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Shopaholic Usurps The Iron Throne.

04.19.11 Posted in General, Rant by

NY Times writer, Ginia Bellafante, wrote this rather asinine and careless judgement on one of my favorite books and the new TV series, Game of Thrones.

The true perversion, though, is the sense you get that all of this illicitness has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise. While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first. “Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.

It’s quite obvious this reviewer has never read the books. If she did, she would have understood how George R. R. Martin treats the female characters in the series. He portrayed them with respect and his female characters are multi-faceted. Many of the major characters are female and many are characterized as stronger, smarter or clever than their male counterparts. Most importantly, these female characters are deeply integral to the core of the story.

Ms. Bellafante might have found out by now that there are many women out there who read and like fantasy and its cousin science fiction from all the hate mails and internet backlash she got after this review. Since Ms. Bellafante claims to not know a single woman who reads or enjoys reading Game of Thrones  or The Hobbit or any of the glorious fantasy novels, she needs to meet more women – ones who are comfortable with chick lit and fantasy equally or even ones who prefer The Wheel of Time over Bridget Jone’s Diaries. Women who don’t have an issue with books in which there’s too much fighting or the primary character is not female or the story line isn’t about shopping. To put it plainly, women who enjoy being called geeks or nerds and women who are very comfortable with themselves. Yes, nerd pride!

 

George R. R. Martin is one of the most brilliant writers alive today and he didn’t write his story and then add some shiny sprinkles (illicit sex scenes) to get female audience to make his books into the top selling lists. HBO stayed pretty true to the story lines and actually it probably has less sex than the books judging from what I saw in the first episode. It’s also bizarre to suggest that HBO can attract more women by showing scenes of incest, rape and a midget surrounded by naked women. Last I checked, most of internet porn is being consumed by men.

I am not surprised there may be a few TV writers clueless enough to write reviews like that. I am just surprised that a publication like NY Times employs editors who let their writer post such a ludicrous piece go up on their site.  Also if you are going to write a spectacularly uninformed negative review of a very popular entity (book, author – it really doesn’t matter since really great writers see themselves as one with their books), you should at least learn to write well enough that readers will go away thinking you might just have a point.

You can write scathing reviews that are worth reading if you are a good writer. Read Dwight Garner’s review of The 4 -Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss. That’s how you write a negative review, full of mockery  and insults, that’s worthy of reading. Ms. Bellafante can learn a thing or two from Dwight Garner even if she insists to keep her absurd ‘personal opinion’ that women just don’t want to read fantasy novels.

But please, whatever you do, don’t write a review of Malcolm Gladwell’s next book that goes along the lines of “Women don’t read non-fiction. I don’t know a single woman who enjoys non-fiction. Malcolm Gladwell added fashion and sex topics to throw a bone to the other half of population”.

-A Woman who reads books regardless of whatever aisle they were shelved on.

 


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I have to fill up all this space!

12.31.10 Posted in General, Technology by

The problem with standard word processors and even “distraction-free writing” apps such as WriteRoomOmmWriterDarkRoom and QuietWrite is that they all give you a giant white space when you start out. It inevitably  invokes this daunting feeling of ‘I have to fill up all this space.’

What I really want is a dead simple word processor with a small writing pane that fits 3 sentences at most. So after I write the first 10 words, it will look like I have written a whole lot. It’s the first hurdle for most people to get started with whatever they are trying to write. The first 10 – 20 words. Once they come out on the screen, the writing window can expand along with how much you’ve written. Make the writing pane just high enough so that it looks to me like I am almost done even from the beginning.

There are many tips and tricks to get you started writing out there. Participating in projects like NanoWrimo (National Novel Writing Month) or making a New Year’s resolution (you can even take a contract out with stickk.com on yourself) can help you but these are just goals. They only tell you that you have to write certain number of words every day. They don’t give you a real practical way to actually start.

Your new year resolution to write every day can be good for deciding whether you should sit in front of your computer and launch your word editor or you should sit on the couch and turn on the TV. They help at the moment when you are getting up from your dinner table.

Now you are at the computer, staring into a blank screen. Pure, pristine and massive.  This blank screen is staring at you, almost mocking. You stare back, feeling quite lost. You feel like you will never fill this blank space, let alone finish writing what you intend to write.

