Why I write

I never wondered about this topic, but going through some old newsletters I signed up for and never followed through, I found a really great email course on blog writing. It’s called 10 days to a better blog and it’s all there, in one Discourse post. But do as I’m trying to do, and try to follow it day after day (or another provisional amount of time). I’ve already written a post about blogging, but something still bugs me, because I really can’t pinpoint the real reason I’m writing all of this. I think the kick came from Scott Hanselman’s blog in the form of one post I can’t find right now. The gist of it was, if you want to learn, you have to teach. And the best way to teach was to write it down for someone else. Sometimes the posts spurted out of being irritated by coworkers asking me how to do something for the nth time, sometimes they were the stuff I just learned and wanted to share. Maybe I even wanted to become popular, earn money from ads, and live an easy life from it, there were some phases that I would probably want to forget, but you learn as you live and go along.
The reason I’m writing now, is to help someone who is a few steps behind me in this whole life/developer/designer/philosopher story and is maybe searching for something my experience can give them. I plan to continue on writing about everything I face in my business and somewhat private life. I’ll be making some changes, and want to share them with the world.
This, of course, doesn’t mean I’ll stop with the technical posts, the ones being most helpful to people coming from Googles, Bings and DuckDuckGos. So brace yourselves for those too.

 

Caution! Reading will change your life (for the better)

I tend to read a lot, averaging at least one book per week. Remembering back, I think the reading started when I was a kid, during the war, being in a shelter (or the basement) was a regular thing. And for a 9-10 year old kid, books were the best thing to forget everything. My mother worked next to the library, and she brought me an average of 3 books each week. They were mostly child books, ranging from Erich Kästner to Karl May and his Winnetou. There were a lot of books by Croatian authors too, but I can’t remember them all now. After that school kicked in, then Real Life™ and somehow I stopped reading so much. At least stopped reading books. I was always following technical newsletters and blogs, but forgot that I should be reading real books along the way.Reading a book will change your life, even if you only read one book, end to end. Each one you add to the mental pile, your mind expands in that direction, and you are a wiser person. I’m not only talking about technical books here, on the contrary, I’ve found non-technical books to be more mind expanding than technical ones.I recently realized that, even I’ve been on this spree for the last 3 years, the greatest benefit of reading fiction, is using your imagination. No movie will ever give you an experience of reading a book. I don’t prefer audiobooks either because it’s too hard to pause and visualize the moment, the scene. The book that got me back in was Game of Thrones, and I’m a little bit sad that I watched the series before because my imagination was somewhat flawed by scenes from the series. From then on, I’ve read biographies, technical books, fiction, nonfiction, psychology, design, basically anything that was recommended by a credible enough source. Each one pushed me a little bit further forward.I’ve achieved more on a personal and business level in the last 3 years than I have in all of the previous years combined, and I believe that reading that much had to do a lot with it. Although we own a TV set, I rarely watch it (you have to watch Top Gear when you see it’s on). The best thing you can invest in is knowledge, keep reading, even if the book you read tends to be really bad, you can leave it half way, but don’t give up on reading. There are great books out there, and things you have never dreamed of can come true because you have to be able to imagine your end goal before you get to reach it.

Zero to One, or how to create a monopoly business

I have recently read the book Zero to One by Peter Thiel  and it really changed my overview on the business world, and the projects/products I want to work on from now.

The book focuses on building Paypal  and the period it was built in, the dot com boom. We all know Paypal is now a successful company, and we maybe not know that they are one of the few who survived the boom in 2000. I was shocked to read that their first product was a Palm Pilot money transfer software. I’ve had a Palm, and although it was a cool device back then, the market wasn’t cohesive enough to support the product. But the underlying mission of Paypal was to change the way we transfer money between each other. Having Palm device as a prerequisite, although the niche was big enough, was not a good idea. So they switched to the email address money transfer, and we all know how that turned out.

For Paypal, or any company to succeed in the long run, the main prerequisite was to create a product or service that is either something innovative, like iTunes store, or something at least 10 times better than the competition. They also teach us that we have to start with a small niche, and build up from there. Unless you are old enough, you probably didn’t know that Amazon started as an online book reseller, and Paypal started as a merchant payment option for a small number of eBay top sellers. eBay (or Auction Web) started as a direct person-to-person auction site for collectibles. They all built great services, which were at least 10x better than the competition, or completely new, and started in small enough markets, where they had zero competition, so they could iterate and improve the products, before competition caught up what was happening.

There is also one great thing about small markets, and that is the fact that big fish can’t swim in small ponds. You as a small bootstrap company can live of a small enough market, and the big companies won’t even touch that market, because the market value is in the range of a statistical mistake on their yearly earning reports. And it’s a great place to innovate, improve and grow, till you can expand to another pond, after you have a monopoly in the first one.

