DIY “awesome whiteboards”

Drilling the whiteboard frame
…Now drill 7/64″ holes through the original holes into the plywood edges to accomodate the screw threads.

A step-by-step guide to making awesome mobile whiteboards for your office.

You gotta love designers who build their own whiteboards.

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Henry Bogle, er, Blodget’s investing advice

And I should add here that, for me, at least, this exercise is totally academic. I don’t buy individual stocks. I don’t buy them because, having been a consummate Wall Street insider for a decade, I learned firsthand just how much of a disadvantage most outsiders are at. I also learned that even the smartest, best-informed insiders are wrong about 50% of the time. And I learned that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the most intelligent investment strategy for part-time investors not paid to manage someone else’s money is to assemble a diversified portfolio of low-cost index funds. And that’s what I’ve done for myself. So I really couldn’t care less what Groupon’s stock does.

At the end of a long post evaluating the best market price for buying Groupon’s IPO stock, Henry Blodget tells us that individual stock-picking is for suckers. Shades of John Bogle!

Kind of amusing: Blodget has refined the art of writing about stock valuations into a breezy but clear style that is, frankly, very good. (And I say that as a former competitor who watched pretty carefully.) But he still says it’s a parlor game that you’d be foolish to play with real money. Right on, Henry!

via GROUPON (GRPN): How much is Groupon worth?.

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Steve Jobs book: I didn’t buy it at Costco

Like so many others, I pre-ordered the Steve Jobs biography soon after his death. (And unlike the other worthy Walter Isaacson bios on my bookshelf, I’ll actually read this one.) Amazon is offering a pretty huge discount, but if ever there was a reason to pay first-release, hardcover prices for a book, this was it. And credit to Simon & Schuster: they’ve pulled out all the distribution stops. Clearly, getting the book into fans’ hands is big deal.

But as of 1pm PT on Oct. 26, I feel like a bit of a sucker. Still haven’t received the book from Amazon (Prime and pre-order notwithstanding), while I saw stacks of the hardcover at Costco this morning, and the Kindle edition went on sale two days ago. #fail

Update: The lovely book arrived at 6:30pm.

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Cook’s CEO? I guess now operations are sexy

Great post at Daring Fireball about how Apple is clearly benefitting from manufacturing economies of scale.

Now that Apple’s products are more popular, we’re beginning to see another benefit to Apple’s lesser degree of configurability: greater scalability. Apple needs larger quantities of fewer different components to manufacture the same number of computers as other companies. It’s not just the economies of scale that all companies get when they sell 3 or 4 million laptops in a quarter — it’s greater, because Apple’s 3 or 4 million laptops sold share a larger number of the exact same components.

via Daring Fireball: The New Apple Advantage

Gruber is correct: the Macbook Air, iPhone and (most obviously) iPad sell at price points difficult for competitors to match. We all know the company locks up components in advance, at bulk prices that no one else seems able to match. That advantage arises out of Apple’s design-driven penchant for rigidly defining their product features and line-up.

What’s interesting from a media perspective, is that attention to Apple’s manufacturing/pricing excellence is arriving after Tim Cook becomes CEO. Apple’s “fewer choices is better” approach has been true for years, and the iPad pricing advantage has been much written about already. But until Cook is CEO, it was a sideshow or a source of complaint.

Call it another from of CEO worship. Or another effort to explain Apple exceptionalism. Whatever it is, we’ll be seeing more coverage of Apple’s business operations sans Jobs.

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One foot in the cloud

The shift of critical software and information off my devices and onto the Internet is incomplete, but it has crept up on me. I’m pretty sure this is common for my peers, and it’s been a pundit-prediction staple forever, so why is this interesting? Because my movement toward the cloud occurred backwards: the most important, most sensitive data went first.

Keep your photos; how about some bank records?
Of course, I bank and pay my bills online. My wife’s small business is using online accounting and payroll, too. Credit cards, sure, as well as personal finance software to monitor all this – Yikes! The entire financial scope of my household and spouse’s business are already “in the cloud.”

One notch down in importance sits professional contacts. I left a long-time job at CBS this summer, and before anyone knew I planned to depart I performed that age-old act of independence: backing up your contact list. All of a sudden, it struck me that my copy of this list wasn’t nearly as important as it used to be. If I know you and need to contact you, chances are very good I can reach you via LinkedIn or Facebook.

Sure, I dumped my contacts into a CSV file anyway, but then I had to choose where to upload them. That’s when the cloudliness of my life sunk in. It seemed absurd to load these contacts on to just one device. Where would I put them? The phone? Laptop? Data that lived in one place didn’t make any sense. What I wanted was — and is — an invisible service to host my contacts and connect well with all my devices. (Memo to LinkedIn: Why not you?)

iCloud uses the wrong pronoun
My most important data was already in the cloud, and I couldn’t imagine taking it back down. Huh, why did it happen this way? It’s obvious in retrospect: This data isn’t just mine; it includes information from other people and institutions.

