ZEN

Belgium (part 2)

18th July 2014

My first impressions of Belgium were of Gent, a small student city to the west of Brussels, since then I’ve been staying in Brussels with my friend Anna and her cat Hera; this has widened my perspective of Belgium and the people who live here in the best possible way.

Hera the cat

The first thing I realised when I explored this city for the day was that Brussels is exactly as it seems. What I mean is that people and places are not coloured in a certain light, they are not fake and they are exactly as they are. The junkies who shoot up heroin do so in the park and aren’t ashamed of their nature, the young (and old) who dance to 50’s tunes at Mémé Moustache are drunk on delicious 10% beer and don’t worry about the fact, there is no conformist culture of fashion in the way I’ve seen it before. Individuality is accepted and encouraged.

Brussels is safe but not cushy, clean but not tidy and beautiful but not pretty. The more I see the more I love of this wonderful country.

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Belgium

16th July 2014

Belgium is unreal. I’ve been in Gent for two days now and I love it here.

Belgium is the first country I’ve ever visited that completely just ‘gets it’. They don’t have tons of health and safety bullshit, but nobody is stupid - they seem to favour individual liberty and trust people to not be stupid.

The people are friendly and welcoming, their country appears like it’s being taken care of by a government that actually cares, there is greenery everywhere, a scandinavian-esque kind of style set against a backdrop of illustrious castles and cathedrals.

For example, yesterday I was walking down the street and there were some workers installing some kind of poster or something on a high wall with a small cherry-picker. In Australia we would have seven guys in high visibility vests, 6 red barricades, the street would be closed and there would be two warning signs so you are still safe (and they aren’t liable) if you miss the first. Was there any of that here? Nope. Everyone made their way past it, nobody walked close enough to put themselves in danger and parents kept their children from playing with anything they shouldn’t.

The other thing which surprised me is that trams run on the road alongside cars and everyone shares the same space (even bicycles). No cyclists seem phased by the trams, they just keep out of the way and get on with their business. If they are in the way, the tram driver has a dinky little bell she can ring at you if you are blocking her way.

These are still very fresh impressions, but I like to try to capture my feelings about a place before I normalise and become used to it. Tonight we will see what Brussels has to offer!

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Feeling understood

21st October 2013

For me, communicating and feeling understood is one of the most pleasurable and rewarding things I can do with my time. It’s unfortunate that I’ve met only a handful of people in my life that I can feel this way when talking with. This is the criteria I tend to use when judging the closeness of my friends and the intimacy of a relationship.

Something I have recently discovered is that my perception of someone else’s understanding of me is often wrong, and being understood does not always mean feeling understood. For example, there is a person I know whom I often don’t give enough credit for her understanding of what I say and the meaning of my behaviour - yet she constantly surprises me with the insight she has to why I do and say what I do. Understanding this mechanism is great, it let’s me put the people I know into distinct groups: people I feel to understand me, and people I don’t.

What I term “being understood” is really the feeling I get when I can verbalise raw thought and the other person will ‘just get’ the context and what lead me to say that - that ‘click’ when thought is transferred in as explicit a manner as possible with language.

The best part about this kind of interaction is the freedom of expression it allows, there are no taboos or things you need to avoid in fear of being ‘taken the wrong way’. This feels comfortable and even the presence of a person like this improves my mood.

What to take from this?

  • How can I optimise for being understood? Is doing this something I even want to do?
  • Is it possible to manipulate my perception and feel understood by those who do understand me but I don’t feel understood by?
  • What is the mechanism which drives the ‘click’ feeling of interactionf with someone like this and what specifically triggers it?

If you have any thoughts on this, email me!

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My understanding of App.Net (and why it’s bad for developers)

23rd April 2013

Let me start off by saying that I am a big supporter of the idea behind App.Net and I have a lot of respect for Dalton and the guys behind it - it’s great. An article I read this morning did get me thinking though.

I agree that the idea of having an underlying architecture that multiple social products are built upon is awesome, and that the potential benefit to users is huge, what I don’t agree with is that it’s good for developers (financially). As a developer, getting users to pay for (or even use) my software is a hard sell - if I power my software with something like App.Net I am essentially telling my users that they also have to go buy some other product that they probably don’t understand for an additional price per year (on top of whatever I do or don’t charge them). At worst this means they won’t consider using my otherwise attractive thing, at best it means I’m sharing a lot of potential revenue with App.Net.

App.Net’s answer to this is the Developer Incentive Program (tl;dr: ADN will give a share of $n per month to apps which users rate highly) - to me this is not a good way of making revenue. The fact remains that ADN is charging each user $36/year to use my app, then allocating a set amount of money per month to pay developers with.

What I think should happen is this: users sign up to App.Net for free, and they charge me when a user signs up to my service (i.e. I pay to use their social app infrastructure on a per-user basis). This means that the developer is the customer rather than the user - I even like this approach better from the perspective of the customer having input in the direction of the product and the customer now being me.

Just my 2¢

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GitHub for government

21st January 2013

I’m a big fan of both Git and Github (both as a product and as a company - it’s made by a bunch of seriously cool people) and I think that a thing like Github is (with a few pretty minor tweaks) what we need to bring our 19th century governments into the 21st century.

