Monday, April 30, 2012

On Poetry: Against All We Thought We Knew

I figured I'd end National Poetry Month with another of my sappy love poems from years ago.  This was written with the hope in mind that I'd, as a introspective and wanderlust-obsessed teenager, find someone to truly fall in love with.

Enjoy!  & as always, feel free to link to or +1.

Against All We Thought We Knew

How much time do we spend 
Sending prayers to silent skies 
While trying not to give in 
To lonely, desperate sighs

We're always asking when 
We're always asking who 
Thinking of all that's been 
Love that hasn't proved true 

Then water falls on a field 
Barren, where no love grew 
Hard soil that's slow to yield 
Against all we thought we knew 

A smile and a slow, sweet kiss 
A hug and two hands, together 
In those hearts, there's a bliss 
In those hearts, there's another 

Life without and love without 
Another soul and another heart 
Is no life, just more doubt 
Its love tearing itself apart

- Ryan A. Goodwin

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bad business is just about money. Good business is about a great product.

+Mark Zuckerberg wrote in the Facebook prospectus: "we don’t build services to make money; we make money to build better services."

This is being presented by Nicholas Carlson at Business Insider in his article "The Problem With Mark Zuckerberg" as a problem, that shareholders should watch out. The implication is that the only reason a business exists is to make money. His words:

There is a nagging concern for potential Facebook shareholders: the guy running the company doesn't care that much about making money.
Mr. Carlson goes on to highlight this comment, from a co worker of Zuckerberg's, as a thing to cause concern:
if he had to choose, he'd rather be the most important/influential person in the world rather than the richest.
Doesn't this seem like a tremendous loss of perspective? Companies exist to provide a service - the money comes from the service or product provided. The companies that provide the best services are the ones that make the most money, with the money made a result of the service provided. People pay for a product, they don't just hand you cash.

Mr. Carlson tries to use +Larry Page and +Bill Gates as examples of people who built great services but who are primarily motivated to make money. I would challenge that point of view. It seems clear to me that both of these men have had success because they focused on building the best product in their areas: internet indexing & operating system software, respectively. I'm sure they thought to themselves at various points "I'm sitting on a goldmine with this!". Still, their focus wasn't about extracting cash from people, it was about providing people with outstanding services first.

It's the money-first mentality that has crippled big business for a long time. It's why the greatest companies of today have been founded by young, motivated people, like the Gates, Pages, & Zuckerbergs of the world - they challenge themselves with building a great product.

At what point did American business people suddenly transition from building great products to just making money? The two greatest recent examples of this mentality have been in banking and automotive industries. In one, the desire to make money off of people's poor decisions took the feet out from underneath the credit market. In the other, the desire to maximize profits at the expense of quality and product led to US government bailouts.

What was the motivation in both of these instances? Money. Just money. It wasn't about creating a good service or a good product. It was this mentality that the banks and the automakers were just in existence to make more money for the shareholders. This is not just bad business, it is the worst business.

Why doesn't big business make the connection between the success of Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Craigslist, and Bill Gate's Microsoft and their intense focus on product? The disconnect is stark in an article like Carlson's on Business Insider. It's this same disconnect that echoes in our nation's politics around copyright and file sharing.

At what point did the perspective get lost? Is this some artifact of the '70's and '80's notion that business is war? Are we seeing the influence of a widely taught facet of business education? When will we see the influence of Arnoldo Hax and his Delta Model? Business is not about war or your competition or the shareholders.

It's about the product and your product's relationship with your consumer. Business is love. The businesses you love are the businesses you stay with.

Apple epitomizes this to such a great degree that I doubt you could find a better example. On Mr. Hax's Delta Model they have, without a doubt, targeted System Lock In. They want you in their walled garden. And you know what? People don't mind that walled garden because the products are outstanding.

Yes, they make money from those products. Yes, you pay a premium on those products. But the focus is always on the product. This quote from Steve Jobs sums it up best, I think:

Sure what we do has to make commercial sense, but it's never the starting point. We start with the product and the user experience.

You've got it wrong, Mr. Carlson. You've got it wrong, shareholders. It's about product first. Zuckerberg's obsession with building the best product is exactly where it should be. It shouldn't be just about making money - that would be Facebook's demise.

