7 Tips to Win At Banagrams

I like Banagrams - the game that is basically Scrabble without the board.  I was chatting (really flirting) with someone online who claimed ” I would kick your ass at bananagrams, and then kick your ass for daring to challenge me.” (This could seriously be a love at first hate situation).

So she and I produced the 7 tips that will enable #winning at Banagrams.

  1. Start with a long word.  You need to take your initial letters and make the longest word you can.  This way you create more possible branches to build your words faster.
  2. Continue with a another long word.  This is her advice. I generally just try to use letters after the first long word, but she insists that a second long word all but assures victory over your literary lessors. 
  3. Avoid dumping letters.  You can dump letters that you can’t use.  Don’t do this. It wastes time and penalizes you with more letters. 
  4. Remember where you dumped letters. This is borderline cheating since you aren’t supposed to know what is under the upside down letters. However, you have a brain, use it. If you dump 2 Qs, don’t pick them up again.
  5. Never dump late in the game. When the dump pile is small, the only letters left will be those dumped by everyone else. These letters will suck. If you dump an X you’re sure to pick up 2 Zs and another X if you dump late.
  6. Learn a lot of 2 letter words.  How do you get rid of an X? “OX”. How do you quickly move an R?  “OR”.  You know these words, use them. When you have 1 letter left, you will win.  You can avoid losing with a single letter if you know your short words.
  7. Last, and possibly most important advice: Do not be afraid to wipe and rebuild all your words.  You may have chosen a great first word but then your letter picks have left you at a dead end.  Start over with a new, longer first word. You will often find that you end up ahead of the game.


Contract to purchase real estate in Massachusetts

I am considering buying a condo in Lexington, MA.  Sometimes I don’t follow good advice and instead of hiring a lawyer I do my own legal work.

In order to buy a house you typically follow these steps:

  1. find a house that is for sale.
  2. visit the house and decide you want to buy it.
  3. give the seller’s broker an offer letter with some contingencies, such as your ability to get a loan or sell your existing home or other stuff.
  4. the seller comes back with a response like ‘you are a jerk for offering me so little for my family home, go jump in a lake’ or ‘yes, please pay me that much, sucker.’
  5. You start eliminating the contingencies in your offer letter - you get a loan, you get an inspection, etc.
  6. Meanwhile, you hire a lawyer to get a Purchase and Sale Agreement completed.
  7. Your lawyer and the seller’s lawyer go back and forth on arcane issues.
  8. Your lawyer will have a title search done to make sure the seller actually owns the house.
  9. When all the contingencies are satisfied and the price has been renegotiated to cover the leaky basement, termites, squatters, etc., you schedule a “closing” and the bank, the lawyers and the seller all show up to sign a zillion documents.
  10. The house is yours.

I’m at stage 3. I need an offer letter.  Smart folks have lawyers prepare offer letters. I’m not that smart. But offer letters are hard to come by. So I took a sample given to me a by a broker in pdf format and had it converted to .doc format.  Then I took another sample given to me in jpg format and had it converted to .doc format. For the edification and benefit of the public, they are now in google docs as public documents.

If you need an offer template, here they are.

Massachusetts real estate draft offer letter 1

Massachusetts real estate draft offer letter 2

And heres the one I cleaned up and rewrote

Disclaimer: I did not write these. I got them from people who claimed to be real estate brokers, but they might be circus clowns or congressman.  If you actually lose any money or value or you or anyone you know or have ever known is harmed by these draft offer letters on Earth or the Moon or Mars including all living things such as humans, pigs, porcupines, hares, zebras and invertebrates you give up all rights to any redress or compensation from me or anyone I know on this planet or anyone I will ever know on any planet at any time in any universe, parallel, perpendicular, multi-dimensional or otherwise.  so there.

Scientists in the USA and France Face Different Futures

A short post:

Compare and contrast: March 8, 2011

US scientists in budget limbo Researchers face anxious wait as negotiations continue in Congress over 2011 budget.

