SpaceX

Watched an interesting 60 minutes piece on Elon Musk. He was a co-founder of PayPal and is now a billionaire. While some see him as arrogant, and he may be, you have to tip your hat on some of things he’s trying to do. Founding any company is tough. He’s been working at trying to startup a new car company and with SpaceX, a private space company, among a few others. He could easily be sitting around Silicon Valley investing in companies and sitting on various boards. Instead, he’s trying to build some pretty incredible new businesses. The immense complexity of building an electronic car and manned space flight boggles my mind for any one person to drive. As an entrepreneur, I can’t help but be inspired by what he’s trying to do.

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Finding a guiding principle

We’re pretty surrounded these days with methodologies on how to live life. The self books seem endless. One of the common themes in finding work happiness is following your passion. It’s good advice but also simplistic. If it were that easy, we’d all be enjoying daily bliss. I just finished a great talk by Bret Victor, a past Apple designer and now researcher. He was talking at an engineering conference in Canada where he spoke about it might not be enough to find your passion, you need to find a guiding principal, a responsibility, almost be an activist and dedicate yourself to fighting for a cause. He talked a bunch about a number of computer science pioneers such as Doug Engelbart, Alan Kay, Richard Stallman and Larry Tesler and how their work was more than just making money or finding a new market. All these guys’ activism occurred through inventing.  While the talk is targeted more to software engineers, I think it’s equally interesting for designers or anyone that builds software. If you don’t care for his ideas around guiding principles, you can skip the second half but still see some great demos on projects he’s working around immediate feedback tools for creatives.  The whole talk is about one hour, and well worth the time.


Urbanized

I just finished a great documentary on urban design by Gary Hustwit. He’s pretty well known in design circles for his other design documentaries on typography and industrial design. In Urbanized, he covers the design of cities. Anyone who knows me well, knows I have a strong interest in architecture. So, the subject is a natural interest of mine. The film didn’t dwell too much on the failure of cities, but rather their challenges for the future. One interesting point, that with the huge growth of China and India, that much of the most interesting innovation will likely be coming from those countries in this century. That’s pretty exciting and a big shift from the US dominated 20th century. A couple of parts of the movie that were meaningful to me:

  • Modernism – Jan Gehl, an architect from Copenhagen talked in the DVD extras about the modernists who came out of WWI (think Mies van der RoheLe Corbusier and later Louis Kahn, Marcel Breuer) who thought you should separate workplace, living and communication. You want to make free standing buildings, but not necessarily in cities, so you could have open space and pack in lots of people. The city works like a machine. But what the movement ignored, according to what people later told him, was a focus on individuals. Certainly seeing big housing projects, that some aspects of the movement inspired, in places like Chicago and New York are depressing. But I do think great architecture can inspire. Some of the buildings created from the modernist movement do inspire me. But I can’t say the modernists ideas around urban design are necessarily right, as the documentary seems to suggest.
  • Public Transportation – Probably the most charismatic character in the film was Enrique Penaslosa, the former mayor of Bogota. He said the only way to restrict traffic jams is to restrict car use. The most obvious way to do that is by restricting parking. He said people seem to think parking is a right–but what constitution has the right to park as a main tenet? Parking isn’t a government problem, but people are. They created a bus based public transportation system.  Buses operate in exclusive lanes so they don’t have to deal with traffic. And commuters enter/exit them from elevated stations just like subways. Here’s the key, for the same price of a 25km light rail system, they can put in 400km of bus way. With all the nonsense that we’ve dealt with in Seattle over the years with our various public transportation proposals, this seemed like a real pragmatic way of looking at moving lots of people in a cost effective way. He ended with public good prevailing over private interests. A bus with a 100 people has a free lane and gets people to places faster than a car with a single person. Great stuff.
  • Cycling – OK, a little biased here as I’m a bike commuter, but seeing cycling design in Copenhagen was inspiring.  They have bike lanes next to side walks. Side walks are for slow traffic, bike lanes allow a bit faster flow, and then you have car-ways. But in-between the bike lane and roadway, you have parked cars. This way parked cars act as a natural barrier for protecting cyclists. I feel like riding in that sort of environment would be heaven. 37% of everyone in Copenhagen commutes to work by bike. The percentage in Seattle is around 3% and we’re one of the biggest cycling cities in the US. Pretty phenomenal.

There’s tons more examples like those throughout the film. What was missing from the film was more thinking from those opposed to many of the ideas presented. For example, there was just one person I recall, a real-estate developer from Phoenix in a section on suburban sprawl, who offered some thoughts on why suburbanization wasn’t a bad thing . I would have liked to see more counter arguments to what seemed like a more liberal view point on urbanism. But the film was still excellent and inspiring for what your own city could be. On IMDb, I rated it 8 out of 10 stars.


Starbucks going a little Apple

Dezeen has published a few pretty interesting Starbuck store concepts recently. There’s a store in Japan and another in Amsterdam that are pretty stunning. They remind me of Apple Stores in a way where the store experience is as important as the products consumed in them. Right now, Starbuck stores are pretty bland for the most part. But the brand is super powerful and seen pretty positively by most people. Imagine if every (major) Starbucks had a beautiful, contemporary store design. Starbucks could commission local architects in every major city–every city gets a “flagship” store design. Since I’d imagine it being impossible to have a custom designed store in every nook that Starbucks inhabits across a city, maybe smaller stores in the same city can take on design elements from the flagship, tying together a theme throughout the city to keep design costs down. I think beautiful, inspired stores could definitely revitalize the brand. I tend to inhabit the indie coffee houses in Seattle. But a beautiful Starbucks store would definitely attract me.


Verifying your system for Flashback.G

Nasty little Mac trojan floating around, either penetrates via old versions of Java or installs via a fake certificate message claiming to be Apple. Once installed it tries to sniff out username and passwords entered in your browser. To check and remove it:

If you suspect you’ve already been infected, you can check by launching Terminal (in /Applications/Utilities/) and pasting in the code below, and pressing Return:

ls /Users/Shared/.*.so

If the response you see in Terminal includes “No such file or directory,” you’re in the clear. If you instead see a list of one or more files with a .so extension and no “no such file” declaration, you may well have fallen victim to the malware.

If you do find that you’re infected, removing the files referenced above or installing antivirus software like Intego’s should remove any traces of Flashback.


Gold, Gold!

Jason Fried posted:

Congrats to  for selling over 350,000 copies of Clear in 9 days: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/apps…

There’s been lots of reports like this coming through the wire lately in the app development world. It’s definitely cool to see. But I can’t help thinking that there will be a ton more apps coming in the marketplace with most probably not all that great. What was it they said about the 1800s gold rush? It wasn’t the miners who got rich, but the ones supplying them. I guess that would be the cynical view. The exciting story for me is small dev shops being able to make a living at building apps they love without taking investment dollars and having to grow to hundred million dollar valuations or praying to get acquired as an exit. Here’s to the miners.


Dusting off the blog

Kick starting the old blog back into gear. It’s been too long since I’ve been writing and I want to get back to it. It’s interesting, since Twitter came along and with it the 140 character post, I feel like I’ve lost touch with a lot of friends and colleagues who used to blog pretty frequently. I really enjoyed their posts. But then we all got busy (and lazy) and the status update replaced the longer form narrative. As I’m as guilty as anyone, I figured I should practice what I preach and start blogging again. Maybe a few others will follow. In any event, stay tuned, more to come.