That’s why I need a tool that’ll get me start typing and keep typing and not delete anything I have typed so far. Something that will just keep my fingers moving.  Actually I would not mind a word processor that won’t let me delete words. If I press ‘delete’ or ‘backspace’ keys, it should cross out the characters instead of making them disappear. Make that screen look full, even filled with mistakes or false starts. Then whenever I hit 50, 100 words, give me something that will make me smile and feel good. Encourage me to keep going.

Give me a word processor that will nudge me to get started in the first place and keep me going. One that will stop me from opening up a browser and looking up on the internet on one thing or other and I realize “Ohh, I haven’t written anything in last 5 minutes.”

That’s my wish for 2011.


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Relentless Optimism : Essential ingredient for the success of a startup.

08.11.10 Posted in Startup by

Jason Evanish of Greenhorn Connect wrote a post titled Why you should quit your startup today. I just wanted to leave the following content as  a comment on his post but the site requires registration. And when I did try to register, the registration email didn’t show up  and it’s been about 10 mins. I figure I’ll post this here and send a link to Jason on twitter. 🙂

Here is one more reason why someone should quit their startup.

You are not an optimistic person in general.

Founding a startup is hard. You can’t be pessimistic. You can be cautious. But you can’t be negative.  You have to be positive and optimistic by nature. Otherwise, you will get knocked down by fear, anxiety and worry every single day.

Startups are full of uncertainties. You will encounter many people who doubt your vision, well meaning advisors who suggest complete opposite of what you set out to do, customers who say no and many things that don’t go your way. You can’t lose momentum every time you hear something you don’t want to hear. In a startup, if you are the type of person who needs hours or days to recover from a setback, your startup will never get to where it needs to be. There just isn’t enough time or mental energy to not be optimistic.

From my exposure to many Techstars, YCombinator  and Boston area startups, one personality trait I keep noticing among successful founders is optimism. They just seem to have this relentless optimism that normal people tend to lack. You need at least one person on your founding team who is relentlessly optimistic every single day!

And if you don’t have it, you might be able to start a startup but you won’t enjoy the ride. Then what’s the point of starting a startup if you are not going to enjoy the experience when the risk is higher and the work is harder.


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What's Moah up to these days?

07.30.10 Posted in General by

As I mentioned in the previous post, I recently left my Product Designer position at Carbonite (I know the resume isn’t updated, I will!) and my green card application through another mean is still pending. Once that comes back, I will be able to start my company or get involved with any funded or unfunded early stage start up of my choosing. So I am really looking forward to that freedom. But to achieve that freedom, I cannot work for any employer at the moment.

I’m helping Alex Moore of Baydin to design a really awesome Email Game. It’s meant to help people who are not good with email but want to get better. It’s designed to make email less painful and more fun for people. It’s meant to help people (like me) who haven’t developed a good discipline to deal with the inbox overflow. It’s currently in Alpha and we’re getting great feedback and surprising emotional response to the game from our alpha testers. If you are one of those daring souls that love to play with pre-release software, follow @emailgame on twitter and let us know there. We will  dm you with a link in a week or two.

I also want to give back with any free time I have left over. I am also available to help startups with any UX design challenges. I can give feedback on your design or suggestions and also share low cost DIY usability testing techniques.  If you are a bay area startup and will like to meet me in person, I’m here until August 3rd. Startups are my passion and I want to live, breathe and drink startups. As I said, I can’t charge you for all the visa reasons.  But this hiatus won’t last forever.  Find me on twitter.


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Scobleized : Startup Visa and more

07.30.10 Posted in General by

You may have gotten to this blog from Scoble’s latest post. Here is the video of his interview.  If you didn’t get here from his blog/video, I was at a Mentorship Mixer event last night and was interviewed by Scoble to talk about Startup Visa.

I wanted to add a few more context to the conversation on what I’m up to and why I’m supporting StartupVisa.  I recently left my Product Designer position at Carbonite (I know the resume isn’t updated, I will!) and my green card application through another mean is still pending. Once that comes back, I will be able to start my company or get involved with any funded or unfunded early stage start up of my choosing. So I am really looking forward to that freedom. But to achieve that freedom, I cannot work for any employer at the moment. I think it’s a great trade. If you want to know more about what I’m up to, read this next post.

But there are many other MIT graduates like me who are working in companies that sponsor their H1B visas since they graduated. We all graduated in 2005. The 6 year limit on H1B is coming up pretty soon for many of us. The current immigration policy makes it hard for them to keep working in US. I understand with the current economy and the unemployment rate, some people may be resistant to doing anything about this.