France puts €260 million into research infrastucture Stimulus cash aims to make national facilities world class.

iPhone vs. Android - and the winner is…

So I have both an Android phone and an iPod touch. My Android is an HTC Incredible on Verizon. The iPod Touch is the newest version with front and back cameras. I have Skype installed on the iPod Touch and I have used it at home and in offices to receive skype calls. For most purposes, with wifi, the iPod Touch is just like an iPhone.

The Android is awesome. The iPod is awesome.  Both have excellent UI. Apple has changed the world and my HTC Incredible is clearly based on the iPod.  They are so similar that one might think neither is better or worse.

When the Android and the iPod are sitting next to each other and I want to use an application, there is a look and feel difference to the iPod that makes picking it up more compelling.

The best analogy I have is a quote from a review of the Honda Accord vs. the Chevy Impala.  “There’s nothing wrong with the Impala, it’s a great car, but then you drive an Accord…” Apple has done to phones what Honda did to cars - make them unquestionable in what they do.

The Android vs. iPhone debate is like this. Androids have great functionality. They have awesome UI. Everything works the way it should. But then you use an iPhone…it’s just a tad better in small ways.

In comparison to the Android phone, the iPod is slightly thinner (perhaps an iPhone would not be). It’s got a “richer” heft. The bezeled edge, the shiny back, the denser form factor. It doesn’t feel plasticy, it feels solid and dependable.

All that said, there are few things I don’t like about the iPhone. I don’t like the single button on the bottom. My Android has a “back” button below the screen which is intuitive and easy to find. On the iPhone the back button is usually at the top, but could be left or right and might be different based on the app.

I haven’t figured out how to sync my iPod contacts with my google contacts. There’s no “menu” button like there is an Android so I can’t find settings for contacts. This means I can’t easily forward stuff from my iPod camera to myself.

All in all, very interesting to have both devices by my bedstand.  I still check my Android in the morning because that’s where I have my contacts and my twitter account and such, but if I had an actual iPhone and an Android next to each other, I’m pretty sure I’d reach for the iPhone first.

Twitter is an early phone company or coffee shop or something

I come from a cohort that aren’t generally big technology users, or perhaps the reality is that most folks don’t have smartphones and even fewer use services like twitter.  I say this because I have many folks ask me, “What’s the big deal with twitter?”

Though I’m now (back) on Facebook, I find Twitter to be more useful, more intuitive and more immediately valuable to me than Facebook.

I use Twitter to crowdsource my news.  I follow a few people who make a daily habit of tweeting about important events in the startup community. This means I don’t have to read techcrunch or techmeme or hackerthis or hackerthat for important articles. Instead, the folks I follow do this for me. Saves me time and keeps me informed.

Twitter is a communications platform. Though easy to build because the internet infrastructure provides the backbone, it is the brand for instant communication.  It is much like an early telephone company. Then, all calls went through switchboards. No call was truly private and only a small percentage of folks used it - just like Twitter is now.

Of course, the similiarities aren’t so strong that a perfect analogy makes sense. Twitter is more like a party line; there was a time early on in the history of phones when ‘party lines’ were common.  Folks often couldn’t afford their own lines so lines were shared. Though annoying, this also led to group communication.

My other analogy that I use to explain twitter is the coffee shop. Imagine if you could go to a coffee shop for a few hours with 10 million other people. If you wanted you could sit in a corner and read by yourself. Or, if you want, you could wander around following conversations of any type.  This is what I do on Twitter, following a few important conversations, but often just doing my own thing.

Are you struggling with a wait problem?

I have, for many years, said that one of my best qualities was that I “work well under pressure”.

Only with the passage of time and some serious omphalocentric-thought, have I realized that “works well under pressure” is not necessarily a good thing. Let’s look at the implicit counterpart: “doesn’t work well when there’s no pressure” i.e. “won’t work when there’s no pressure”. Basically, unless there’s a reason to do something, you wait. And you wait.

And you wait until there is a reason. And often that reason is some type of pressure to get the work done. You wait to pay your bills until the last minute. You wait to register for a conference, missing the early-bird discounts. You wait to adopt a new technology and then have to catch up to your colleagues who are already learning the technology two steps ahead.

