In praise of the future

We’re living in the most exciting era of mankind. The scientific progress of the last hunderd years is just astonishing. This makes me happy.

The Internet is just a little over 20 years old but now all of man’s knowledge is available to anyone with a connection to it. Thank you Sir Tim Berners-Lee. We have autonomous cars and planes; 100 years ago, man wasn’t able to fly at all. We have built a large underground tunnel to ram particles against each other really fast and discovered the Higgs boson. We have put a nuclear powered rover on Mars.

With this amount of recent progress, can you imagine what’s waiting for us in the future? I hope for a squad of on-demand robots that will print a house according to my personal design. If I won’t be able to have a holiday in space in 30 years, I will be disappointed. Oh, and please, someone, bring back public supersonic flights.

Online lectures: Technology entrepreneurship (a.k.a venture-lab.org)

This is the second part in a series about my experience with online education. Some months earlier I wrote about taking a couple of online classes. This second post is about Technology entrepreneurship class.

Spoiler alert – this class was a big disappointment. A waste of time, really.

The promise of venture-lab.org was to form a team and build a company. This fact alone should have been a warning sign, but I was optimistic and eager to try it out.

For the first two assignments, the system automatically diveds students into teams of 10 based on geographical location and language preferences. This worked well. When my teammates were chosen, I sent a first email saying hi to all of them. Just one replied.

The first assignement was that everyone of us should come up with either a best or worst business idea ever. We were supposed to fit it into the business model generation canvas. This was an easy and fun task and was supposed to bind the team together. Unfortunatelly, only one other member (Hi Carlos!) from my “team” participated.

Next, we were given an idea created by some other team in the first assignment and were supposed to create a business pitch. Either a slide deck, a video or a text selling the business to potential investors. Again, as with the first task, only two of us participated. I was starting to get annoyed.

These two tasks, however, were supposed to be just warm-up duties. The “real” would be the next one. We were instructed to create a 3 or 4 person teams (could be from the current teammates or any other enrollees). I sent another mail to my current team, again with no reply but one. Since they have been inactive for the whole course, I decided to post to the forums, looking for a team, advertising my skills. As I should have known, people who responded we’re “business types” looking for a iPhone developer to build their awesome SoLoMo app idea that’s better than Foursquare. I’m not kidding here, this really happened.

Irritated by the whole experience, I decided to spend my time more productively and quit venture-lab.org. This experiment was a failure.

There were also other mishaps resulting from the rest of the teammates not communicating, but I won’t go into details as they are not that important.

Another defect of the class was the organization of study materials and video lectures itself. It was just chaotic. I understand that it is the first year and so I hope they’ll improve it.

Yet I believe the whole premise of this course is flawed. You just cannot pick people at random, put them together and think they’ll build a company even if it’s the aim of every single one of them. If this course taught me anything, it was that building a company is all about people. Surround yourself with the right ones.

Online lectures: General Assembly

This is the first part in a series about my experience with online education. Some months earlier I wrote about taking a couple of online classes. This first part is about General Assembly.

The Fundamentals of Entrepreneurship online course is just awesome. Really. It beats reading articles on HN hands down. It’s the best advice on “how to build a company” I came across. The tutors are experienced and give great advice. Lecures are clear, concise and to the point. Even if you already have started a company, sign up for the coures. You’ll find a lot of valuable info about how to make it even better.

My favorite lecture was on building communities and delighting your customers by Alexis Ohanian. I find this topic very interesting and often overlooked. There’s not much information about it on the web and what Alexis shares is of the highest quality. It almost feels like he’s letting you in on some kind of well-kept secret. Alexis recently published a book on this topic, I highly encourage you to buy it.

If you’re not based in the US, you can skip the class on how to incorporate, but otherwise, I highly encourage you to sign up and go through the other lectures.

The downside is that after finishing, you’ll want more. This stuff is so good it’s adictive. If you’re living in NY, you’re lucky. GA offers a lot more in their space. Some classes are live-streamed, but not all of them. For the rest, you’ll just have to move there.

Any tips on acquiring visa?

Displaying currency pairs in the Stocks app

Hat tip to my friend Petr for showing me this trick.

Did you know it is possible to display currency pairs in iOS Stocks app? Because it uses Yahoo Finance API, it is quite easy. For example, if you want to add EUR/USD, search for “EURUSD=X”.

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You can of course change the currency symbols and the selected currency pairs are also displayed in the notifications section. This nifty trick makes the Stocks app much more useful for me.

13 virtues of Benjamin Franklin

I’m currently reading The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. If you have a Kindle, you can get it for free.

In this book, Mr. Franklin recollects 13 virtues he lived by:

  1. Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
  2. Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
  3. Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  4. Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
  5. Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e. waste nothing.
  6. Industry. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
  7. Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
  8. Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  9. Moderation. Avoid extreams; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  10. Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
  11. Tranquillity. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  12. Chastity. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dulness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
  13. Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

What I find even more interesting then this list of virtues is how he implemented them in his life. He seeked to acquire them all, but he didn’t try to do it all at once. By his own words:

I judg’d it would be well not to distract my attention by attempting the whole at once, but to fix it on one of them at a time; and, when I should be master of that, then to proceed to another.

