was afraid that shipping it would result in customs cutting into it like morons, so we planned to bring it home from a wedding. That’s when we saw the warning tag attached to the bag with a little chain:

To avoid any problems don’t take your Guardian Angel bag on a plane as hand luggage or to a bank to get cash

Jesus Christ: we’re trapped in the most paranoid country on earth with what is essentially a fake weapon to a...

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Introverts: you probably aren’t crazy (but you might be highly sensitive)

Susan Cain’s “Quiet” educated people about the introvert’s social interaction patterns, specifically our need to balance social time with time alone to recharge. While accurate, this is a narrow perspective that ignores the role of what Dr. Elaine N. Aron describes as the “highly sensitive person”.

Paraphrasing from Wikipedia:

A highly sensitive person (HSP) is a person having the innate trait of high sensory processing sensitivity. HSPs comprise about a fifth of the population (equal numbers in men and women) and may process sensory data much more deeply and thoroughly due to a biological difference in their nervous systems. This is a specific trait, with key consequences for how we view people, that in the past has often been confused with innate shyness, social anxiety problems, inhibitedness, social phobia and innate fearfulness, and introversion. Although the term is primarily...

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Value pricing is easy

I used to be a dyed-in-the-wool true believer in “time and materials” hourly billing. I’ve now come full circle, and you should too.

The Price is Right

You already have an hourly rate, so take that number and multiply it by your best estimate of the number of hours it will take to do the work.

$150/hour x 100 hours = $15,000

Now, take that number and double it. Then round up to the nearest 4, in thousands.

($15,000 x 2) + $4000 = $34,000

That’s it; you’re done. That’s what the project will cost.

Everyone is happier.

My rationale in support of time and materials was reasonable: estimates are guesses and in a fixed price project, one party always wins and one party always loses. It’s usually the vendor that ends up taking a bath. If you do great work for your client on an hourly basis, they will happily to ask you to do more.

On paper, this sounds great and sometimes this is exactly what...

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