Waiting is normal. We have other priorities. We can’t do everything at once. But consistently putting things off until there’s a strong pressure to get it done is a problem.  And everyone struggles with this problem except for the elite few who are well-organized and on top of everything at all times; they aren’t not typical.

Technology can obviously help. There are dozens of reminder apps out there. I recently learned about followup.cc, which helps you do things you are going to put off. They call it “forgetting” but we all know that’s it not forgetting, it’s simply waiting and waiting until there’s a reason to get something done or some kind of pressure.

It’s not the new year, or it was the new year, but instead of waiting for the new year, I’m making a new year’s resolution to be a bit more diligent about getting things done.

It’s always a good new year’s resolution to be more attentive to tasks at hand. To get things done early. I often tell my boys to do their home the day it’s assigned and not wait until it’s due. And they have been pretty good about seeing the benefit of that.  When I wrote my master’s thesis I was the 2nd person to turn mine in to the Dean and I spent the last two months of school relaxing.

So I’m going to see if I can improve my work ethic and stop waiting for things to escalate before I do them. I can’t wait to see what the results are…

Is MVP the same as Niche? What is your true market?

I’m regularly torn by the concept of MVP - minimum viable product. I know a few things that this does mean:

1. Single product or service. Take whatever services or products you are offering, unbundle them and drop them until a single product or service is left. Don’t add training to your service. Don’t offer your product in more than a couple of colors. No multiple sizes. Got it.

2. Dropping features.  Second you strip away all the features, doo-dads, widgets and other stuff that creeps into any application or product. Drop the automatic double retweeting feature.  Drop the option to have your product delivered overnight for an extra charge. Just make it all very simple. Got it. No worries.

3. Simplify pricing. Ok, we have a single price for a single product. No discounts. No payment plans. No pre-pay subsidies. No two for one. Just a single price. Done.

4. Drop the larger market. Focus on a niche. A single simple product is likely to be a smaller market than the one that had all the features and doodads.  WAIT A SEC…

Is this right?  Should we be simplifying our product until it appeals to a single person. Or should we be simplifying the product so it appeals to the largest number of people? This is a good question…

Simplification shouldn’t mean dropping your sales. In fact, as you iterate through your product, you should be able to increase your potential customer base by simplifying. More people means more money and a nearer term

You want to appeal to people, avoiding the ‘corner cases’, the ‘outliers’ the ‘odd-ducks’. The person who need a special color or a premium feature to be an early adopter isn’t your first customer. Your first customer is the one who will buy your simplest, plainest, vanillaist product.  Coddle this customer. Honor this customer. Cater to this customer.

MVP is about execution. And the cost is a smaller market, but it shouldn’t cause you to lose many sales.

This is my crappy-ass graphic I made in MS Paint to illustrate my awesome point.

Things I Learned In The Peace Corps: Dental Floss

The Peace Corps was hard on my clothing. Aside from wearing the same clothes more often because I simply had fewer, I washed my clothes in a stream, banging them on a rock or hand scrubbing them, grabbing opposite edges and rubbing the cloth against itself to extract stubborn discolorations.  And the brutal sun of Lesotho at 7,200 feet irradiated my clothes as they hung out to dry, bleaching my jeans and I can imagine at the microscopic level breaking down the very molecular structure of my t-shirts.

Shoes were a special case.  Not only did they have to suffer overuse because of the long distances I walked - I lived in the central Maloti Mountains where a single road connected Thaba Tseka to the capital - and my own residence was more than 40 kilometers by foot from there in Lesobeng, typically a two to four day walk with a backpack, they paths were stony and dusty. Normal walking was like rubbing your shoes with sandpaper.

Even the fancy hiking boots of the typical Peace Corps volunteer - the Timberlands, the Merrels, Vasque, were no match for the rugged mountains of Lesotho. After a season of heat and then snow and a few stream fordings, most shoes needed repairs.

