May 30, 2013

Militant atheism

In this TED talk, biologist Richard Dawkins gives some interesting points regarding the argument between evolution and creation. He breaks through the taboo against saying anything bad about religion. He includes a great quote from Douglas Adams:

Religion doesn't seem to work like that. It has certain ideas at the heart of it, which we call sacred or holy. What it means is, here is an idea or notion that you're not allowed to say anything bad about. You're just not. Why not? Because you're not. Why should it be that it's perfectly legitimate to support the Republicans or the Democrats, this model of economics versus that, Macintosh instead of Windows; but to have an opinion about how the universe began, about who created the universe—no, that's holy. So we're used to not challenging religious ideas. [...] Everybody gets absolutely frantic about it, because you're not allowed to say these things. Yet when you look at it rationally, there is no reason why those ideas shouldn't be as open to debate as any other—except that we've agreed somehow between us that they shouldn't be.

May 20, 2013

Congrats, Jubbin

My friend Jubbin Grewal, founder and editor of Techin5, recently found out that Techin5 has been nominated for an award at the Lizzies, Australia's biggest tech award ceremony. The nomination for "Best Independent Media" clearly shows that his hard work is appreciated, and rightfully so.

Congratulations and good luck, Jubbin.

May 19, 2013

A day in the life

I wanted to write this because I've found that few people I know personally actually understand what I do on a daily basis. This explains it.

I wake up in a pissed-off mood. I'm not a morning person. I often wake up to emergencies—usually an email about some big news I missed during the night.

If news is breaking, I want to be on it. We're in the business of breaking news, and it's very important to me that we get stories out fast. Speed and accuracy are the most important factors.

I kick off my day by going to my computer, which is always on. I'll scan my email for news, and if something big is happening, I'll decide if I want to cover the story or assign it to another writer. For instance, let's say a source sends me a tip that Google is about to acquire Facebook—I'm making this up, of course, but that would be a big story. I'd start calling people at Google and Facebook to see if it's true.

Sometimes, it will be true, but the company will ask me to hold off on publishing. Negotiating with companies over how news breaks is essential to what we do. A source might say, "Yeah, we just got bought, but can you please not write about it for a week, because it might kill the deal?" Unless I know a lot of other journalists are sniffing around, I'll generally hold off. We probably lose some of those stories, but it's the right thing to do. People won't tell you things if they don't trust you.

After I've put out all the fires and there's nothing left in my inbox that I have to address immediately, I'll take a shower, get dressed, and go for a walk or jog. Then I come back, lift some weights in my basement, and make lunch.

I live in the city of Hamilton, Ohio. It's calm, and most of my family lives nearby. The VentureBreak team is scattered across the United States, along with one former writer in the UK. We all work remotely from the comfort of our homes, though someday I hope to move the whole pub to Silicon Valley and open an office there.

After I eat, I head back to my desk to go to work. I usually spend a good part of my day talking to sources, either on the phone or on IM/email. Chasing down stories is my favorite part of the job. My style is to break down the door and clean up the mess later. That works pretty well for the most part. When I call sources I've known for a while, there's no salutation—I just get right to the point. I expect them to tell me what I want to know very quickly, and they know that.

My team and I truly love entrepreneurs. I've always been fascinated by entrepreneurship, and, more specifically, what drives entrepreneurs. I talk to both the winners and the losers. Most of them could go and get a decent job as a lawyer or an accountant. Instead, they risk everything for almost certain failure. The losers are actually more interesting sometimes. You can learn a lot from failure.

I don't develop relationships with people I don't actually like. Music labels are a good example. They are notorious for working the press—they leak stuff and develop relationships, and it can be quite fruitful as a journalist to get to know them. Not me, though—I hate 'em. They sue their customers. I see the world in black and white: I don't like them, so I won't talk to them. My regular sources are all people I genuinely like.

I generally don't like PR people. I like talking to CEOs directly. If a PR person suggests I meet the CEO of a new company, I almost always say yes. However, when they start talking about setting up dinner, I say no. That's a huge waste of time. Let's meet at Starbucks or get on Skype video and talk about your company, but I don't want any small talk about your family, simply because I don't know you. If I go out to dinner, I want to do that with my friends, my family, or my girlfriend.

We strive to publish every day of the week, with weekends being our relaxed days. When I first started VentureBreak, I would post several times a day. I've always been manic about it. You know that experiment where the rat hits the lever and the treat comes out? After about a week of writing, I got my first comment from someone who wasn't my mom. That's the treat. Then people started subscribing to my RSS feed and connecting to me on social media. That constant feedback is my reward. That is what makes blogging and online publishing amazing: I just click a single button, and instantly anyone with an Internet connection can read what I've written, and respond. Most comments are thoughtless reactions, but there are a golden few that are worthy of discussion, and I always chime in.

I also manage the business side of things at VentureBreak, which is getting better and better. We don't charge for our content, so instead we sell ad space and other products like ebooks. I try to devote some time each day to ensure we're making enough to keep the lights on, and that, predictably, is probably the least fun part of the job. It's a necessary evil, though—it keeps our content free for our readers to consume.

I used to only use email to communicate with the other writers, but I've found that Facebook Groups are much more productive, promoting engagement and removing the hassles associated with email. Anyone can post, and everyone will see it. If someone did a great job, I'll give them a public high-five. Or if someone did something wrong, I may politely point it out so others can learn from the mistake.

I work a lot, and I work hard, but I am not a workaholic. A workaholic is someone who puts their work ahead of other things that should take priority. I try not to do that. I live a real life too, and that comes first. After all, I'm a human being before anything else. I spend a lot of time with my girlfriend Sabrina, and I try to be outside as much as I can, but Ohio weather doesn't always allow that.

