Ninjas and Robots

Figuring out what’s next. CTO/CMO of Rockstar Coders. Makes the awesome writing software Draft. Previous: CEO of Highrise. Also founder of two YC companies. Engineer for President Obama’s re-election campaign.

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Wabi-sabi

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Almost two decades ago, a young filmmaker landed on the Hollywood scene with a movie that became a big deal, winning awards, and making princely sums of money at the box office. But after that debut, as many critics and fans would argue, every movie he made was worse than the one before it. It got to the point, no one would make a movie with him anymore. His career was over.

So where does this creative genius go from here?


There’s a “YouTuber” I watch closely.

He builds props from random scraps of wood he’s been hoarding. His movie titles are made of inelegant blasts of spray paint. Instead of using the animation capabilities of his editing software, he uses a vacuum to animate paper cutouts to move across a table he built from previously mentioned scraps of wood covered in old previously mentioned wayward flecks of spray paint.

Sure, at the beginning of his career, he was...

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The Mere-Exposure Effect: How Casey Neistat Makes Pop-Songs

Photo by nrkbeta

After watching a Casey Neistat vlog, something peculiar often happens. All day long I’ll find myself humming parts of the music from an episode. He’s created an earworm.

A catchy song or tune that runs continually through a person’s mind.
Earworm

Earworms aren’t peculiar though. They happen all the time. Just listen to a top 10 list on your way to work. You’ll be humming something too probably. What makes this peculiar is that the same song itself from the musicians SoundCloud page isn’t all that earwormy to me.

I mean no offense to the wonderful musicians often found in Casey’s work like Andrew Applepie, Jeff Kaale, and Maxzwell, but there’s something going on when these songs are mixed into Casey’s vlog.

What secret magic is Casey adding to these tunes?


David Huron is a professor in two different departments at Ohio State University. The School of Music...

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Somersault - A vlogging camera for your phone.

I wanted to show off a preview of what I’ve been working on. It’s a better Camera App for vloggers. I call it Somersault.

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I started a vlog about 2.5 years ago, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the process of sharing stories and lessons. But it’s hard. It’s tough to craft stories on top of making great looking video. Adding music. Keeping the pacing from becoming boring. Avoiding the look of Blair Witch Project outtakes.

Through all that work I’ve learned a ton about making better videos. Lessons about keeping shots short, establishing where you are, talking to the camera vs watching yourself, editing in camera vs the extra work in Post.

And now, I can offer some of those lessons through a Camera App itself. So regardless of if you need Somersault, here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned along the way, and what I hope Somersault can help guide people to do better.

Keep your shots

...

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I don’t have enough

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It’s been a rough week. We’ve been migrating our file storage for Highrise and you can imagine how difficult that is for a product running since 2007 with millions of users.

And it hadn’t gone that well.

Fortunately, we had enough backup procedures in place to handle most problems. But still, on Thursday morning at 3AM I was nervously watching the error queue for more fires.

How’d I get here?

I don’t mean that in a negative sense. This barely raised my blood pressure. I’ve been in this same situation many times before. I and our CTO, Michael Dwan, cooly fixed our problems in the middle of the night.

But, I mean, how on earth did I get to this point where I’m helping successfully troubleshoot this crazy large system of technology and code when…

All I was trained to do was Chemistry?

I remember the panic I had nearing the end of college. I had just spent 4 years and tons of...

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Breakthrough

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A decade or so ago, a young musician couldn’t get anyone to play his music. He had some raw talent, and just recorded his first album, but all the gatekeepers thought he just sounded too young. Without Disney or Nickelodeon marketing his stuff, he was a dud.

What does he do?


I bet you know the names of a few famous impressionist painters. Monet. Manet. Degas. What makes them famous though? Are they really the best? Do you know a bad impressionist painter?

What about Gustave Caillebotte?

Caillebotte was an interesting impressionist. I don’t think anyone would say he’s bad, but he sure isn’t as popular as Monet.

Caillebotte also has a quirky story. Upon his death he requested his art collection be hung in the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris. His art collection was about 70 paintings he had collected from his friends, also impressionists.

They weren’t popular. They were actually...

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Lazy creative

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James Vanderbeek stars in an episode of Room 104 on HBO. The series is in the middle of its first season, but it’s already done so well that HBO’s renewed it for a second season.

It’s a curious show, as it takes place in a single hotel room every episode. The same hotel room over and over and over again. The room itself is also extremely uninteresting. When the design team went to Mark Duplass, the creator of the show, with tons of ideas on what the room should look like, Mark shot them all down.

“No, I want the room to be as bland as possible.”

So how did Mark Duplass create such an interesting and succesful show with this limited pallette?


Our brains are lazy. Well, that’s not exactly fair. Our brains are great at conserving energy.

They’ve evolved to reserve the juice necessary to deal with things in our environment that are novel and potentially life altering. Hence why...

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How to be interesting

A couple months ago a video made its viral way around the internet as some videos do. It was a mashup of the Sesame Street movie Follow that Bird and the Beastie Boys’ song Sabotage.

Mashups aren’t uncommon. Afterall, that’s a huge lesson most of us already know about creativity. Great ideas are often the collision of a couple different disciplines, technologies, inventions, etc.

But is that all there is to it? Or is there something a bit deeper about that video and why it became so viral.

Why was it so interesting?


Murray Davis was a professor of sociology at Northern Illinois University. In 1971, he published an interesting paper. Literally. It’s called “That’s Interesting!”

Davis investigated why some researchers and their theories get people’s attention and others don’t.

He found that ideas don’t become interesting because they are simply true. “All of the interesting...

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Peaked?

A writer had a rough go of getting a book published. Even after he’d written plenty of short stories for magazine publications, he started his hand at writing books. But nothing hit.

His fourth attempt at a novel really gave him some fits. He finally finished a manuscript for it, but he still didn’t like it. The story didn’t move him, he was writing about people he didn’t know very well, and he didn’t like the characters. He threw it away in the trash.


Dean Simonton is a Professor of Psychology at UC-Davis. The guy has studied what makes people creative and smart his whole career with over 300 publications and more than ten books.

In 1977, Dean explored how time affects greatness. By studying composers, do we see if they peak and get worse as they get older?

Afterall, isn’t that what we expect? Don’t we expect to see that graph of a U upside down?

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But, that’s not what Dean...

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Mickey D’s - What startups and small business owners can learn from the giant’s struggles

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What should I name my company?

If you’ve been around any old school SEO advice it included naming your company something with the letter A. That’s because just like the “Yellow Pages”, lists of things on the internet were always alphabetical.

Obviously things have gotten better. You don’t have to just pick A-names for your company because the internet is so much more sophisticated now. We have all these algorithms and all this AI research. Right?

No. Not just one, but two papers from independent research teams have just found that stock trading is heavily biased by a company’s name. Since stocks are generally listed alphabetically, folks pick stocks earlier in the list rather than giving equal opportunity to discovery.

We find that early alphabet stocks are traded more frequently than later alphabet stocks and that alphabeticity also affects firm value.

Even more striking is that this effect has gotten worse...

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