And so it came to pass that I was traipsing down the main road in Maseru on a quarterly visit to the capital from the Lesobeng Valley where I worked at the secondary school.  I spotted the “shoe guy” as the other volunteers called him.  He was a miracle worker with shoes according to local lore. And my left shoe had developed a hole right near the big toe, allowing untold quantities of small rocks and pebbles to torture me regularly.

He was an aging Mosotho, a bit wrinkled, wearing a neatly pressed pair of pants and a faded blue button shirt.  He was sitting on an upturned milk crate surrounded by his work for the day - about a dozen pairs of shoes and a tool box full of an assortment of steel implements.

I walked up to him and we exchanged the greetings required of all social interactions in Lesotho (and really in all of Southern Africa); hello, how are you, etc.

I asked him in my halting Sesotho if he could fix my shoe and I pointed out the dime-sized hole in the front.  “Ka nete, Ndate (Of course, sir),” he replied, with the big smile typical of someone brought up in Lesotho.  

But I’m a curious guy and I wanted to know his secret. And I was a bit bored. So I sat next to him and chit chatted about the weather and Lesobeng and how far away it is.

And as he worked I saw his secret. Beside his nimble fingers and long years of experience, he used a big needle and dental floss to sew together the torn leather and fabric of the shoes that had been placed in his care. And this made absolute sense.  Not only is dental floss ubiquitous and cheap, but it’s strong as strong can be.

And I’ve used that little trick many times since then.  I recently replaced the zipper on my son’s winter coat ($4 at Goodwill + $3.17 for a zipper).

I sewed patches on my backpack with dental floss and have sealed up a tent seam (buoyed by a bit of all-weather glue).

4 days from domain registration to launch.

Safequard is one of the fastest launches I’ve ever done.  This one went from idea to launch in 4 days.  Sure, we did a redesign a week later, but the site was up, running with a product with a profitable margin in 4 days.

How did we do it?

1. Start with the idea.

The idea should be simple as shit.  Really really simple. In our case, I had wanted to do something with QR Codes for a while but all the ideas seemed pretty much just dittoes of everyone else. Plus QR Codes are basically like email addresses - and email addresses are free from Google.  But I innovated with QR Codes a bit and knew that QR codes are like anonymous email addresses. They can go anywhere you want to send the person scanning them. And the destinations can be changed on the fly by code.

Most folks just link a QR code to their own web page. My neato torpedo innovation is to link a QR code to a hosted, unique mobile page that the QR code owner can change at will.

2. Look at the technology and make sure it’s available.

While it’s true that most folks start with an idea or a talent for a startup, in order to get something done so fast you need to know that the technology is possible. You can’t be building new forms of warp drive engines if you want to just get something done.  No research is really possible.  You have to know the technology before you begin.

It turns out that QR codes are something I understand having launched a prototype of NotesOnAWindshield.com a few months before. NOAW allows someone to put a QR code on their car and a passerby can tell them their lights are on or their meter is out or whatever.

The same technology is used for Safequard. (If you know someone at Ford Motor Company, please tell them about NotesOnAWindshield.com)

3. Next is design or really user experience. 

Before you build, you must know what you are building.  If you are building a house, you get plans either from an architect or your own hand before you break ground.  Same with websites.  I’m a big fan of hacking shit together in a weekend, but if you want something that will be useable you at least need to pay a modicum of respect to the user before you begin. 

I was told by @Jess3 (actually Leslie Bradshaw, who I’ve been biz-crushing on since she spoke at Geo-Mobile in Boston in the Fall). that your partner should be a designer. Boy, am I glad I took that advice.

So I called Christian Picker, my business partner and hantle haholo designer.  I explained that I wanted to create something that someone could pass out in a bar instead of posting on their car. I had no idea what the site should look like. He asked me questions about where the product would be used and who would use it.  Then he told me that he’d “think about it for a bit”.

It took him about 2 hours to whip up a front page using a program that is basically MS Paint for macs. I think that program sucks giant monkey parts, but you don’t question Picasso when he uses a dried frog leg to paint.  Christian’s original design is basically unchanged on the site now.

