Colby Aley

perpetual discontent / programming + startups.

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Things I learned in 2014

2014 was possibly the greatest year of my life. I’m not a huge fan of these cheesy reflection blog posts, but I thought it would be a shame to not document the things I’ve learned this year. And if I’m going to write the list down, why not share it? So here goes…

  1. Keep a physical journal. I’ve been a longtime user of tools like Evernote, but just a few months ago went out and purchased a physical notebook. There’s something about writing my notes on real paper, with a real pen, that I’ve found much more satisfying than typing them. I’ve also found that physically writing things down helps me remember them.

  2. Compete only with yourself. Competition is important because it usually results in quicker growth, but competing with others makes you dependent on them. What if your competition disappears? Then you’re left to stagnate. I’ve learned that often times, the best place to look for...

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Please, not another panel

Those of you who frequent meetups and conferences may be familiar with “panels” or “fireside chats”. For those who aren’t familiar, panels typically feature a group of five or so often prominent people with similar backgrounds. Panels almost always have a moderator responsible for contriving and delivering a set of questions to the panel, who then takes turns answering them.

Event organizers often opt for panels for the wrong reasons, and it shows.

Panels offer the greatest perceived value, but the least actual value. Panels offer the highest perceived value while requiring the least preparation from participants. What do I mean? On paper, panels sound great. “It’s like five talks by five different speakers in a fifth of the time!“. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Think of it this way: nobody goes to the bookstore, reads the back cover of five books, then calls it good. Sure...

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Names

One thing I’ve always had a hard time with is remembering people’s names. It kills me. To me, having forgotten someone’s name is far more embarrassing than them having forgotten mine.

Forgetting someone’s name gives them the impression that you don’t think they’re important, something that can hurt both their ego and your relationship with them.

Dale Carnegie stresses the importance of names in his bestseller, How to Win Friends And Influence People:

“We should be aware of the magic contained in a name and realize that this single item is wholly and completely owned by the person with whom we are dealing … and nobody else. The name sets the individual apart; it makes him or her unique among all others.”

There’s absolutely no excuse for forgetting someone’s name. All it requires is a conscious effort.

With all this in mind, I took an afternoon to create a solution which would allow...

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Meaningless

Words can not describe what it feels like to come from spending your day doing meaningful work, to then having to put effort in to something that will be completely wasted and never touched by a human.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a junior in high school. Tomorrow I have 10 one page essays due for a class of mine. Instead of doing them I decided to write about it.

The teacher whose class I’m writing these for teaches 6 periods of the same class. Being conservative, we can estimate that each class has 25 kids. That’s 1,500 pages he’ll grade by a week from now when the semester ends.

Now, I think it’s safe to say that he won’t be reading them. More likely he’ll have a teacher assistant check each page for length, and grade based upon completion.

But I’m not trying to single out this teacher. This is just an example of what has become the norm. Assignments that aren’t...

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Kudos

One of the things I really like about Svbtle, and one of the reasons I choose to write here is because of the ever so innovative kudos button.

You’re now asking, “did he just use the word ‘innovative’ to describe a voting button?” You bet I did.

Kudos solve a problem that bloggers have had forever. How do you measure your readers’ responses? What differentiates a successful blog post from the rest?

Up until now we have relied on pageviews to tell how successful our posts are. The problem is, pageviews simply aren’t a good way to measure the success of a blog post.

First of all, pageviews simply measure eyeballs. This is useless unless you have some sort of advertisements on your blog. Many people just want some sort of gauge to see how well their blog post did.

Second, pageviews are easy to cheat. For example, if the title of your post is somewhat misleading, you might have tons of...

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Surprisingly Intuitive

I recently attended Startup School 2013 down in Cupertino California. I was staying with some family friends in the area and was taking the Caltrain to Sunnyvale from San Francisco.

In case you’re not familiar with how Caltrain works, payments work using a zone system. The entire line is divided into zones. The more zones you plan to travel through, the more you pay.

Caltrain Ticketing Machine

When buying your tickets, the machine asks you to select which zone you’re traveling to and charges you accordingly.

On my way to Sunnyvale from San Francisco, I selected zone three since I would be traveling through three zones. A couple days later on my way back to San Francisco from Sunnyvale, I selected zone three again, since I would be traveling a total of three zones back.

In my mind this made perfect sense, but I was wrong. I was supposed to have selected zone one, since my destination was in zone one.

I stumbled...

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I know none of my passwords.

I tweeted the other day that I no longer know any of my passwords. People seemed to think it was a joke, so I decided I’ll go into a little more depth on exactly how I’m doing it.

I’m using two different technologies that make this possible:

1Password

I’ve only recently started using 1Password, and regret not jumping on the bandwagon earlier. It’s a great tool for eliminating the need to remember passwords. Often, people use the same password for all of their services, because remembering a new password for each one is near impossible. This is terribly insecure, since if that password is ever compromised, so will be your whole online identity.

1Password lets you store your credentials for multiple services, making...

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What are internships for?

Many people are confused by internships. They think interns are just underpaid employees, who’s only job is to grab coffee. That’s typically not the case. Internships are a great way to gain real world knowledge related to your interests. They allow you to gain experience that isn’t available to you in school, online, or in books. I think the best way to understand what an internship is, is to understand what an internship isn’t.

Internships aren’t for money. Sure you can make money at an internship (as you should), but that’s not really the point. You shouldn’t be doing an internship because of the money.

Internships aren’t for being comfortable. If you’re excited by the opportunity to do the same thing every day — say selling ice cream to neighborhood kids — you shouldn’t do an internship. Selling ice cream is a rather comfortable job, waking up every morning knowing exactly what...

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The idea lifecycle

I tend to have many ideas on a rather regular basis. As such, I’ve become accustomed to what I’m calling The Idea Lifecycle — a process which assists me in managing my ideas.

Inception

Have ideas? Write them down and think about them. Seriously — after having an idea, take a walk, get some fresh air and contemplate the idea. What excites you about it? How it it unique? Then put it away for a few days. After a few days have passed, if and only if it still excites you, should you move on to the next step.

Internal validation

An overlooked part of this step is gauging personal interest. Are you passionate about making the idea a reality? Is it truly interesting to you? If you are going to spend time and resources on execution, make sure you’re fully committed.

External validation

Is the idea worth pursuing? Is it overly obvious? Is it too ambitious (unusual), or not ambitious enough? Get...

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