My contact list is much better now that the people on it keep their information up-to-date. Accounting is better when the bank confirms the transactions. The big cloud benefits are not always social, but they are never solitary.

Apple’s most-touted benefits for iCloud — storing my music, my photos, books, and apps – are all surprisingly solitary. Yes, I want my contacts omnipresent on all devices, but I will switch to iCloud this month mainly to share a household calendar so I can invite my wife to date night. (We had that working well with Microsoft Exchange, but then she shifted to MobileMe and mediocrity broke loose.) What I really need from iCloud is MobileMe that doesn’t suck.

Apple is investing amazing amounts to build the iCloud infrastructure. They will surely lock-in customers better by backing up and connecting each person’s devices smoothly. But upon examination iCloud 1.0 seems too much about each person’s solitary stuff: data in the “I” category. The cloud’s exciting territory of possibilities, and its biggest successes so far, is around information that is shared: data in the “us” category.

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OMG, this is really a book

An ancient Egyptian evil lurks in a guitar chord!

Yes, this really is a book. And Barnes & Noble is advertising it heavily.

If you have headphones and enjoyed Spinal Tap, click the image above to visit the book’s Web site.

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Ladies, I give you product/market fit

Sounds AWESOME! I echo what the others have said about charging per extra! I love it! I will definitely be adding on!

via Unraveled » Blog Archive » Ravelry Extras.

Ravelry, a social network for knitters, continues to fascinate. This week the site added its first paid features, and the user base responded with an astonishing round of huzzahs like the one above. When does that ever happen? When you have amazing product/market fit.

The feature in question is a smoother way for users to upload photos into forum discussions. For the mom-and-pop team behind Ravelry, this likely means they have additional costs to store photos directly instead of linking to them from Flickr or Photobucket. Ravelry has 1M members and the network is rich with photos; and while large scale online storage is cheap, it ain’t free. So they made the feature an “Extra” and charge users $5 a year for photo uploads. (Oh, and they provide users to instructions on how to do this for free, with just a few more steps.)

Great price. Undeniable convenience. Feature aimed at the heart of the site’s key activity. And the comment stream on their public blog is unremittingly positive. Users are thrilled to sign up for a recurring charge on a feature-by-feature basis. Wouldn’t you like some of that action in your business?

This move is something that a company can do only when it knows the user base very, very well.  As Naval at Venture Hacks once wrote, startups should strive for “passion/market fit” first, and that’s what happened with Ravelry. The business started as an electronic encyclopedia of knitting with social baked in. Since social is the dominant product-development gene, those features took over, leading to amazing growth and huge user engagement. This site you’ve never heard of is a major force in the $1.5B craft-knitting industry. Just amazing.

Update: Casey Forbes, the programmer/ops guy/founder of  Ravelry tweets, “Not everyone was happy.” While I’m sure that’s true, I’ve been through many site upgrades where the user base screamed bloody murder at cosmetic changes. I’d need asbestos underwear if we dropped a subscription charge on features like you did. Maybe knitters are just nicer? (No, that can’t be it.)

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Gotta love AdSense: “I’ll Never Let You Go”

Scribd is featuring poetry from a sentimental (and comic-book-loving) man on its homepage today, so I browsed and came across this ode to his wife. Lovely sentiments, but Google’s AdSense has a different take on long-term commitment: litigation, lawyers, estate law and mortgages.

Oh, those romantic fools in the ‘Plex!

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“It’s a good time to be a developer,” says CNET

To build a quality, sustainable product and have a business that scales, you will sooner or later have to hire people, and in the Valley that usually means engineers. And engineers arent cheap these days.

– via It’s a good time to be a developer

Click through to see an infographic on engineer supply and demand. Most interesting data point? That the salary delta for engineers from top 20 schools is 12% — just about $12K per year. That’s more immediate and concrete than you find in a lot of professions.

P.S. When did infographics become the hip way to convey mildly complex information in public? I like it, but it’s kinda funny that a recruiting firm is “releasing” an infographic.

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There’s a trap hidden inside digital success.

This is the painful truth — from TechCrunch of all places (via Marco):

And therein lies the real problem of web 2.0 — whether it takes the form of SEO-driven “news” or crowd-sourced accommodation. To make money — real money — at this game you have to attract millions, or tens of millions, of users. And when you’re dealing with those kinds of numbers, it’s literally impossible not to treat your users as pieces of data.

via A Billion Dollars Isn’t Cool. You Know What’s Cool? Basic Human Decency

When digital media is essentially private, and the number of users is measured in the millions, it becomes difficult for the people inside a media company to get to know the people whose time we are borrowing. We are forced into abstractions and lose a connection to the people on the other side of the screen.

And the explosion of “user engagement” data dashboards doesn’t help. We end thinking like amateur social scientists — seeing human beings as a quantified profiles of user behavior. We need that data, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a helluva lot more fun to get to know the people.

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