And then, there are ones who want to start their own startups. They moonlight and work on their projects on the side while having a full time job. But they cannot get up and quit their full time job to dedicate 100% to their startups and raise funds and grow a company for real. That’s why I think Startup Visa is going to make a difference. This type of visa doesn’t take any job from any americans and if successful, they are going to be creating jobs for many.

I have to say Scoble is a great journalist. He really had a genuine interest in people’s stories and he got me talking about the topics I’m pretty passionate about, startup visa, women in tech, etc. I’m looking forward to having more conversations like this. I’ll do one more follow up post based on the conversation we had about under-representation of women in tech and start ups. Hold me to it!


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Translating JFDI. Data driven startups talk by David Cancel.

07.24.10 Posted in General by

This month Lean Startup Boston Meetup had David Cancel of Performable to talk about Analytics and A/B testing. Here are my notes. The actual slides from the talk can be found here. I just want to note down my translation of what was presented and the surrounding commentary that you can’t find in the slides.

    Talking, Reading & Dreaming are all worthless. Just start DOING! or more closer to “Just F’ing Do It.” Hence, the post is titled “Translating JFDI”. [This is a good wakeup call for me since all my life, I have been conditioned to read and absorb as much information as I can by personality and training. And it’s good to remember it doesn’t matter how much you’ve read, analyzed, discussed unless you have done it and actually helped your startup.]
    The single most important thing is “Does anyone give a shit about your dumb idea?” [There were good commentary on how you know if anyone gives a shit. The recommendation is just to start talking to people: anyone on the street, your mother, potential customers, not just startup obsessed hackers. You will know if people care by how engaged they are. How much they let you bother them by going out of their way to discuss, sending you feedback, letting you record their screens or phone calls.  David noted that this is really hard for many engineering type people since we are all more or less introverts.]
    The reason to just start doing and stop reading and dreaming is because there is no repeatable pattern for startup success. [It’s kind of funny since right after saying this, David recommended reading two books, Startup Lessons Learned and The Four Steps to Epiphany. Obviously it was a Lean Startup Meetup.]
    Analytics and A/B testing are also not the answer. No magic bullet here. They just serve to validate your assumptions.
    What about A/B  vs. multivariate?  Multivariate testing is completely useless for a startup mainly because you are too small and you don’t have enough data for it to make sense. [For the giants like Google, they have enough data and traffic to use multivariate testing for good benefit.]
    Come up with one assumption, Test and then Iterate. Make that cycle as short as practically possible. [The faster you are, the more likely you will get to what truly matters to the success of your startup. There were questions from the audience on what to test. David noted most of the times, it’s the copy that makes the most difference. Try a bunch of different ways to evoke  emotional connection to the visitors. I disagree to a point David made that it’s all about the emotional connection, not about the facts. It does matter how much information they have seen at the time you are asking them to take the next step along the conversion path. But that’s just a hunch. I’m sure we can test that too!]
    Don’t start testing on the home page. Start somewhere else.
    Always be testing. Just don’t be stupid about it.
    Beware of local maxima. [I have always been concerned about A/B testing optimizing for local maxima and never making the jump to global maxima. When Google obsessed over testing small details over and over (aka the infamous 41 shades of blue) to the point of driving some designer away from working there, I cried ‘local maxima!’  David made a great point of how Facebook is making radical changes,  pissing off many users, as an example of how to make the jump from one local maxima to next. That’s a great point and very valuable insight I took out of this talk.]
    Remember to optimize for learning, not to just collect data.
    Three Must-haves for any startup that wants to be data-driven.
  1. Operational Dashboard – Go make it today.  [ Leave it ugly. Do it manually until someone complains. Everyone in the company can see this. For each item on the dashboard, have someone responsible for that number. Master this before moving to the next step. ]
  2. Conversion Funnel Analysis [Monitor it after making any change to see how the change affected your business. Don’t make it real time or get addicted to this. Don’t get too jumpy and react. Make sure it’s long enough and figure out how to fix them.]
  3. Cohort Analysis [Read more about it on Fred Wilson’s post. Basically, it’s tracking group(s) of people over a long period of time to see if there are changes in their engagement, activity. This is the part I wished the presentation had more details on. I still don’t know much about it.]