We were all taught that competition is a good thing, even in economics class. And that highly competitive markets are the best option, for consumers, and for companies. That is a big fat lie, for both the consumers, and the companies. The companies in this kind of open market are in ruthless cutthroat battle for customers, and they have to lower their profits to the bare minimum, because if the competition is cheaper, the customer will go and buy their product, in a commodity market, price is one of the main attributes that guide the customer’s decision on buying.

Monopoly on the other hand, is a great thing. There are two types of monopoly, the economic one, which imposes its size and power over the market, buying or destroying all competitors, but that is not the one I’m talking about. The intellectual monopoly, the one created by innovation, or by having a 10x product, is the best position in the market. You have no competition, or they are scarce. The market is in pain, and your product can solve that pain. Tesla  as an example, is a company who builds on of the best electric vehicles in the world. But they started with a roadster, a really cool looking roadster, which was a novelty item, but beat all of the brick-shaped electric vehicles when the hip green business people considered on buying an environmentally friendly car. I would buy the cool roadster over the brick shaped electric vehicle any day. Now Tesla also has 2 family cars, the best electric cars in the world. There is competition right now, but competition is at that state that Tesla had to open their patents, just for the sake of everyone else catching up to them. It is a monopoly if the competition isn’t competent enough to merely catch up with you, if not exceeding you, and overtaking the market.

Old habits die hard (The Power of Habit review)

I have a few quite obnoxious habits and a few really good ones. I have tried to get rid of some of them, and succeeded in most cases, but some or most of them just reappear after some time. Have you ever wondered why that happens? A book by Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business explains it in detail, and I’ll write just a brief outline of the book. You should definitely read the book.
All habits have a system by which they work. And as we learn things, they all become habits to us. Let’s take driving, for example. When I first learned how to drive, it was all finicky and stressful. And by that I mean just driving forward, knowing when to change the gear (we generally have manual transmissions here), how to give the turn signal, when to turn the wheel, etc. Driving is a set of a large number of skills, but people seem to drive pretty comfortably, without the stress mostly. When we learn a skill, and use it on a day to day basis, our brain (the reptilian one) creates the habit loop. The process can be summed to cue > routine > reward. And most of human behaviour can be explained by that simple formula.
When you feel a sensation or some other cue, for example, when I wake up, I need some mental calmness time, to prepare me for the day. My routine was to make a coffee, and aimlessly surf the net or read emails while drinking it. The reward was mostly lacking because I would lose valuable time, but the habit was there, and hard to change. But, when you recognise the cue, and the reward you expect, it is not that hard to change the routine in between. You just have to find something that will give you the same reward as the bad habit you have right now, but now it will be better for you. When you feel the urge to smoke a cigarette, it’s surely not nicotine calling you, but something else. Maybe you are bored, maybe you want to talk to someone, maybe you just smelled some great coffee, and the first action you take is to pull that cigarette out. I’ve been there, and the urge to light it up is devastating, it’s automatic behaviour for you. Like you have been programmed to do it.
Programming is the correct word, we program ourselves to do a lot of stuff. You probably take the same route to work each day. Or when you go outside to take a walk, to refresh yourself, you take the same route. Our brains work like that because if we processed and decided on each piece of information we collect, our brains would explode, and we would not get to think about the greater stuff in life. Walking by itself would be a chore big enough that our minds couldn’t wander off to think about art or love.
Learning new things, like a new language or driving, is forcing us to create new mind maps of stuff we have to do, so we experience anxiety and sometimes quit and completely leave the new skill behind. But if we persevere and stick on to learning it, new mind maps create in our brain, and we form a habit of doing those new things. Computer programming has somewhat become a habit for me, at least the stuff I do on a day to day basis. I feel the same anxiety when learning a new language, a new framework, or having to solve a different problem.
Once you find similarities between the things you are doing at the moment, and the stuff you have done before, your brain will connect the dots, and make it an easier path for you. All problem solving skills are mental habits of some kind, you learn how to identify the problem (the cue), you know how the solution should look like (the reward), and you fetch the stored routine from your brain to solve the problem. Of course, the routine might not fit the problem 100%, but that is where we adapt and create a new routine for the problem at hand.