In fact, the list is orderd in the way he trained himself in these traits. As Benjamin Franklin was considered one of the most honorable persons of his age, his approach together with his will obviously works. You can read more about it in the book.

Programming for iOS from the point of view of a python developer

I gave a talk at Prague’s python user group meetup. It was about my experience of learning and using Obj-C to develop iOS apps as a python developer. You can check out the recorded video below. Slides are on Speakerdeck (I tried to embed them but Posterous doesn’t play nicely with Speakerdeck).

A huge thanks to Jiří, Aleš and Jakub for inviting me and everyone else who attended.

Why you should create your app for iPhone first

We have a wide range of clients and projects going on at Wildfuse at any time. If we’re builiding multiple mobile clients as a part of the same project, we always recommend to have the iOS application built first. It’s not because it’s faster or cheaper. There is one simple reason for it:

Influential people have iPhones.

By influential, I mean people who can help you. Investors, advisors, bloggers, connectors. People with a loud voice, opinion makers, passionate people who can spread the word. You will want to show them the progress you’re making first.

There’s nothing more to it. It’s simple, but it works. Stick to this rule, it will help you.

Beginning my online education

The world of online education is booming right now. It feels like we’re at the beginning of a major disruption of higher education. Although I don’t think this will put the top universities out of business (but they might have to transform to more of an R&D institutions rather than “only” providing education), I believe the less prestigious universities do have a problem.

The whole boom started with the excellent Khan academy. Salman Khan paved the way and inspired other people to provide education through a web browser to thousands of individuals all around the world. I too felt a hunger for new information and reading HN just didn’t cut it anymore so of course I jumped on board. Here are the courses I’m taking:

  • Fundamentals of entrepreneurship at General Assembly – I cannot recommend this course highly enough. If you’re starting a company, spend time going through the lectures. Seriously, it’s the best you can do for your business right now. I’ll blog about this later in more detail.
  • Design of computer programs at Udacity. This course, together with 3 others, starts April 16th, so you still have time to enroll. Udacity should also provide a Distributed systems course later in the year which I’m looking forward to.
  • Technology entrepreneurship a.k.a venture-lab.org. You can find more about it in Chuck Eesley’s blogpost.
  • Human-computer interaction at Coursera. Although it was supposed to start in January, it has been delayed due to some licensing/administrative issues. However Coursera provides a wide range of other topic. I was also thinking about taking the Natural language processing, which started just recently, but that would be overwhelming. I’ll keep that one for next semester.
  • I also visit pyvideo.org often to learn about new technologies and techniques. The quality of speakers at conferences differs widely, but the topics covered are very interesting. Similary, I found Google Tech Talks to be ok, but usually the name of the video is much more promissing then the actual talk.
  • There’s also MITx, but it’s just getting started. There’s only Circuts and electronics course available at the moment. I’ll pass for now, but I’ll keep an eye on them.

These are, of course, all technical. I’m a developer after all. Coursera promises to cover non-IT topics like chemistry or physics later on. For now, you can find a ton of material on diffrent topics on the aforementioned Khan academy.

I’ll report back with my opinions about each of these courses on this blog so be sure to follow me if you’re interested.

Disrupt – the book

The word disrupt has lost its meaning in the recent years as thousands of tech startups are using it to look cool and hip, as if it would help them to succeed. If you look at new companies pitching their ideas at the TC Disrupt conference, only a minority of them are disruptive.

However, finding industry-transforming ideas isn’t all that hard. In his book Disrupt: Think the unthinkable to spark transformation in your business Luke Williams introduces a solid and easy to understand framework how to come up with disruptive ideas. It is applicable to any industry or product. If you follow the steps outlined in this book, you will learn how to formulate a set of disruptive ideas, improve upon them, pick the best and most meaningful ones and test them in the real world.

The book is suitable for entrepreneurs thinking about a new product as well as establishes companies looking for reinventing themselves. It’s a book I highly recommend.

Boyscouting

Boy scouts have one rule: “Leave the camping place in a better condition than you found it.”

At Wildfuse, we apply this rule to programming all the time. It’s quite straightforward. Any flaw in the code is fixed, usually immidiately by the developer who encountered it, regardless if it is he who introduced the error. It doesn’t matter if it’s just a typo fix or something more substantial like creating a new abstraction. You leave the code in a better condition.

It’s obvious this approach has multiple advantages. First, our code is really clean, efficient and highly maintainable. As wine, it get’s better with age. Because we often have to touch code written by a fellow programmer to boyscout, all developers have good orientation in the whole codebase of the project they are participating on. Also, I personaly get a pleasant self-satisfaction feeling doing this.

What about you, do you boyscout?

The global power shift

This is the best TED talk I’ve seen in a long time. At TEDxBrusseles, Paddy Ashdown talks about the ongoing change of power not only between nations and states (from the Atlantic circle to the Pacific circle), but also to and between international and global corporations and institutions.

He also makes a point that because of this global shift, we’re interconnected and interdependent and praises cooperation: “In the modern age where everything is connected to everything the most important thing about what you can do, is what you can do with others.” Well worth watching.

Steve Jobs on life

From the video:

“When you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world, try not to bash into the walls too much, try to have a nice family. Have fun. Save a little money.”

“That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact and that is: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.”

“Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”