Our popular democratic government systems are fundamentally broken by design

Let me prefix this: I am Australian and live in Australia, I understand that most of the people reading this will be in America and maybe Europe, so let’s not argue over details but look at the ideas most of the world’s democratic government systems are based upon - they are all pretty similar in concept. My understanding of the way even our government works is quite limited, but I will do my best to present my ideas - if I am erroneous please let me know

It seems to me that representative government is designed to solve the following problem: people have different views and beliefs; in order to develop policies which best represent the group as a whole, we elect people whom we believe best echo our views and interests to represent us in the creation and uphold of laws.

Ideally, everyone should be able to represent their own unique views on every issue individually. When you have 21 million people who each have slightly differing views on issues, this becomes difficult for a couple of reasons: - If you tried to put all those people in a room and consider every single opinion, it would take so long that nothing would get done - Not everyone has the time to go sit in a room arguing about laws all the time, and it seems unfair that a person shouldn’t have their view/s represented because they don’t have time to argue it

These are legitimate problems and it seems this is the reason our current models of government have stuck around so long. Although our present government models kind of work, there are some serious issues:

- When you elect an individual to represent your interests, they are always going to have their own interests as well. It’s human nature to put your own interests first and until the human mind completely changes corruption and self serving lawmaking is always going to be an issue. - Because of the amount of interaction, voting parties and the general inefficiency of the whole system, the time frame from realising a change needs to be made (even if the majority agrees on this) and actually applying a real law is sometimes many years. - The process for an individual to propose a change to the law and actually have that suggestion heard is often long, unclear and off-putting unless they are already heavily involved in politics. - Running a system of parliament and employing all the people needed to make such a system work in hugely expensive and resource hungry. - The amount of formal and informal education required to even think about contributing to politics is extremely prohibitive to ‘normal people’.

Github for government

It seems that the technology we have right now (computers, smartphones, widespread availability of internet) could solve most of these problems and provide a much better system. Admittedly I haven’t considered a lot of details - but I’d like to present the basic idea and get some feedback.

What I propose is a Github-esque system of collaborative document editing/versioning/merging for legal documents and laws. Imagine how unimaginably fucking fantastic it would be if I as a regular dude could go fork some law, change some things around, make a pull request and if approved by a group of maintainers (not sure how these people would be elected? Perhaps the whole thing would need a reputation based moderation system a la StackOverflow?) be voted on by the general public. I think that would be amazing.

What this would mean for government as we know it

Our whole system of party politics could be thrown out, and with it all the bias and relationship bullshit that comes with it. Everyone could vote on and discuss individual, modular issues which are completely separate to each other - it seems obvious that government should be done this way. Why do I need to agree with everything some particular politician thinks? What if one person represents my views relating to education and health, but I completely disagree with their policy regarding same sex marriage and the environment? Why can’t I have the best of all the opinions across all members of all parties? Why do we even have parties if such a collaborative, distributed, modular approach to government is possible?

Everyone can participate

If we were to implement such a system, those with smartphones could download a Government app and receive notifications when there is a new proposed change to vote on. If they don’t particularly care about certain issues, they could choose to ‘follow’ certain ‘repositories’ of laws. Those without smartphones could receive an email notifying them that there is a new change to vote on. There would probably need to be some amount of buffer time between proposing a law change and deciding that it’s agreed upon (maybe something like 30-45 days could be allowed to give everyone time to review changes and check their email), but I don’t think every single person should necessarily have to vote on every single issue - you shouldn’t be forced to make a decision on something you don’t care about or know enough about to feel you can make educated judgement. There should certainly be a minimum number (somewhat like the Whitehouse’s threshold for proposals to be reviewed, maybe there would be some kind of minimum stars or votes for a pull-request to be reviewed and go to a public vote for approval? Just thinking aloud here)

There could be a global changelog on the homepage, showing all the changes in chronological order, people could subscribe to notifications and be alerted when this changes.

Let’s do it

I understand that ripping the current government system out by the roots sounds crazy and impossible, but throughout history bigger changes have happened. I think there would be an incredible amount of public support for something like this if there is a way of explaining this system to regular people and educating them as to how it could benefit them. It certainly needs a whole lot more thought and detail, and if you have any ideas, thoughts or feedback (positive or negative) I would love to hear them.

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On Trust

17th November 2012

In retrospect, this seems obvious - but I think all real realisations are that way, aren’t they?

I’ve been told by many people throughout my life to “only ever trust yourself” - I never really interpreted this correctly and as a result, thought it was some closed minded and shitty advice; turns out I was wrong.

Only trusting yourself vs. trusting yourself to judge others

The really important differentiation here is between “only trusting yourself” (or more specifically, the implication of not trusting anyone else) and trusting your instincts (which I think is a much better way of putting this idea). Trusting your instincts is extremely important - sometimes they’re wrong, but most of the time they aren’t.

If you feel deep down that you can entrust your life to a person, trust your own judgement.