In the evening, I'm usually back at the computer. That's when I write thought and opinion pieces. Sometimes I'll spend two or three hours on one post. I like working at night—there are no interruptions. I usually listen to music while I write—mostly hard music like Eminem and Rage Against the Machine.

I stay up later than I probably should. My bedtime varies, depending on what I'm working on and how tired I am. Before I go to bed, I like to read something, even if it's just a few pages. Sometimes it's fiction (often Stephen King), and other times—when I'm feeling curious—it's an in-depth explanation of some phenomenon, like why the sky appears dark at night.

Then I fall asleep, happy.

May 18, 2013

The terrorists you read, hear, and view

I've written before about my hate for mainstream media, and everything I've said still stands. If you measure the effectiveness of terrorism by the fear it generates and the behaviors it changes—the goals of terrorist organizations, by definition—then the biggest terrorists in the world are the news media. We as humans suck at evaluating risks, so TV, paper, and radio news often take advantage of us because of that.

May 16, 2013

Modern medicine and coffins for children

One of the biggest changes in the past century is that parents can now reasonably expect to see all of their children reach adulthood. That wasn't true before. Routine childhood deaths were something Charles Dickens, Isaac Newton, Queen Elizabeth I, Genghis Khan, Julius Caesar, and the Buddha shared with each other. For example:

In the early days of photography, people had to hold still for minutes at a time for portraits, like mannequins. Young children, much like today, didn't tend to sit still, so those kids who did appear in family photos were typically dead ones. That was the only way to get photos of them. And there was no shortage: they died mostly from bacterial diseases treated today with antibiotics, viral infections now prevented by vaccines, and infections now controlled by better hygiene, nutrition, and overall health.

Sure, today's society is subjecting kids to environmental toxins and other things that cause rising rates of asthma and allergies, and other conditions that are unique to our increasingly artificial world, or that we're once masked by all the sickness and death we now avoid.

And yes, there are newer vaccines for which the preventative benefits are still being established. On another note, while chickenpox is rarely fatal, being immunized against it can also prevent the appearance of its much nastier counterpart shingles later in life. It is the same virus, re-emerging from decades of dormancy in the body.

Perhaps we need to improve the methods and timing with which we administer treatments to kids and ourselves in order to reduce the risks and maximize the benefits. It's important to be smart and cautious about what treatments you put in your body.

But don't avoid modern treatments and preventions altogether. We can't write off one of the greatest gifts that science has given us over the last hundred years: making it an ever-shrinking, niche industry to build coffins for children.

May 14, 2013

Facebook would've been good for my grandpa

By all accounts, my maternal grandfather was a very social man. Like me, he was an entrepreneur—he owned business after business, buying and selling them like they were nothing but also putting a lot of hard work into them. I just recently found out that he and my girlfriend's grandparents were very good friends many years ago. And that comes as no surprise—he seemed to know everyone in our little hometown.

As he got older, though, my grandpa slowly withdrew. After he was diagnosed with cancer and alcohol became a large part of his life, my family and I saw him less and less. He lived alone—accompanied only by his dog and his thoughts. I am certain that that contributed to his depression and the overall decline of his well-being.

My grandpa died in 2004. He didn't own a computer, and as far as I'm aware he had never used email or anything related to the Internet. Conversely, I've been involved in some sort of online social networking for years. Email, this blog, Facebook, Twitter—they're a much bigger part of my life than the telephone or TV.

So even when I'm here, alone with Shadow, somewhat withdrawn, I'm not really alone. People like you read what I write, and you respond. I stay in touch with my friends and acquaintances, and sometimes I know more about what's going on in their lives than in my own. I can simply lurk and feel part of people's days, or I can inject the occasional reply or snarky comment, depending on my mood.

I feel connected, in a way my grandfather didn't at the end of his life. I think he really would have benefited from something like Facebook or Twitter—some means to stay in contact with his friends and family. It's a new thing in our time, this ability to dip into and out of the lives of people we know—if we choose—to remain the social people we want to be, even if our bodies won't let us do so easily or frequently face-to-face anymore.

May 8, 2013

Lucky rabbit

Today while I was mowing my lawn, I hit something and felt the engine stall for a split second. Immediately I saw a baby rabbit dart out from underneath the mower, slowing and settling on the other side of the yard. I cut the engine and moved the mower to look under it, and there was a hole some rabbits had apparently dug for shelter. Imagine a giant piece of machinery with a freshly sharpened blade mowing over your home.

No animals were harmed in the mowing of my lawn, though. I followed the baby rabbit across the yard, and the little champ survived that incident without a scratch. He seemed pretty scared, but he let me snap a couple of photos before making his way back to the burrow.

May 6, 2013

New ideas every day

Every entrepreneur knows how easy it is to become scatterbrained. Entrepreneurs—like writers—are born, not bred. Our brains are wired a little differently—we're always looking for the next journey, seeking the next adventure. I've said that success is more about the journey than the destination, and that couldn't be more true.

I find new ideas cropping up in my mind every day. Some of them may materialize, while others are more far-fetched. One particular startup idea hit me today that I can't (intellectually or financially) afford to pass up. That's going to be consuming quite a bit of my focus going forward, though I'll still be present on VentureBreak and LogicLounge if you read my stuff there (oh, and the podcast is happening).

This new idea is going to be different from anything I've done before, so I'm excited to see how it plays out. I will certainly write again when I have more information to share.

My detailed thoughts on Path