4. Plug and play everything.

I already have a Rackspace cloud account so I can create a new website with a database in minutes. I highly recommend this for beginngers. $100/month and I have a hosting company. I registered the domain before I called Christian and pointed the DNS to rackspace.  I created the rackspace account and then began writing the backend.

In the meantime, I needed an API to send the QR codes. I am a publisher through Cafepress - my store is Humorosis - I’ve been selling fuck cancer mugs since 1996. But I didn’t think they had an API and I had researched Zazzle previously and knew I could send custom QR codes through their API and sure enough it worked.

5. Know some coding skills. (Or reuse someone else’s code).

I know that not everyone is a coder and I’m not really. I’m self-taught, my degree is in forestry, but nearly everything you could possibly want to do with code is available as a tutorial on the web.

I had basic authentication (user login) code leftover from the NOAW project so I cut and pasted the login and registration pages and changed the database name in my database include files.

For the db itself I didn’t even build a new one, I literally did a sql export of the NOAW db and them imported it back into the new Safequard db.

I had a bunch of code cleanup to do as well since my NOAW code was messy because I’m still learning PHP and MySQL. Code cleanup took about two days.

Meanwhile, Christian was refining the front page and making me image buttons of various sizes and colors.

We pared down the functionality of the site to just register, login and order. But then realized that folks might want to turn off their Safequards or change the email address of their Safequards. One link was added to turn the Safequard on or off and a small form to change the email address and the site was finished.

We did some testing, changed the Zazzle site and joila! a finished product.

6. We are done and moving on to other things, like Zizzout, but if you do this, you need to go here next: http://sixrevisions.com/website-management/things-you-should-do-immediately-after-launching-a-website/

Now, if only folks would buy them… :)

11 Software Ideas Applied to Homework - a startup

Sometimes, ideas come from problems at home. My son lives in two houses, the result of my divorce.  When he’s not with me, I want to see his homework, as it is being done, not after it comes back.  I don’t want to correct it (well, sometimes I do), I want to see it being done, the same way I want to see check-ins or commits from contract coders.  We already do a daily “stand-up” in the evening to make sure all the work for the next day is done. Or is that a “stand-down”?

What if there were a @GitHub or @Assembla for homework?

1. Each student has a repository.  Each child’s work will be uploaded to a personal repository.  The repository process is automatic. As work is completed, either an online quiz, a written paper, a fill-in-the blank, the work is uploaded with a click or timed to check-in every 30 minutes or automatically when saved on the local, if there is even a local version.

2. It’s highly hierarchical.  Each assignment is versioned. Each class has a folder. Each grade has a folder. Each School has a folder. Each district has a folder. Each state has a folder. The USA has a folder. The world… 

3. It’s tagged for searching. Want to see other 3rd grade math multiplication worksheets being done right now?  Search for “3rd grade math multiplication worksheet” and see other students in process or done last year or from a school in your district.

4. It’s social and shared.  Everyone can see students’ work as it versions. Students, teachers, parents can comment on work as it is committed.  Wrong answers can be corrected.  Teachers control commenting on class folder and school folder.

5. It’s crowd-curated. The best comments can be saved by the teacher and reused in future lessons. Lessons will improve. Learning will be faster. Coders already learn this way. Why not for every subject in every class in every country?

6. It’s time-sensitive.  The owner of the repository, say a class teacher, controls the viewing.  The teacher can see a student’s individual work until a certain time and then the student’s work is available to other students for comments and corrections.  Commenting can be monitored by other students.

7. It’s cloud based. Do I need to expand on this?  It’s shared. It’s everywhere. It’s mobile. It’s social.

8. It’s ipad optimized.  I don’t like to push an individual product, but the ipad is the future of education. Books will go away. Pencil and paper will go away. Ipads and their ilk will take over. A

9. It’s distributed.  With a system like this, is physical presence really necessary?  Wouldn’t distributed education be the next step?  If one student is in India, why can’t other student be in Tulsa?

10. It’s sprint-based:  Homework is already sprint based - it’s got a short fuse, often 24 hours and it’s needs to be done by then.  Calendaring commits on homework simply formalizes what’s already being done.