Bad business is just about money. Good business is about a great product.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

On Writing - Excerpt #2 from Darkness Before Light

I've been working to get more scenes built for Darkness Before Light, filling in gaps in the story and fleshing out details that weren't previously included in "part 1".  Here's a short scene after a battle in which Gabriel Rodriguez and Josette Durrant ask some questions of a high-ranking Draconian official they've captured.

Gabriel closed his eyes, hiding the HUD displayed on the inside of his helmet.  For a time he relaxed, letting the UCA’s cocoon embrace him with its shock absorbers.  Electronic whirs and a soft rumble were the only sounds, muted by the helmet.  It was time to watch, wait, and hope for support to move in.  Durrant should be in direct laser communication with the fleet as it passes over the crater and hopefully arranging for some sort of extraction.
The speakers in his helmet crackled.
“Alright, guys, here’s the plan,” Durrant said.  She sounded... resigned.  “They’re pushing several battalions of armor in our direction, trying to open up a corridor.  Draconian air defenses are still too thick to risk extraction by Pelican, so we’re on our own until the sliders get here.”
Gabriel sighed, keeping his eyes closed.
“So we’re supposed to sit here and wait, LT?” Katakana asked.
“That’s exactly it,” Durrant responded.  “We’re going to hole up in the bottom of this crater with the Minister and wait for reinforcements.  It is way too risky for us to try it and get out on our own.”
Gabriel couldn’t hear it, but he imagined Katakana, Neferet, and Biaka all cursing to their AI’s.  The speakers crackled again.
“What do you think, Rod?” Durrant said.
He shrugged, keeping his eyes closed.  “It’s not optimal, that’s for damn sure.  But we have no idea what’s happened since dropping into this hole.  That was a few hours ago and we have, what?  Six hours?  Till dawn?  We have to herd the Minister through all of that rubble.  They’d probably take off as soon as we came under fire.  Yea, waiting is going to be our best bet.”
“Ditto.  Exactly what I was thinking.  It sucks, but we don’t have much of an option,”  Durrant said.
There were a few moments of silence.
“Off the record question for ya, Rod,” Durrant said, her feminine voice introspective.
“Sure, LT.”  Gabriel quirked an eyebrow.
“When we’re off the record, I’m Josette.  Understood?”
“Loud and clear, LT.”  Gabriel smirked.
“As long as that’s understood.”  She sighed.  “You think this is right?”
“What?  Waiting?”
“Don’t be dense.  The invasion.  All of this.  These guys have been on their own for fifty freaking years.  They don’t need us,” she said.
Gabriel nodded to himself.  That was clear.  They’d only bombarded them from orbit.  No one needed that.  “Maybe it’s not about them needing us, but us needing them.  You know how piss-poor things have been on Earth.  Every hunk of rock between Pluto and Mercury has mines and manufacturing facilities constructed on it.  Maybe we need this planet’s resources.  Maybe all of Sigma Draconis?”
He paused and she waited.
“Still, what bothers me the most, Josette, is what we don’t know.  The UTG only tells us just enough and we all know that earth is far too over crowded.  Even with the Mars and Moon colonies.  Those are a drop in the bucket.  Now that I think about it, maybe this is all about expansion and finding places to move people outside of Sol.  Sigdrac kinda sucks, but we have no idea where a gravity wave from here might take us.”
“Yea, so maybe this whole thing is to secure a way out of Sol and to spread humans about?” Durrant asked.
“Pretty much, something along those lines.  Only the corporations pissed the Draconians off so much when they first opened the mining and processing posts here that they threw a monkey wrench in the whole scheme.  They don’t tell us too much about what really happened out here.”
Durrant hummed to herself for a moment.  “Rod, we could ask, y’know.”
Gabriel’s eyes shot open.  Ask?   “What, you mean Mubarak?”
“Sure.  Why not?”
