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.

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.

Gold, Gold!

Jason Fried posted:

Congrats to  for selling over 350,000 copies of Clear in 9 days:…

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.

Putting the first man on the moon

I like reading the obituaries in the NYTs. It’s interesting to see what people who achieve have done with their lives.

This week I found the write up about Joseph Gavin fascinating. He managed about 7,500 people at Grumman Aircraft building the Apollo lunar landers. Most of us take it for granted that these space craft landed men safely on the Moon and returned them to their command modules orbiting the Moon. What they did was incredibly impressive. Imagine never being able to test what you build in real conditions. In every project I’ve ever led, there were ton’s of bugs that emerged only after starting serious testing (web browsers, web servers, devices like the iPhone). Of course, I never had human life relying on my software projects to launch bug free. Even harder! I can’t even image having to manage a project like this.

It was a tricky task. The module had to be light, to reduce energy consumption and battery size. Because there is no air resistance on the moon, reverse acceleration was needed to stop forward progress. Everything had to be tested and tested again: some 14,000 imperfections were corrected over almost a decade. And because there could no testing in actual lunar conditions, an extensive array of backup systems had to be installed while still minimizing weight.

Preparations for the moon landing were inherently uncertain. Imagined possibilities included a layer of dust more than 30 feet thick, a slippery surface like ice, and potholes.

“So we developed a computer program, based on tests of a quarter-scale model of the lunar module, and we ran the program through some 400 different landing conditions,” Mr. Gavin said in an interview with Technology Review, published by M.I.T., in 1994.

The margins for error were so tiny that Commander Armstrong had only 20 seconds of fuel left after changing landing sites because of rocks. Mr. Gavin was “literally” holding his breath, he recalled.

An even more tense moment followed. If the blastoff from the moon’s surface failed — a critical step that could not be simulated in terrestrial tests — Commander Armstrong and Col. Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., the lunar module pilot, would be stranded forever.

Amazing stuff. The article ends with an interesting quote from him on innovation. Working for a big corporation, I see lots of talk about predictability in building technology products. It’s super hard even for the most experienced program managers. Cool to see how some of the best think about these things. Can’t say I disagree with him…

“If a project is truly innovative, you cannot possibly know its exact cost and exact schedule at the beginning,” Mr. Gavin told Technology Review. “And if you do know the exact cost and the exact schedule, chances are that the technology is obsolete.”

Clay Shirky talk

Excellent Ted Talk by Clay Shirky on on-line communities. While it’s a bit dated, much is still very relevant today.

Blog similarities

WordPress cofounder Matt Mullenweg gave a talk at Web 2.0 where he presented what’s coming for the WordPress platform. Didn’t know their office was completely virtual–they all work from home. And their unique users growth numbers are pretty impressive: 2006-2M, 2007-43M, 2008-168M uniques. His main announcement in the talk was launching blog similarties which he titles “Possibly Related Posts” (or readers who read this blog article also read…). You can watch it below. Make sure to watch to the end. The closing note showing WordPress photo blog themes looks incredibly cool.

Architecture astronauts, part deux

My favorite Joe on Software post of all time is his piece on Architecture Astronauts. If you’ve ever worked for a large high tech company, you can’t miss architecture astronauts. They’re everywhere. They either work on projects that never ship or ones that become hopelessly and unnecessarily complex. Joel nails this phenomenon in this article.

These are the people I call Architecture Astronauts. It’s very hard to get them to write code or design programs, because they won’t stop thinking about Architecture. They’re astronauts because they are above the oxygen level, I don’t know how they’re breathing. They tend to work for really big companies that can afford to have lots of unproductive people with really advanced degrees that don’t contribute to the bottom line.

He just posted a follow-up to this post. It’s mostly a rant about Microsoft shenanigans and the evils of big companies. But he also provides some examples of the latest architecture astronaut output from Redmond. His related anecdote about big company recruiting impacts is also interesting:

…between Microsoft and Google the starting salary for a smart CS grad is inching dangerously close to six figures and these smart kids, the cream of our universities, are working on hopeless and useless architecture astronomy…