11. Students as scrum masters:  The teacher is going to be running this shop. But wouldn’t it be great to rotate scrum master among the students and exempt that student that nights homework.  He/she has to ping fellow students with missing commits, but doesn’t bear the penalty for missed deadlines - that’s still the student’s responsibility.

4 Things Gollum Can Teach Us About Passwords

I am opposed to randomly generated passwords.  For many years I have used PC Tools Secure Password Generator.  This great tool will generate an awesome password, that there is no way in hell anyone can remember.

Here’s a 15 digit password that you can produce at that site:  PeThExuCuche8es

This is not a secure password.  It is not secure because in order for it to used it must be saved somewhere by the user.  By saving the password somewhere, the password is only as secure as the place where it is stored.

To be used it will have to be cut and pasted from some excel spreadsheet or google doc or some other insecure location.

During college I worked in the US State Department in a secure area where nuclear arms control data was kept. US Marines would come through the office every night to check to make sure the office safes were locked.  One day one of the safes was left unlocked. Inside that safe were combination’s to the other safes in the office.  Everyone in that office got a security reprimand the next day (it wasn’t my office, whew!). Your password is only as safe as where you keep it.

I can generate a better password that is equally secure:

"What have you got in your pocketses? is my favorite quote from Gollum."

And this brings me to the 5 things Gollum can teach us about passwords:

1. “What’s it doing? Stupid, fat Hobbit! It ruins it!”

Passwords should be personal.  You should not need to cut and paste them and copy them.  You want to remember a long complicated password?  Then it should have personal significance. 

2. “We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious. They stole it from us. Sneaky little hobbitses.”

Passwords should use non-standard words or phrases.  “Pocketses” is an awesome word. You can also choose one of many synonyms for penis, breast, vagina or other body parts. 

3. “We told him to go away… and away he goes, Precious! Gone, gone, gone! Smeagol is FREE!!!….”

Passwords should contain punctuation. Note the 4 periods at the end of the quote. No matter what quote or personal anecdote you use, make sure you use punctuation.  There are 62 characters available if you use upper and lower case letters and digits. If you use a space, that’s 63 and if you use punctuation, it’s more.

4. “She’s always hungry. She always needs to feed. She must eat. All she gets is nasty orcses”

Passwords should be easily memorable.  Gollum quotes are easy for me to remember.  But I also use statements about my past. For a few years I used the quote. “My sister went to Camp Whereadocka in 1974.”  I may have spelled the camp name wrong, but that’s how I remembered it.

9 Items That Need To Be In A Site Spec

A site specification document or site spec is the thing that you will give to your dev team or post on Elance or vWorker to get your site built. If you are building this yourself because you are some kind of whiz kid then you should write this for yourself.

Like a business plan writing your site spec will help you solve problems you didn’t even know you faced.

1. WTF is it?

Is this a mobile app, a web app, a program that will be on your desktop or all of the above?

Most stuff nowadays is Wobile - web and mobile, but you might be building a guest cottage in your backyard and you want to spec it like a website, I don’t know.

2. Content template - design

They say that your first business partner should be a designer. And I think that’s correct.  If you can design what you want and then let engineers figure out how to make it work, you will be ahead of the game. If you engineer the site and then try and shoehorn a design around it, you’ll be fighting legacy code the whole way.

That said, do what you want, eventually it will get done.

Every site has a look and feel, an oeuvre, a theme, a style, what-have-you.  There is usually a standard template for general content pages (about us, contact us, FAQ, TOS, Privacy Policy, etc.). 

You should have a mockup done for this page. It can be the design you always wanted or some examples of stuff you like/don’t like.

You should have some screenshots with annotations.

And by annotations, I mean lots of ‘em. You can’t really comment too much. Design and construction are iterative processes. This is your first shot across the bow to the dev team, so make it a good one.

This is the first run at a front page mockup for PrayerStream.me, which I am having built by a coder I found on elance.com.  I usually use vWorker.com, which I love, but decided to try elance for this project. 

3. Platform

If you are a coder then you can say you want the LAMP stack or you are using Ruby on Rails.