“Uh, well.  Shit-well, I don’t think we could get into any trouble, could we?”  Gabriel stammered.
“There are no standing regulations against the interrogation of prisoners as long as one does not break the UTG Geneva regulations section 1064,” Lucy said into the conversation.
“You hear that, Rod?”  Durrant asked.
Jack must have just told her the same thing.  “Yea, Lucy just shared that bit.  Go for it.”
“Alright, we’ll keep this short, just in case and I’ll keep you patched in,” Durrant said.
Gabriel listened as she communicated with the Draconian convoy vehicles, trying to get a secure channel through to Christopher Mubarak.
“Yes, Lieutenant, what do you want?” said a moderate, tired voice.
“Prime Minister?”  Durrant said.
“This is him.  Make this quick, my arm is throbbing where it is broken, no thanks to you and your men,” he said.
Gabriel quirked an eyebrow.
“I’ll try.  Just a few questions.”
Silence answered her.
“Okay.  Do you remember what happened that caused the rebellion?”
There was a long pause.
“Sir, do you-”
“I heard your question, Lieutenant.  I’m trying to decide if you intend this insult or if you truly do not know.  How old are you?”
Gabriel raised both eyebrows.  Insult?
“I am twenty, sir,” Durrant said.
Quiet moments.
“You truly do not understand then, do you?  You are all drones serving your corporate masters without any knowledge one way or another.  Earth must be in as sad a state of affairs as we all fear.  I am not happy that you have come back to Hydra, Terran.”
“Wait, Hydra?”
“Yes, Hydra.  The planet you’re standing on.  The planet you have dropped kinetic energy weapons on and killed tens of thousands of MY PEOPLE!  Hydra, you incompetent fool!”  Mubarak’s voice strained, the helmet speakers crackling.
“So why did it start?  What happened?  We are taught that the Draconians rebelled over bad pay and questionable working conditions,”  Durrant asked, relentless.
Gabriel could hear a deep breath being taken.
“That is correct.  But the way you say it is understated.  Thousands of people were dying out here.  From exposure, decompression, starvation - it was a nightmare.  Earth, for all the closeness that FTL travel brought us, might as well had been eighteen light years away.  No one cared.  We had no representation in the government.  The companies, they controlled everything and everyone.  It was desparate and we fought back when we felt we finally had enough infrastructure to support ourselves.  No one had fought an interstellar battle before and so we were able to have time to build.”  Mubarak paused.
Gabriel sat, staring without sight at his HUD.  Could it be true?  One had to consider the source.  Mubarak is, afterall, the number one politician on Hydra.  Hydra.  What an odd name.
“And now you have returned and all but destroyed one of our precious cities.  You will bring back your government and your corporations and my people will suffer again.  We are used to hardship, but we would much rather do it on our terms.  Not yours, Terran.”
“Things have changed, sir,” Durrant said after a few moments.  “Regulations have reduced a great amount of the business influence.  There are watchdog groups.  This could be a good thing to have mankind reunited.”
“Maybe, young Lieutenant, maybe.  Is there anything else you want to talk about?  I am a tired old man.”
“No, sir, thank you for your time,” Durrant said.
“Channel closed, sir,” Lucy said.
“Well, that was interesting,” Durrant said to Gabriel.
“Yea, it was.  You think he’s exaggerating?”
“Sure, of course he is.  But there’s almost always some truth behind the exaggeration.  And of course the UTG would downplay the severity of the situation.  We have been at war, after all, for fifty years.”
“I suspect you’re right about that, Josette,” Gabriel said.  “Maybe after all of this is settled we’ll really find out what happened.”  He paused.  “Or not.”
“Agreed.  Alright, Rod, let’s focus and get the watch rotation setup.  Make sure everyone gets at least a few hours of rest.”
“Yes, sir.  Too bad these things don’t have showers.  Plasma swords, but no showers.  Go figure,” Gabriel said.
Durrant chuckled.  “You joined the army, Rod, not the navy.”

