After judging the UCSB ECE Senior Capstone projects at the beginning of June, my fellow judges and Professor John Johnson had a spirited conversation about generating interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) subjects among younger students. One of the conclusions we came to is that students in late elementary thru high school aren’t exposed to enough hands-on electronics and computer classes. In order to get exposure, it requires parents to enroll their children in after school activities, which are dominated by athletics these days. We wondered if cost and complexity could be an issue, but Dr. Johnson brought up the Arduino Starter Kit he had been experimenting with. At under $75 on Amazon, he felt it was a great way to introduce electronics to young students. After our discussion, I decided to purchase an Arduino Starter Kit on Amazon.
Here’s a little more background on what the Arduino is, why I got one, my experience with it so far, and why it makes it a great learning vehicle.
For the April VC WordPress meetup, I volunteered to present how to setup a WordPress site for SEO and analytics. From a structural point of view, little needs to be done to a WordPress site for the search engines to index it. However, in order to optimize your search engine performance, it’s critical to understand how to analyze and measure the performance of your site’s content. That’s what I focused on in my 3-step approach to WordPress SEO.
I’ll admit that I’ve been a long-time admirer of Southwest’s business model. As I’ve written in the past, they are a model of operational efficiency. I’ve always experienced top notch customer service, both on the ground and in the air, when I’ve flown with them. Their fares are always competitive, and often the lowest on the routes they fly. I’ve been impressed with Southwest as both an observer of their operations and as a passenger on their planes.
I got my first exposure to them through a case study I read in the mid-nineties while in business school at UCLA. The case study exposed and dissected their operational efficiencies. Shortly thereafter, as I began traveling regularly for business, I got to experience the flight experience first hand. I would watch with interest how quickly they would turn planes when they landed. I would notice how the little things they did allowed them to best the competition – things such as open seating, flying 737’s exclusively, handling their own reservations, and flying to the smaller airports in a city. I’ve always been interested in learning more about how the company was run.
A couple of years back while reading The Startup Playbook, one of the interviews in the book mentioned Nuts by Kevin and Jackie Freiberg. It was presented as a way to learn how Southwest has used culture to build a great company and to deliver outstanding service. Given my desire to learn more about Southwest’s business practices. I added it to my reading list. It took some time, but it finally reached the top.
For the Ventura County WebMob Meetup in January, I did a presentation titled “Saving Your Code with Git.” Since revision and version control is such a huge part of software development, I volunteered to present Git, which has become the de-facto standard due to the emergence of hosted repository services such as GitHub and Atlassian’s Bitbucket.
For the November Ventura County WebMob Meetup group, I did an introductory presentation on Sass, a CSS preprocessor. The goal was to explain what Sass is along with what it isn’t, do a brief demo to get people interested and show them how it works, and provide people with information and resources to get started.
Here are the slides that I covered during my presentation. They make more sense live because of the demo I did after slide 8, but there are links to resources in the slides that are very useful if you are just starting out.
If you’re interested in front-end web development, or are a front-end developer who is not using a preprocessor. I would strongly suggest that you learn Sass. It will make you a lot more productive in your work, and it’s a skill that will make you more attractive and marketable to prospective employers.
One of my favorite books from last year was The Everything Store – Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon. It was one of my favorite types of business books, a third party account that chronicled the building of Amazon. In the comments to my book review, one of my favorite bloggers, Rohan (author of the blog A Learning a Day), mentioned In the Plex – How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives by Steven Levy. Since the book fit my theme of a biography/story-based business book and came recommended from a trusted source, I decided to let it jump the queue in my 2015 reading list.
In his book, The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, Daniel Boorstin defines a pseudo-event as a happening that posses the following characteristics:
- It is not spontaneous, but comes about because someone has planned, planted or incited it.
- It is planted primarily (not always exclusively) for the immediate purpose of being reported or reproduced. Therefore, its occurrence is arranged for the convenience of the reporting or reproducing media. Its success is measured by how widely it is reported.
- Its relation to the underlying reality of the situation is ambiguous. Its interest arises largely from this very ambiguity.
- Usually it is intended to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. [Example] The hotel’s thirtieth-anniversary celebration, by saying that the hotel is a distinguished institution, actually makes it one.
Most of what we are fed by mainstream media are pseudo-events that are meant to entertain us (or in certain cases to influence or manipulate us). The media is not interested in educating or enlightening us – there isn’t any money to be made doing that. However, if they can sufficiently entertain us so we tune in each night, then they have done their job, in their mind.
In addition to mainstream media, marketing agencies and public relations entities are masters of the pseudo-event. They create pseudo-events for their clients to influence the public’s perception and to create an aura of importance. Whether it’s a corporate entity, celebrity, or politician, a good PR person can spin any story, whether good or bad, in their client’s favor. In fact, the more negative the story, the better the PR person is able to spin it.
To understand just how prevalent pseudo-events are, how they work, and how they twist the underlying meaning of a situation, let’s take a look at a few events from the political arena.
In April of last year, a daily deal for Leadership Transformed: How Ordinary Managers Become Extraordinary Leaders by Dr. Peter Fuda showed up in my email inbox. I decided to take a chance on it as I like learning new management principles, especially those related to leadership. It also didn’t hurt that it was only $1.99.
I didn’t get around to reading the book last year. I put it in my queue for this year, even though I’ve found business stories like Hatching Twitter and The Everything Store more interesting. Here are my thoughts after reading it.
In my earlier startup lesson posts, I wrote about team diversity and team chemistry. In this startup lesson, I am going to focus on another important team concept for startups – roles. Assigning roles can be uncomfortable, especially during the early stages of a startup. However, it’s important to make sure people know and understand what’s expected of them, as well as who is in charge. While it would appear this lesson applies only to startups with multiple founders, it is just as important for those with a single founder. As a lone founder, it’s absolutely critical that roles are defined as the company and team grows.
As part of running my own company, I’m always looking for ways to improve various pieces of the business and my performance in it. Since one of the most important parts of any business is the sales process, I am constantly on the lookout for resources that will help me to understand the process better and to identify ways to improve it. Amazon must know it too, because their recommendation engine suggested the following to me – Same Side Selling: A Radical Approach to Break Through Sales Barriers by Jack Quarles and Ian Altman. Even though I’m not in love with the Amazon recommendation engine, I went ahead and picked it up.