Most importantly, decide what you are optimizing for. [This part is not in the slides but I believe is particularly useful. I filled in the details for better comprehension. ]

If you are optimizing for cash flow/profit, you have a clearer view of what to optimize for. $$$$$

If you are optimizing for raising funds, it’s an art of story telling. Decide your story line and get the numbers you need to support your story line.  It might be traction, it might be proving that you can get >1x returns for each customer you acquire or that you have an  enormous market, or how fast you can grow your customer base. Focus on your story and optimize on that number.

Overall, it was a fantastic talk and great discussion among the audience. I highly recommend attending this meetup if you’re interested in this sort of thing. David is a great speaker to listen live. As awesome as his slides are,  you have to be there to get the full value of the talk.

Some tools mentioned during the talk

Kissmetrics and Mixpanel for funnel analysis.

Usertesting for qualitative testing.

Olark for monitoring your visitor and engaging with them. [One advice that wasn’t on the slide was “keep things high touch. Don’t worry about making anything scalable. That’s a problem you will feel lucky to have later on”. ]



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User Experience of Quitting a Gym

06.14.10 Posted in General by

I’m live posting the user experience of quitting a gym membership.

First Part.
I called the number listed on the card and said “Hi, I want to cancel my membership.” I was asked why I was leaving their gym and explained I’m no longer in their vicinity.

Without explaining what’s going to happen next or asking who I was, she forwarded me to a voice mail number. At this point, I was starting to get confused. I hang up and called again and asked if she intended to forward me to a voice mail. And she said, “No, I will have to take care of it myself but I don’t have anyone at front desk. I will have to call you back in a little bit.” From that sentence, I understood 0% of what her excuse for sending me to the voice mail was.

I wasn’t sure how she was going to call me back if she did not know who I was or have my number. So, I prompted her to take down my name and phone number.

We will see how long it takes for them to call me back.


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Navigating New York – Digital Way (Part Travelogue, Part Reviews, Part Tips and Lessons Learned)

05.24.10 Posted in General by

Map of the New York Subway
Image via Wikipedia
This past weekend, I was in New York city with my sister and a friend. Here is how I found different digital means of navigating and enjoying the trip. This post is as much for you readers as it is for my digital archive.

 

A week ahead
I logged into Intercontinental site to use my rewards points and my Gold member status to score this pretty sweet Holiday Inn in Soho. (It’s a perfect location for taking Chinatown bus and shopping in Soho.)
I checked out Bolt and MegaBus for Wifi-enabled productive bus rides but no luck, the tickets were double the price of good ole Fung Wah. So I decided to book the infamous Fung Wah bus for round trip tickets from their web site.

 

The morning of
I looked through my check list in Things for Weekend Travel.

 

Day 1.
Looked up directions to the hotel from GoogleMap from the hotel confirmation I sent to Evernote and saved it off line. Yelp iPhone app did well to navigate us to a good italian place on Little Italy. Food was decent and deserved the rating on Yelp.
Then off we went to Soho for shopping. Between Yelp and GoogleMaps, I think we did pretty well by hitting up Topshop, Uniqlo, Muji and a few small boutiques.
When I hit a crisis of conscience deciding whether to buy this crazy dress, polling Twitter and Facebook gave me reassurance. But to be sure, I sent the picture to the boy and the mother. There probably is a dedicated iPhone app for this kind of dressing room crisis.
Wandering around east village with the help of Yelp and my memory, we fed ourselves well with Taisho (Japanese bbq on skewers as far as I understand) and what I assumed to be Mike’s Pastries equivalent of New York. Back in the hotel room, the laptop wifi wouldn’t connect even though Holiday Inn claimed they had it. The iPhones were useful in looking up on when we needed to get to the half priced ticket booth and which shows were our top choices.

 

Day 2.
After getting the tickets, we headed out to Guggenheim and in the subway tunnel deep underground, GoogleMaps lost the cached directions. I panicked for a few minutes, then I remembered NYC Way app had the maps saved offline. I really thought I was going to be writing a glowing review for them while I was waiting for the app to load.  After I loaded the maps, they came up blank. And I just went with my guts and it was fine.
Then we saw Chicago and headed back home after stopping by Soho once more to return some purchases that were regrettable (no, not the fish scale dress!)

 

On the bus ride home
I wrote this post in Evernote but I should have an offline blog post editor for the future. I wanted to make sure I don’t miss both of my Stickk.com commitments and post this before tonight is technically over.

