Archive for the Category Ideas

 
 

Patterns

Your life follows patterns.

If you’re employed, a large part of this comes from your job.
If you’re self-employed, you have to make up your own patterns.
If you’re an entrepreneur, your occupation is to make up patterns.

Patterns for yourself. Patterns for your employees. Patterns for the people your business serves.

Patterns that improve their lives. Patterns that improve your life.

This is how you change the world.

Setting meaningful goals

The day before yesterday I found a new way of looking at goal achievement. It’s a perspective shift that makes prioritising the journey to the goal over the achievement of the goal a lot easier. This is kinda cool (horray for new ways of looking at things!), so let’s do a compare-and-contrast of the normal mindset (desire achievement) and the new mindset (strength building).

Method 1: Desire achievement

This is the stock-standard way of thinking about setting and achieving goals. How does it go? You tune in to a desire, define the outcome you want, then try to achieve it. Maybe you succeed and you get what you want (yay!) or maybe you fail and fall on your face (doh).

If you’re doing it this way, your happiness depends on your success or failure. Enjoying the journey doesn’t really come into it. You might try to make your goals fun to work on, but mostly you’re trying to get the enjoyment that comes from achieving the goal.

Method 2: Strength building

A new perspective! With this one, you can discard the contents of the goal as unimportant. Doesn’t matter. Instead, shift your focus from producing external changes (“This is this thing I want to make happen”) to producing internal development (“I want to become stronger”).

This time we don’t even start with an external goal. Instead, we start with an internal characteristic that we’d like to develop and then pick a fun goal that will help us to do so. The contents of the goal is almost meaningless. It doesn’t matter. Just pick something fun (it’s more fun that way ;) ).

This is like weightlifting. You don’t care about the result (the weight is lifted), you care about the muscle growth. But in the same way that you can get just as fit going for a run outside as you can running on a treadmill, some times there is a more fun way to go about it. ;)

What I’m doing

I’m going to experiment with using the strength building method of setting and pursuing goals. The main thing that’s been messing up my business attempts over the past few years is a lack of persistence, so that’s where I’ll start. I’m aiming to build my persistence by tackling progressively longer goals, starting with just an hour’s work per day on a project for a period of 7 days. My focus (doing many hours of uninterrupted work in a day) also sucks, as does my decisiveness (making and sticking to decisions), so I’ll be working on those at some point too. In, of course, the most enjoyable way I can come up with. :)

What about contribution?

With this mindset, contribution (helping others through the achievement of your goals) is one way to make the process of achieving the goal more fun and meaningful. Contribution isn’t the primary aim of the goal setting and achievement exercise.

I’ve previously held this attitude and I found it disempowering. I got caught up in feeling obligated to contribute and had difficulty setting goals that I enjoyed. As a consequence, I didn’t follow through with them. No contribution, and I wouldn’t even achieve the goal for myself.

Contribution does fit into this model. I suspect that if you keep setting and pursuing goals this way contribution will become a major part of every goal you set, simply because it’s fun to do it that way, not because you feel you have to.

Where does this way of thinking come from?

The mindset of strength building through goal achievement comes from thinking of reality as a training ground. A safe playground in which we can practice developing these things (non-physical attributes) without fear of permanently messing anything up. Physical reality is impermanent, so although we’ll get negative feedback if we stuff up, it won’t last, things will change, and we’ll get another chance (unless you die, but some would argue that you’ll still get a second chance ;) ).

The stuff we do in physical reality (manifesting our desires) is play. The important part is happening behind the scenes, as we become stronger in the process.

High-five to Steve Pavlina, who I’m sure somewhere along the way planted the seeds that lead to this post.

A project in the works

It’s been awhile since I’ve had a personal software project to work on. Today I’d like to share how I’m slowly rectifying that to move towards a project that I’ll enjoy working on in my spare time.

In the previous post I mentioned that I have difficulty sticking with one project for long enough to finish it. That was certainly a problem with the previous software project I worked on, called TickTickDone. As a response to that, I’ve been leaning towards blogging as an alternative outlet. Since a blog post doesn’t take very long to write, I could easily blog about one topic as long as it interests me, then switch topics when a new interest comes along.

That idea seems great at first glance, until you consider where my skills lie. I’ve been interested (some would say obsessed) with computers since I was 7, and I’ve been programming for about the same period of time (16 years and counting). In contrast, I never liked English in school and was never a particularly good writer. Maybe you disagree? You are reading this… or maybe you don’t. Either way, I’m far more skilled at expressing myself through code than with words.

The second thing that I considered was that maybe my fluctuating desire wasn’t itself a problem. Maybe I was just bad at choosing ideas? If my idea wasn’t worth pursuing for more than a few weeks, then my intuition would let me know through my waning interest. So today I asked myself the question “What are the characteristics of an idea that I could commit to developing?”. I came up with a bunch of ideas, but here are the essential ones:

  • It should address the most important need that I can identify in the world.
  • No one else would be as perfectly suited to doing it as I am.
  • There is a large enough market to make the idea worth pursuing.