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

On SXSW: Don't Shoot The Player

Ogilvy Notes - Don't Shoot The Player
I had the pleasure of attending a talk by Katie Salen about what she's learned from game design in regards to learning.  That sounds simple, but I was pleasantly surprised at the depth of experience she shared with us.  Her talk ranged from experiences in designing learning exercises for children to conversations she's had with various game designers, including Portal.

Here are the key nuggets I hung on to afterwards.

So what does "don't shoot they player" mean?  What Katie is referring to is an experience the Portal game designers had while play-testing an early level design.  While players were trying to learn a new skill introduced by the game, the designers had added some turrets to shoot at the player.  The play-testers literally couldn't see the exit because they were being over loaded by both trying to learn a skill and dodge incoming fire.  They became frustrated and few could get past the level.

The lesson here was this:  when learning a new skill, people need a safe zone to do it in.  They need to be able to fail at the task until they learn it.  Then you test them on the learned skill under fire and allow them to apply it.

That is what games are, afterall, right?  From Chess and Checkers to World of Warcraft and Call of Duty, the game is a series of learned skills and those players who master those skills the best play the best.

Furthermore, that's what work is, right?   It's a set of learned skills applied for the support of a company, business, or group of people in exchange for compensation.  Ideally, those who perform the best on a wide set of skills are the people who are compensated the best.

What we learn from game design can be applied to our workplace.

Also, the game designers found that they could not create a level too hard for two players to solve.  When two people are working together one person takes the cognitive load while the other follows along.  When the first person becomes tired, the second person takes up the cognitive load.  The two individuals alternate, meaning nearly full concentration is always applied to solving a problem.  They learn from one another's attempts and experiences together.

This concept of learning together is key.  In Katie's words:  "learning is social".

But for some reason, we teach in our schools that sharing is cheating.  Does the workplace reflect this?  Do we not share what we've learned with one another?  Sites like StackExchange are built purely around the sharing of lessons with one another.  Opensource theory is all about sharing code and components with one another.  We learn from one another's accomplishments, incrementally improving products in doing so.  We pair the less experienced with the more experienced to share skill sets and bring people up to speed quicker.

Collaboration is key and we should be embracing it in our workplaces and in our schools.  We are social animals that learn best from one another's experiences and mistakes, not just our own.

An intriguing experience Katie also shared was the concept of rewarding good failure.  This isn't meant in the sense of "Dodgeball with no outs".  This is meant in the sense of a person or group of people striving to achieve a goal and missing it, but in missing it they learned some critical lesson.  Learning is more about failure and trying again than it is anything else.  A company Katie was exposed to had an award for the group who had the highest aspirations but missed the mark.  Maybe they failed due to execution or lack of technology or funding or some other thing, but in the end, they learned a profound lesson to be shared with everyone else in the organization.

This brings us back around to not shooting the player.
  • People need safe zones to learn skills in, then chances to apply them.
  • Learning is social.  Remember this piece:  there was no level hard enough that two players couldn't solve.
  • Rewarding lessons learned through failure is as important as rewarding success.  
I had a realization while listening to Katie speak regarding our hackathons here at the office.  A hackathon is a great place to employ all three of these concepts.  As great as that is, I feel there is plenty of room for application in the day-to-day work experience.

What would you apply with your work or children?  Is there a key concept you find that stands out to you?  Feel free to comment below or leave a G+ comment/message!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

On Poetry: Reason to Burn

Did you know?  April is National Poetry Month!  Since I have a past of writing sappy love poetry, I figured I'd share a few poems over the course of the month.  It's been years since I've written with most of what I'm sharing having been written in the mid-late '90's and a few 'round 2004.

This particular poem, Reason To Burn, was written for a young lady I had a crush on who lived quite a ways away.  It was, of course, one of those early "online" romances.  Me, a shy introspective guy, met and talked to a young lady who lived a few states away.  We talked on the phone all the time, mailed pictures back and forth, and generally kept in touch all throughout my high school and college years.  During that time I wrote a few poems dedicated to her.

A note on form:  I was obsessed with iambic pentameter (Shakespearean Sonnet) when I first learned to write something that wasn't just free-style poetry.  This was in my senior year of high school.  Since then, I experimented with various combinations of syllables and rhyming schemes.

Enjoy, +1, & feel free to comment/share!

Reason To Burn

See the sunlight between us
Bringing our hearts closer by day
With so many miles separating us
Not even that will stand in the way

You can bring the best out in life
And show the world how to turn
Bringing joy from the deepest strife
And giving my heart a reason to burn

One day you will see the fire
Bright and glistening behind my eyes
Building with the passion you inspire
Releasing prayers across lonely skies

One night I hope to share with you
In a darkened room, candle lit
Gazing into the starry midnight blue
My heart and what's buried in it

And if your love is the same
Then maybe God will bless us
Guiding with his brilliant flame
Our hearts and the hope within us