 

Here is my must-have list.
1. iPhone and Charger (Bring the charger with you on person)
2. GoogleMaps app
3. Evernote app
4. Yelp app

 

Note to self for future NY trips
These are the two things I could have done to make it even easier next time.
1. Load all the major places into Google Maps Bookmarks
2. Save NYC Subway map into Evernote account and mark it as a Favorite for offline use

 

Before heading out on the trip, I was quite excited by the prospect of NYC Way app showing me high res NY subway map on an iPad.  But would an iPad actually make a better device to take on a trip? iPad 3G could have helped with looking up or booking Broadway tickets when our hotel wifi wasn’t working as advertised. But during this trip that required a lot of walking and subway rides, I walked around with my phone in my hand staring at GoogleMap and walking at the same time. That would have looked pretty odd with an iPad in my hand. More importantly, the ruthless pedestrians in New York would have knocked it off my hand in the first hour.  Although, I really wish my iPhone had the battery life of an iPad.

 

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Horizontal Attention Heat Map

04.27.10 Posted in General, UI by

Nielsen’s group recently published the results from an eye tracking study for user attention for horizontal dimension.

Their main observation is

  • Left half of any page gets 69% of viewing time and right half gets about 30%.
  • Their recommendation is ‘Stick to the conventional Layout’ for the best results.
  • Keep navigation all the way to the left. This is where people look to find a list of current options.
  • Keep the main content a bit further in from the left.
  • The most important stuff should be showcased between one-third and halfway across the page. This is where users focus their attention the most.
  • Keep secondary content to the right.

Brendan Reagan from Grokdotcom came up with his own way to apply that data for testing the page layouts.

Nielsen’s data for viewing time across horizontal dimension by 100 px each is found in the chart below.

I translated this data into a reusable heat map to be shared with UX team at work and I figured I should share it here as well. You can get the full sized png template here.

Horizontal Heat Map Overlay

When I came across ABtests.com, I looked through the samples uploaded and found this sign up page A/B testing by LessAccounting. Original test write up theorized that having the buttons on the left might be the primary contributing factor to 20% increase in conversion rate. His hypothesis is correct if we can believe Nielsen’s data as correct across all sites with left to right reading languages.

Comparing the sums of attention percentage for each layout, we can clearly see the left layout got much more attention. This test is particularly a good A/B test to support Nielsen’s data since all other elements (content, call to action button color, size) remain exactly the same in both layouts. The only difference here is the position of the call to action buttons and more informational bulleted text.

Less Accounting Right Layout
  • Call to action buttons are on the right  starting from 700 px to 1000 px horizontally
  • Sum of attention percentage ~20%
  • Conversion rate 10%
  • Call to action buttons are on the left starting from 100 px to 500 px horizontally.
  • Sum of atention percentage ~58%
  • Conversion rate 12%
How to Use This Heat Map
  • If it’s an existing site, resize your browser window to 1100 px before taking a screen shot.
  • If it’s a design in progress, you should capture it around 1100 px size.
  • Open your image in  Photoshop and layer this heat map over.
  • Line up the top of the heat map color bars with top of your image so that you can see the percentages clearly. (optional)
  • Adjust the opacity till your image is visible.

You can take this template and start layering over landing or new content pages you are designing and optimize your layout to maximize intended conversion metrics.


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Finding Time to Read

04.17.10 Posted in General by

If you haven’t read a book in a while because you haven’t found any time to read in your busy schedule, try this one simple thing.

Read ten pages of a book you always wanted to read before you go to bed. Every day, read just ten pages. If you fall asleep after that, it’s good. If you still have some energy, you can keep reading. The time doesn’t have to be before bedtime. It could be on your commute. It could be with your breakfast while you wait for coffee to brew. But for it to work, you have to do it every day at the same time and just make a habit out of it.

If you do this every day, you will have read 365 x 10 pages = 3650 pages  a year. That’s about 9 books per year, assuming an average book has 400 pages. No matter how busy you are, you can finish 9 books a year. That will put you way above the US average (1 book per year). You won’t feel guilty when next year comes, and you won’t have to make any more resolutions to make time for reading!

You will be amazed how many books you can finish over the years, especially if you have a few extra minutes to extend your  reading time to 15 or 20 minutes a day. Better yet, maybe you’ll get pulled deep into a great book and find yourself unable to tear your attention away from it. Either way, this is an easy way to get started if you want to read but haven’t found time to.