Over New Year’s weekend a bunch of heavy app users I was with sat down to list apps they found interesting / useful this past year. Here’s my list:

  1. f.lux – will save your eyes and help you sleep better. My top app of the year
  2. Moves – slick new step counter that tracks how much you move
  3. Lockitron – iPhone-controlled doorlock
  4. Areaware alarm clock – app+stand that turns your iPhone into an alarm clock that isn’t too bright at night
  5. AR Drone 2.0 – app+drone, fly a programmable quadcopter from your phone (so fun I co-organized a quadcopter programming contest)
  6. Carat – monitors your iPhone battery usage & resource consumption
  7. Findery – stories like nowhere else about familiar & strange places
  8. GmailMeter – analytics on your Gmail use
  9. Postmates – get anything delivered to you in San Francisco in under 1h
  10. 1Password – manage all your passwords securely in one place
  11. Fing – scans all IP addresses on your network
  12. Dropcam – app+camera, simple home security camera
  13. Me Today – private photo sharing for families & close friends (built by our team, email me for a beta invite)

According to a study by the city of San Francisco, one large chain store selling food in a central location would kill 321 small grocers & up to 1,284 jobs.

That made me wonder how the huge same day delivery centers Amazon is building around big metros in the US (including one the Bay Area) will impact the small merchants in those cities.

“Same-day delivery could be a big blow to our retailers down the street,” agrees an interviewee in SF Gate.

Small pieces loosely joined makes cities, the Internet, any social platform more unpredictable, creative, and simply more fun.

What makes a great team? Here’s a checklist based on six famously successful groups (Xerox PARC, the 1992 Clinton campaign, Disney animation studios…) in the book Organizing Genius.

Interestingly, “all of these 21 elements feature in all of the great groups,” notes the reviewer who put the list together. “It would seem that you don’t get a great group unless all of these conditions are met, somehow.”

1. A clear, tangible outcome. The best outcomes are widely recognized as important or fantastic.
2. An outrageous vision for the outcome.
3. A leader who can get people to get personally committed to the vision and the outcome.
4. Exceptionally capable people on the team – the best talent available.
5. A leader that the team respects.
6. A leader who gives the team members the information, recognition and latitude they need to deliver the outcome.
7. A leader who keeps the team focused without micro managing it.
8. A shabby workplace with access to all the equipment, materials, tools and training the team needs to deliver the outcome.
9. Team is protected from bureaucracy of the sponsor/sponsor organization.
10. The workplace enables collaboration.
11. Team is insulated from distractions.
12. There is one focus for the team – the outcome.
13. Team members have responsibilities that are aligned to their expertise, interests, and capabilities.
14. Team members are willing to work on what needs to be worked on when it needs to be worked on.
15. People don’t always get along but everyone wants to achieve the outcome so this common desire transcends individual conflicts.
16. Team members know that each team member has been personally selected for the team because he or she is most able to get the job done.
17. Failure is accepted; incompetence and disloyalty is not.
18. The team has a common enemy.
19. The team believes they are on a mission from God.
20. The team doesn’t realize their mission is impossible and impractical.
21. The team is physically separated from those not on the team but retains a linkage with the ultimate sponsors of the mission generally via the team leader(s).

Neil Postman, interviewed on the McNeil/Lehrer Hour in 1995:

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.

Ralph Waldo Emerson‘s 1836 essay Nature reads like a credo of current-day startupism:

Build, therefore, your own world. As fast as you conform your life to the pure idea in your mind, that will unfold its great proportions. A correspondent revolution in things will attend the influx of the spirit.

I came across this definition of success in a book on homeschooling:

To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child,
a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.

My book attributed it to Ralph Waldo Emerson, but this site traces it to a 1905 publication by Bessie Stanley.

Success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm – Winston Churchill

Elad Gil posted a list of 5 questions to ask yourself about your startup. I like it a lot, and think it applies more broadly than just entrepreneurs building startups. Here’s his list:

  1. Do I Have The Right Team In Place?
  2. Do I Have The Capital I Need?
  3. What Should I Be Doing Less Of? Or More Of?
  4. How Is My Product Doing?
  5. What Can I Do To 10X My Business This Year?

For a family it might be:

  1. Am I being the partner I want to be?
  2. Am I spending money on unnecessary things?
  3. What should I be doing less of? More of?
  4. How are my children doing?
  5. What can I do to 10x our happiness this year?

In this spirit, David Brooks wrote in the New Yorker last year:

The cognitive revolution of the past thirty years provides a different perspective on our lives, one that emphasizes the relative importance of emotion over pure reason, social connections over individual choice, moral intuition over abstract logic, perceptiveness over I.Q. It allows us to tell a different sort of success story, an inner story to go along with the conventional surface one.

The full article is here.

Roger Angell laments the loss of letter-writing in The New Yorker:

We’ve done this to ourselves, of course, and done it eagerly, with our tweets and texts, our Facebook chat, our flooding e-mails, and our pleasure in the pejorative “snail mail.”

The same story told in images: here’s a wonderful collection of Time Magazine photographs of famous authors, poets, performers (including Ernest Hemingway, Agatha Christie, Bob Dylan…) and their typewriters.

From today’s New York Times:

Real leaders, wrote the novist David Foster Wallace, are people who “help us overcome the limitations of our own individual laziness and selfishness and weakness and fear and get us to do better, harder, things things than we can get ourselves to do on our own.”

The article is about a failed expedition to the South Pole.