If you are building a Salesforce.com app then you need to say that.

If you are not a coder then you can say you are platform agnostic, which means “I don’t care, just make it work”.

4. Users

Not use cases, but users. Who will use this thing?  And this doesn’t need to be a treatise. It could just be “parents with kids in pre-school” or “everyone on Earth.”  But the dev team needs have some clue about the kind of user.  If you say the users are blind folks and the dev team doesn’t know that then the dev team are guaranteed to ignore things that you are think are obvious like mouse-overs that don’t make a sound even though you said “all mouse-overs must make a sound.”

5. Use Cases and user flows. This is likely to be the main description of your site.

I’m not going to say that these are the same thing, but in reality you need to describe what your users are doing on the site and you can do this by describing specific actions - login - or flowcharts.

Users are generally broken down by “public” and “logged in” and “admin” but you could have more levels than that (think message boards).  And from there it can get pretty involved.

The more detailed you get the cheaper and faster your development cycle will be. So make it really really detailed.

You will forget stuff (what happens when a user wants to edit their username because they are being stalked?) But don’t sweat it, it’s an iterative process that will last until the sun goes supernova. Just get down what you can here and now.

I actually call this user flows and I do a flow chart. and there’s experts smarter than me (ESTM) who will say that use-cases and user flows are very very different and I should be killed.

Here’s the flow chart for Pillminder.Me, which I am involved in.  I built this in MS Word. You can also use Pencil, MS Paint, anything.  Post it notes on a white board photographed with a cell phone work great as well.

6. Business model. simplified.

What are you selling or doing? So don’t give a 50 page detailed description of the market. Just say, “We manufacture and sell from our warehouse in Queens, NY pajamas that are made from pure recycled dog hair.” or “Customers will pay via Paypal for our downloadable list of great places to eat in Tulsa.”

7. data model

Your data model is important.  Most dev teams can make up a data model for you, but really you need to think about this. And if you hire someone to do this, it’s probably a separate job. 

People who create data models are also called data architects. And a data model is also called an ERD or Entity Relationship Diagram.  And the list of jargon goes on and on…

Basically, your data model says how your site content will be stored and how the data interacts with other data. And by site content, I mean EVERYTHING that goes into or out of the website.  So your usernames, passwords, blog posts, everything.

Some of this stuff will be encrypted (passwords). Some will be offsite (blog posts if you use blogger), some will be on your cloud servers (photos of your products), etc.

Below is a table list with field names. But there could also be graphic representations of the data showing parent-child relationships and the like.

8. third party integrations and APIs

If you are going to use third parties, and everyone does nowadays, list them all.

And you’ll be surprised at how many there are.  Some of these are APIs, meaning your backend talks to someone else’s backend (don’t say it, perv.) And some are just bits of javascript that you stick on your site and forget about them.



Google analytics

Google adwords

Google adsense

Facebook authentication



9. missing items

You should make your own list of stuff that you haven’t elucidated.  For example, here’s a partial list of missing stuff from the Zizzout(tm) spec that I haven’t yet finished

    1. Mobile – login design
    2. Mobile registration design
    3. Mobile settings 
Trying to edit draft of book…failing

Fact: book is in MS Word with book-size apper

Fact: printer desires to print from paper tray #5 thinking this holds book-size paper

Fact: printer has only 1 paper tray

Result: book is now printed in tiny letters, printing failed, editing draft on screen.

Why your eyes are horizontal not vertical - the laundry line explanation.

When I was in the Peace Corps in Lesotho in 1990 I did my laundry by hand. I would carry my clothes in a plastic wash basin about 1/4 mile down to  a stream.  There, along with my students and other folks who lived in the nearby villages, we would engage in a recurring ritual of washing, wringing and polluting the local water supply. Good times.

After our clothes had been partially dissolved by Omo, the local detergent, and we had dirtied the water supply of all the downstream villages, we would carry our much heavier wet clothes back up the hill and hang them on laundry lines.

Being a teacher and someone of modest respect, I had my own laundry line that I only shared with a local nurse. 