Those sounded great, until I tried to come up with an idea that fit them. Nothing. I’m still holding out for an amazing idea to fall from the sky and enlighten me, but right now I think an incremental approach might be easier to apply, and a bit more trustworthy too.

I’d been looking at this as a venture that would make money, which was a big leap since I haven’t made a significant amount of money over the internet yet. At this point I loosened my grip and tried looking at this undertaking as an extension of a hobby instead of as a business that HAD to make money. I asked: “What would be fun and interesting to do next?”

The answer to that question was a little different. It was to “solve small, fun and interesting problems, and share the solutions with people”. In particular, I plan to give MissionMap and ComicHub a quick facelift and practice getting the word out to people who would enjoy using them. That will be great because I could really use the practice in marketing and promotion.

So that’s a summary of my train of thought. I’ll work on some small projects, build my skills where they’re lacking and gradually move on to bigger and more impactful projects, all the while keeping it fun and interesting. Stay tuned!

Hard-cover notebooks

The other day I bought three hard-cover notebooks. I was thinking back to my 3rd year chemistry research project. I worked with a researcher from the ANU research school of chemistry for a semester. The contents of the project, although interesting, were not the main thing I took away from the experience. What I was left with was a taste of how to apply the scientific method.

When we were working, we would plan an experiment, write out the plan for it (in our hard-cover notebooks) then conduct it right away and analyse the results. From there we could pick a new experiment to try and progress the project, gradually peeling back the walls of our ignorance. I’d read about the scientific method before, but actually doing it was revolutionary to me, since up until that point the only experiments that I’d done were those planned and pre-tested by my teachers. Getting involved and actually investigating something was a whole new ball game.

Back to the hard-cover notebooks. I’ve been struggling for the past year with the challenge of achieving steady, stable, persistent progress. I’d read about something or come up with an idea for a project, and I’d be really excited about it. That would last for an hour, a day, or a week, then the enthusiasm would fade and something else would grab my attention. I’ve been aware of this problem for years since I’ve always had a pattern of short-lived passionate interests, but now I think I’m beginning to discover a solution.

So back to the notebooks. The first has become my lab book, but instead of chemistry experiments I’m using it to conduct life experiments. When I have an idea I want to test, I write up an experiment to test it. So far I’ve used it for experiments on goal achievement, responding to emotions and connecting with people. I structure it like a science experiment with an aim, method, hypothesis, observations and results. This is a little bit like a 30 day trial, except I’m free to set whatever time frame I think will be appropriate. Selecting a short time frame is far more motivating, since it can take a lot of preparation and commitment to do a 30 day trial. By doing experiments and recording the results, I can learn from my successes and failures. It’s also helping me to loosen up a bit when things go wrong. If my life goes a little bit crazy, it’s not a disaster, it’s just an interesting result to observe (if not one that I intended to create).

What about the other notebooks? I turned one of them into a journal when I realised I needed somewhere to put down my thoughts that glue the experiments together. I also realised that I prefer journaling on paper rather than on computer. On computer I find it too easy to treat my writing as something that will be thrown away, but on paper it’s more tangible, I can’t erase it once it’s written (I’m writing in pen) and I’m much more likely to read back over what I’ve written. I think that’s just a psychological thing, but it works for me.

So there you have it, a simple method to experiment with life a bit and see what you can make happen. I’m certainly keen to see where it will lead over the next few months. I’ll leave you with a quote from Hans Reiser that I find to be a great expression of the spirit of science:

“I am not a genius, I am just never satisfied and very very persistent. I approach science like a blind man with a stick who is determined to fully understand what is going on. The difference between me and my competition is that I poke more than they do. I observe, find something to be unsatisfied with, try something to fix it, most of the time it fails and I try again.”

Simplicity

“I wouldn’t give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity; I would give my right arm for the simplicity on the far side of complexity.”
– Oliver Wendell Holmes

I think this quote highlights a very important point. It’s easy to say simplicity is great, and it’s easy to create something simple. But to make something simple and valuable first requires you to examine the breadth and depth of the subject in all its detail before you can identify the simple solution that covers all the bases that matter. If you’re making something simple, how much complexity did you deal with before you focused in on your simple solution?

Using quicksort in real life

Whenever I need to sort a list of items, I now find myself using quicksort. I most frequently use it when prioritising my goals. Quicksort provides a fast and methodical way to sort lists of things, and it’s normally used internally by computers, but that doesn’t stop you from using it yourself, manually. In case you haven’t encountered the algorithm before, I’ll walk through how to use it. All of this can be done in your favourite text editor or note taking tool.