Sounds ludicrous right? But really, if you don’t think you can rely on your own [seemingly rash] judgement, how do you feel comfortable trusting anyone else’s judgement? It makes no sense. In the last 6 months or so I’ve rapidly become a much more confident person, much of this I attribute to trusting myself; there are more instances than I care to mention where I’ve acted upon someone else’s advice (in the past) in spite of my gut feeling being different, only to realise months (or years) later that I was right.

Trust yourself, take risks and own your failures

Sounds obvious and silly to the initiated, but I wish I had the sense to realise this a long time ago.

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Get your shit together, people

3rd September 2012

Disclaimer: I live in Brisbane, Australia. My only real window to what is happening in silicon valley is HN and the blogs of various founders and VCs from the valley. If my assumptions are completely wrong, please do let me know.

Shitty products

Right now in the world there are so many talented and skilled developers - why are so many of us working on such shitty, menial ideas? I mean there are exceptions - but it also seems like there are so many people working on really stupid things. No, I don’t want to sign up to your bootstrap themed product which looks like it was thrown together in a week and performs no valuable purpose to my daily life (which I can’t replicate more elegantly with a text file). It seems like we are becoming so intent on ‘shipping’ something, that we are willing to throw anything out there and hope that by chance, we make something that someone, somewhere wants.

[This article] by [Marius Andra] really struck a chord with me and somewhat inspired this post.

A friend of mine is starting what can only be described as a combination of Facebook, Groupon, LinkedIn and Foursquare. He’s super excited and hasn’t talked to any potential customers yet.

I know a guy whose startup pivots twice a year, each time hoping to solve a problem that’s not really there. Now they’re cloning Yammer.

Some other guys had an idea, received validation from two potential clients, raised funding, hired a lot of people, built a product and discovered nobody really wants to pay for it.

Here’s a thought, spend more time on something which you know is great, and launch it with polish. Don’t ship your shitty, half baked product - launch it well and give people something to gasp at. Until then, keep thinking.

The startup “romantic era”

We are treating business like it’s a fucking art form. If you haven’t already seen this, read a couple of posts on [Double Stealth], if this sounds anything like you, go find a mirror, look into it for a long time and seriously thing about what you doing.

Remember this: business is about selling things to people. People are just like you - if you are working on something which you would not personally stand outside in the cold for a couple of hours to pay money for, you’re probably doing it wrong (Well, not quite to that extent, but I’m sure you know what I mean).

People waiting to buy some cool-ass shiny Apple shit

The other thing to remember is that most consumers do not really care about (or understand) how your product is slightly better in some way than what they use right now - for them, it’s much easier to stick with writing shit down on a piece of paper than figure out how to use your swanky web-based AJAXy responsive ‘disruptive’ to-do list which syncs between multiple devices and uses local storage for fast access to data.

Give them something they are genuinely amazed by - I remember when I first saw an iPhone 3G in the flesh (the original iPhone was never released in Australia). My friend came over to my place one afternoon and showed me this new phone of his (at the time I had one of [these babies], a HTC TyTN II) I had never used a capacitive touchscreen before and thought it was fucking magical. Needless to say, I went and bought one as soon as my high-school job allowed me to.

The moral of the story is that you need to make products which make people do that. Build something so awesome that it sells itself, I had never seen an Apple commercial or read the tech-specs - but after playing with it in my hands for a couple of minutes I was absolutely sold.

Some more examples of products like this - [Github] - [Heroku] - [Gmail] - [Spotify] - [Dropbox]

Now stop sipping soy lattes in a cafe behind your Macbook, reading Hacker News and pondering which company you want your shitty little insignificant thing to be acquired by, and build something which makes people’s fucking jaw drop

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Working is a scam

6th August 2012

Working a “real” job is a scam.

In Australia, the average life expectency is 81. Let’s assume for a moment that a person starts working full time at 21 and retires at 60, this is assuming you are earning an above average salary (the “retirement age” in Australia is actually 65). This means you will work full time for 39 years. If you average 4 full work days per week over your working life, you will have spent just over 22 years at work.

Why do we do this?

Unless you are an exception and absolutely love your 9-5 job, you are effectively wasting over a quarter of your life doing something purely to survive. When it’s put that way, that $100k you earn (if you’re lucky) sounds pretty unattractive, doesn’t it? I mean, if you’re working for your self there is the potential to earn so much more - and that’s not even the best part… Working for yourself frees you from so many restrictions. Want to take that 7 day trip to Melbourne? Go for it, just take your laptop along and put in a couple of hours a night in your hotel room. Want to backpack across South East Asia? Go for it!. You can be living any kind of life you want, while your friends are stuck in the office watching the clock and planning their weekend.

It’s not for everyone

If you are happy with your corporate job, good for you. The point of this post is not to tell everyone what they should do, but to point out that if you are not happy doing what you’re currently doing, don’t just suck it up, do something else because right now, especially in IT, if your business idea fucks up, there are plenty of other jobs. The days of working with one company and scaling up the corporate ladder until you reach your comfortable seat on a high branch are over.

Just be prepared for a long and often uncertain journey. The good stuff doesn’t come easy. (Tim Westergren, Pandora)

Now stop being lazy and go take some risks, because if you fail, at least you can say you tried.

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