I did this ritual once every week as did nearly everyone in Lesotho. 

My friend and fellow Peace Corps Volunteer Tim Meisburger commented once that seeing a thin laundry line (often a piece of metal wire strung between two posts) with your head steady and the line stretched taut, was quite difficult.  Your eyes often couldn’t focus on the wire. Your depth perception would put the wire either too near or too far away.  Usually, your head was moving enough so that you didn’t notice this problem. But we’ve all had the moment where an object that is small or difficult to see is suddenly misplaced in our vision and our brain’s visual cortex mistakenly places it too far away or too near.  A blink or a head movement will cure the issue.

The laundry line issue comes about because when your head is upright and your eyes are horizontal and thus parallel to the laundry line, the angle of each eye to the laundry line is the same. With no difference in angle, your brain cannot infer a distance.

Depth perception is possible for humans because we have more than one eye.  Binocular vision allows for depth perception because the angle of an object to each eye is slightly different and our brain calculates the distance. 3D movies work because the glasses you wear separate the movie into two separate images. The different image in each eye allows our brains to infer a distance to the objects displayed on the movie screen.

And this is also why if you lose the sight in one eye you also lose much of your depth perception, though head movement will allow your mind to calculate depth because your single eye will see objects from different angles over time rather than having two eyes seeing an object from different angle simultaneously.

Interestingly, as Tim pointed out, one solution to properly focus on the laundry line and see the proper distance of the line is to turn your head sideways so that your eyes are vertically aligned instead of horizontal.  In this way, the angle of each eye to the wire is different and your brain can properly infer (or perceive) the distance of the wire to your eye.


So, WTF?

Let’s consider the following question. Why aren’t our eyes vertically aligned? Or why are our eyes horizontally aligned?

For example, here’s a kid:

Why aren’t his eyes like this?

Seriously, isn’t that the same?  Aren’t two eyes vertically aligned the same as two eyes horizontally aligned?

What about these creatures? Why don’t they exist?


[So this is my theory, which is mine.]

In fact, nearly all terrestrial creatures have horizontally aligned eyes. And the reason is that most objects in our world are vertically aligned (perpendicular to the ground).

Trees, other people, mountains, etc. are vertical, parallel to gravity.  And evolution has given us the most efficient sight system to see the world around us.

In fact, most objects are perpendicular to the ground - they are parallel to gravity.

But this begs the question, why are our eyes horizontal? Why not at some other angle?

Or why not many eyes?

And the answer is biological efficiency.  Why don’t we have two hearts? Or sixteen lungs or some other number?  In fact, evolution and natural selection or God or Bob The Creator or whatever you want to call it, has caused us to interact with our environment in the most biologically efficient manner.  Building and maintaining a brain to process information from more than 2 eyes would be more biologically expensive than building a brain for 2 eyes. 

Many insects have more than 2 eyes. Why?  Perhaps they regularly interact with their environment in a way that is not parallel to gravity. They fly, they have landed on surfaces that are not horizontal to the ground or they are moving in ways that cause their vision to be not horizontal to the ground. And so they need to be able to process visually in a way that allows for non-horizontal sight. Hence, more than 2 eyes.

Of course, this doesn’t answer the question of why and how 3 eyed people didn’t evolve?

And my answer is that three eyed people would be better equipped to live in a world without gravity, where objects existed normally in a plane that is not parallel to gravity, but instead existed at random angles to the viewer.  In that case, horizontally-based binocular vision would not be the most effective way to see the world around us.

If you want to see how difficult it is to operate with your eyes vertical, go ahead and try to pick out objects when you are lying down.  You’ll find that your depth perception is different. This is not to say you don’t have it, but your mind doesn’t perceive depth as well sideways as it does when you are upright.

Let me add that I didn’t do a lot of research on this topic except what you’ve read here.  I’m sure there are scientists who know all about this who will explain this better with more diagrams and better credentials. To them I say, Hi, can I have a beer?

A call for a human black box

What startup is working on a human continuous bio-sensor device so that we can cut down on hospital stays by taking the hospital with us when we go home?#dash7 @zigbee