ember-cli 101 Book Review

Ever since I first heard of Ember.js (even before the 1.0 days), I’ve been wanting to learn it. But the learning curve of the framework always veered me off from it. Also, the lack of a real project to apply Ember.js to it was also an issue. Yes, we can rebuild the Hello World (Todo MVC app) in any possible framework, but the real learning comes when you start building a real application, with all the issues and edge cases it brings with itself. Although I’ve read a lot of blog posts, watched a lot of screencasts, tinkered with it, and nothing came close to the information provided in the ember-cli 101 book by Adolfo Builes. As ember-cli is now the official “Ember Way” (not to be confused with the book that is coming out in spring/summer 2015), I’ve realised it’s worth learning about, and using it to build great applications.
A warning note, if you are looking into Ember.js, and aren’t really that proficient with JavaScript, do yourself a favour and go read this four book series first: Master Space and Time With JavaScript by Noel Rappin. It will teach you the basics of JavaScript, and it also contains an Ember.js book as the last part of the book series.
In the book, the author guides us through creating a simple item borrowing app. The difference from all other tutorials is that the author has created the backend API for us and has different endpoints, as he guides us through the book. You will learn how to implement a medium complexity app with a REST (Rails active_model_serializers) API. Also, you will touch all of the Ember.js components, and implement them in your demo application. You will also get to learn the awesome ember-cli cli generators, which are a really nice thing, especially looking from a perspective of a Ruby/Rails developer, that is used to having those nice things.
Although I’ve learned a lot from this book, I still have to reference the Ember.js API docs for every complex issue. As I will probably have another blog post on learning things, I won’t write much of it now, but the gist is, you have to build 10 apps to be a specialist in a framework, or one or two really nasty ones. You will encounter basic issues when you are starting out, and some weird ones specific only to your project. But that is the thrill of our job, and we need to embrace it, it wouldn’t be much fun writing todo apps our whole lives, would it?
Back to the book, it’s a fairly light read, updates constantly, and as the author himself promised, it will be updated at least until Ember.js version 2.0, which is still in the RFC process. If you are thinking about learning Ember.js, you should definitely consider reading it. You won’t learn everything, it isn’t a silver bullet book that will teach you a new framework in an afternoon, but it will give you a much better start, compared to everything else that is out there. Also, consider that Ember.js is constantly improving(with a 6-week release cycle), so having an up to date resource, while you are learning the framework is a great thing.

Yearly review 2014

It’s the beginning of a new year and the best time to look back on the one behind us. As writing reviews of the past times is generally a good thing, because our memory of lesser moments will fade away, there is only one way to be able to look back and have enough consistent data of the past. If nothing else, we can use it for future benchmarking and see if we are moving in the right direction.

Writing

I wrote more blog posts in 2014 than all the previous years combined. Thirty posts came out, averaging 2.5 per month. That is not bad, but still not close to one (good) post a week which is my long term goal, in addition to other writing I’m planning to do.

Business

I’ve had a fairly good year business wise, my business making more than ever before. It was also the first full year I was doing remote only consulting. And it is much better than my previous employment. Stepping out of the box, analysing and solving different problems each week/month is a terrific way of improving yourself and your business down the way. I’ve had two burnouts last year, and decided that I need to slow down a bit, and focus on what is really important. Applying the Pareto principle saved my sanity. I stopped working on a few projects, and I’m happier about the time that I now can spend with my family. Also, I have attended my first
CodeRetreat, and learned a lot, not only about programming and TDD, but about myself, and how to handle working under tight constraints.

Personal

Remote work, and the ability to plan my own day has been a blessing, especially because of the fact that I have a two year old son, and spending more time with him than I normally would if I had a normal job, is in itself a blessing. Also, we have been able to spend more than a month at the coast last summer, working from there was a great experience and a proof that this way of life indeed is better (for me).

Reading

I’ve rediscovered my Kindle somewhere around the summer and started reading again. Reading about a book each week, sometimes less, sometimes more. Most of those were business books, but also some of them are design and UX books, recommended by a friend. Design has always been a dark magic art to me, but lately I’m finding out that is isn’t really magic, but constrained by lots of rules and boundaries. And human psychology, which is also of an interest to me.
Also, I’ve been reading some biographies, philosophy, almost anything that felt OK when I was reading the book summaries.

Plans for 2015

I have many plans in my head, but everything is a bit foggy and probably unattainable in a year. So, here are some business plans, some personal development, some simple wishes I aim to accomplish in 2015.

  • Creating some small products, I haven’t figured out what they will be, probably a booklet/book, or a small course. I’ve always been wanting to create a SAAS(software as a service) product, and have some passive monthly income, who knows, if I put enough elbow grease into it, it might happen. Small sites like the ones that Kurt Elster does are something also worth exploring. Although the money from AdSense isn’t something you should rely upon, I agree that it is a nice way to direct people into your sales funnel.
  • Build a site for my consulting business, it has been more than one and a half years, and I don’t even have a landing site for the business I’m working from. That is one of the top priorities for 2015. Even if it is some custom WP theme.
  • Learning more about design, and user experience. It is a great interest to me, and although I realize that I can’t be that developer/designer unicorn, I just want to know enough about design, so I don’t feel totally incompetent among designers.
  • Speaking to user groups, and maybe even a conference. I will have to free up my schedule for this, but the goal is attainable, and speaking to people about the things you are working on and know about isn’t that hard.
  • Reading more. My ballpark plan is to read 54 books in the next year, so basically one per week. And I plan to write reports on the site about them. This could also serve as a nice passive income generator because most books I read are from Amazon, and you can earn a pretty sum of money in the Amazon affiliate program.
  • Spend the whole summer at the coast. I always loved the sea, the air there (living 5 kilometers from an old refinery makes you appreciate the smell of fresh air), and the feeling I have always had. I do plan to work, but work less than usual, and have fun with my family at the beach, for as long as we can.