0) Start with a list of items you want to sort. In this example, I’ll use a few of my goals for this week:

The SLCD site has easy-to-use instructions for adding content
I have a time booked for my first toastmasters speech
I’m getting the hang of cooking the curried udon noodle stir-fry
My LinkedIn resume is freshly updated with my recent changes
Some fresh updates for TTD are online

1) Select and highlight an element that you think should be approximately in the middle in the list. This is called the “pivot” element.

The SLCD site has easy-to-use instructions for adding content
I have a time booked for my first toastmasters speech
I’m getting the hang of cooking the curried udon noodle stir-fry
—– My LinkedIn resume is freshly updated with my recent changes
Some fresh updates for TTD are online

2) Compare every item on the list to the pivot element, and move them either above or below it.

The SLCD site has easy-to-use instructions for adding content
I have a time booked for my first toastmasters speech
Some fresh updates for TTD are online
—– My LinkedIn resume is freshly updated with my recent changes
I’m getting the hang of cooking the curried udon noodle stir-fry

3) Repeat the process from step 1 for the items above, and then the items below the pivot.

The SLCD site has easy-to-use instructions for adding content
Some fresh updates for TTD are online
— I have a time booked for my first toastmasters speech
—– My LinkedIn resume is freshly updated with my recent changes
I’m getting the hang of cooking the curried udon noodle stir-fry

4) When sorting larger lists, you’ll need to keep going, subdividing the list above and below the pivot, until all the items are sorted.

Try it out! It’s quick and easy once you’ve got the hang of it, and you’ll gain nerd bragging rights (if you choose to publicise your achievement)!

Fun with robots

First off, read this: http://xkcd.com/413/.

Once you’ve got the robot going:

  1. Write a low-level controller with a python interface
  2. Display the currently running code on a web site
  3. Allow anyone to upload a patch through the web site
  4. Any patch that passes some basic tests (ie. the code still executes) is applied to the code
  5. Every hour, the new code is automatically uploaded to the bot

I’m sure I’ve heard that you can edit running lisp code, so that might be an option as well (although I can actually code in python, which is an advantage ;) ). I reckon you could have a lot of fun playing with evolutionary algorithms, trying to make some sense out of the webcam input and so on. Anyone feel like building one?

OpenGraffiti

Here’s an idea I had on while on the bus going past a graffiti-covered warehouse:

  1. Start by owning some wall-space in the city.
  2. Divide the wall into generous portions.
  3. Post a notice on the wall stating that anyone is permitted to paint a wall-space, as long as the previous piece has been up for at least a month.
  4. Enjoy the random, free creativity.

Inspiration from postering etiquette, greater union civic commissioned graffiti, graffiti culture in general.

Writing a web app in a week

What would it be like to write a small, but useful web app within a timespan of one week?

Way back when I thought of the name “NiftyKit”, I envisioned niftykit.com as an index page for many small web apps we developed. We didn’t really get around to developing that (unless you count ComicHub), and since then have worked on a number of larger projects, the latest being TickTickDone.

The idea reoccured to me the other day, and today I found Clay Shirky‘s essay on Sitated Software, which fits the idea beautifully. The concept really appeals to me, I think because the potential for awesomeness is higher than generalised apps because it can be so much more specific and relevant. A great example is leech, a distributed app-sharing tool we built to work around tiny disk quotas at uni, which was lots of fun to develop and use.

I think trying to do it would produce some interesting results (adding a whole new meaning to rapid app development to start with :) ). I can see myself starting to think of ways to speed things up already (eg. setting up a really solid base project to work from each week). It’s certainly a way to use constraints to force innovation.

At the moment I can’t see any way to make a significant sum of money off of it, unless we started generalising the apps after the first version was built, but that would quite possibly defeat the purpose. If we made enough of them they might work as donationware, but maybe it’d be simpler just to do it as a hobby and call it good karma. I’ll see if I can come up with some ideas and try it out.

Getting started with blogging

Whenever I’ve tried to start a blog in the past, I’ve always had trouble, maybe becuase I also had trouble writing in english back in school. So, starting sometime soon (hopefully within the next few weeks), I’m going to do a 30 day trial, writing a post every day. Hopefully by the end of it I’ll be in the habit, and I’ll have plenty of content to bulk out the site. I’ll start collecting topics to write about now, so I don’t run out of ideas.

Here’s a start:

  • http://www.tune-out.com
  • Response to http://www.acidlabs.org/2008/05/02/cognitive-heatsinks/ and Clay’s ideas in general
  • jQuery
  • The NiftyKit story so far
  • Responses to Steve Pavlina articles
  • 30 day trials in general and my latest one in particular
  • Intention-manifestation
  • Write up private journal entries into public posts
  • … more to come