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Brand and company watch list

Best brands – There is no true fundamental or technical analysis here, just a gut feeling from a combination of news about the companies corporate strategy (new products, divestment, new focus areas, capex, etc.) and personal product experience, if applicable. If there is a relatively constant stream of news that I think represents good management decisions, the brand is likely to make the list.

  • Patagonia – This is a mass market company ($600mm revenue) that makes market leading outdoor gear while also maintaining incredibly progressive values. Doing this at a small scale with success is commendable but doing it at a very large scale and for decades is extremely impressive. Every piece of Patagonia clothing is not just good but great. The price you pay is comparable to other brands yet they also are market leaders in sustainability and environmental protection. Go watch 180 Degrees South if you haven’t seen it.
  • McDonald’s – Bring up McDonald’s and I will start raving. Without question, everyone’s faces will start to contort into some form of horror and shock. Yes, I really like McDonald’s. So does MB Kanye. McDonald’s impresses the hell out of me and I study them as a company as much as I can. No, they don’t make the healthiest food, duh. But they have been the market leaders in fast food forever and there is a reason for that. They are consistent despite the chaos of managing 36000+ stores in every corner of the world. They are constantly innovating while their competitors can’t even figure out how to do breakfast. If you are wondering, these are the items that I occasionally get at McDonald’s and am never let down: coffee, vanilla sundae, egg and cheese on a biscuit, french fries.
  • Verizon – They have the best mobile network, that’s clear. What people don’t realize is that they also have a gigantic fiber network that is very important. Where their competitors always seem to be grasping at straws to maintain or grow their footing, Verizon makes it look like selling their premium product is easy. Their branding and products are a little stale but I still think they are one of the best brands out there.
  • Netflix – they have made a ton of tough decisions and it seems like all of them have worked out in a positive way. Their switch from a DVD lending company to a streaming focus was incredibly courageous and visionary. Their investment into original content was equally insane. Both of these big steps have kept Netflix well ahead of any competitor. With Reed Hastings at the helm, I think they will continue to crush it.
  • HBO – They make the best of the best video content, no question about it. Netflix makes very very good stuff but HBO makes the absolute best stuff (Sopranos, Band of Brothers, Game of Thrones). And they push culturally interesting content too, not just huge features.
  • Tesla – I am so bullish on Tesla it’s painful. Elon Musk is one of the best entrepreneurs and visionaries right now and I have full confidence that Tesla will become one of the world’s largest companies one day, if not THE largest. Transportation and energy are two of the most important problems the world has and they aren’t going anywhere.
  • Amazon – Everyone uses Amazon so it is hard to imagine that anyone doesn’t know how incredible they are. They also make a lot of aggressive strategy moves like their investment in hardware, AI (Alexa), and original content. However, I will never forgive them for co-branding their e-readers and tablets under the Kindle moniker. That was a huge mistake and will probably kill the e-reader, eventually.
  • Starbucks – I don’t come across a ton of news about Starbucks but their market dominance is unquestionable. Also, people tend to forget, or not know, their progressiveness as a company. They were one of the first large companies to offer health insurance to all of their employees, all at great corporate expense. That was in 1988! Then in 1991 they were the first private company to offer stock options for eligible part-time employees. Now they are offering funding for their employee’s college education! I also recently had a cup of Ethiopian sun-dried coffee brewed on a Clover at a Reserve location in NYC and it was one of the best cups of coffee I think I have ever had. It was $4.95 for the cup though.
  • Facebook – It’s got 1.8 billion people and it isn’t even allowed in China. I joined the ‘Book grudgingly on March 18, 2004 when my gf at the time signed me up. MIT was the one of the first schools allowed on the platform so there must have been only a couple thousand users by the time I joined. [I just looked it up and FB was launched on Feb 4, 2004]. Since then Facebook has changed a lot but the pace of their growth has never faltered. Facebook has literally transformed our world and I can’t imagine us going backwards. It also has some of the smartest people in the world working there.
  • Costco – they take care of their employees, have super cheap prices, an insane return policy, and a curated selection. If they have it at Costco, you can be sure that it went through a selection process. Because they only carry one or two of any one item, the buyers take a lot of care. The result is that you can buy something there and know it is good quality. If it happens to break on you, take it back! Costco’s CEO is a strong leader and has built the company to the megalith it is today. My only complaint is that they have Pepsi products in thecafé.
  • In-N-Out – They don’t make the news much but in their business its probably a good thing. The food is always delicious and fresh. The staff are all painfully nice. And the prices feel like they were set 30 years ago and nobody remembered to update them for inflation. I respect their very deliberate growth strategy as well even though they completely neglect us east coasters.
  • Dominos – When the current CEO, J. Patrick Doyle, took over in March 2010, Domino Pizza was just another shoddy pizza chain. It was actually terrible. Ever since he came in, there have been a large string of real improvements and a continuous stream of smart decisions that are well publicized. Here are a few: an incredible app, the pizza tracker, the one button app, the Domino’s car, the new pizza sauce recipe, upgrading the cheese, insane cheesy bread, a much larger menu that is not just pizza, dropping the ‘pizza’ from their name as a result, renovating all of their locations, upgrading the cleanliness, making a wedding registry, and more. They just don’t stop innovating and most importantly, the food is much better and walking into a location is not nearly as sad as it used to be.

Very bullish

  • Microsoft – Ever since Ballmer left and Satya Nadella took his place, the company has been making a ton of right moves. Even though Microsoft under Ballmer’s reign only made extremely mediocre products and flopped major opportunities (mobile, AI assistants, etc.), they maintained their market position and huge cash reserves. Now that there is a true visionary and product guy in charge, they have every opportunity to do some truly disruptive things. One of the most amazing things is that Windows and Office are auto updating now and they are actually adding useful features! I have always been a good computer maintainer and upgraded my software throughout the past 20 years of using a computer but NEVER has a Microsoft minor update added anything valuable. More likely it would break something. That changed! The irony is that the one thing that doesn’t work in Windows for me is actual windows management. Clicking on a background window or alt-tabbing to a window brings that window to focus only about 50% of the time. I still have problems with windows going outside of my monitor’s desktop area so I have to shift+right click and use the archaic move command to bring them back onto the desktop. It’s a joke that these things don’t work in 2017 but whatever. Microsoft is on the way up!
  • Xiaomi – most Americans don’t know this company yet but watch out. They are a Chinese electronics company that is crushing it. I bought a Xiaomi phone for my use in China for $200 unlocked and it was really really good. Surprisingly good. All of their new products are interesting and seem to be innovative at a very low price. I think these guys are going to be the Samsung of China and will soon be a household name worldwide.

Notable absences

  • Google – generally speaking I think Google’s products are stuck in the past. Aside from Android, the rest of their stuff is languishing and in desperate need of a redesign. I am alone on this but I think it is high time for someone to make a real run at their search business. The UI/UX hasn’t changed in a decade!
  • Apple – My whole life I was very anti-Apple. Mostly because their customers and marketing were obnoxious, not because their products were terrible. The first Apple product I ever owned was an iPhone 6s not so long ago. No, I never had an iPod. Prior to that I had Blackberry’s and Android phones. Now I have an iPhone 7 and it is great. However, I am worried about Apple’s long term innovation potential. The fear is that Tim Cook is the new Steve Ballmer. It’s probably not the case but there is reason for concern (Macbook Pro flop?). I do love my Airpods though so there is that. Hopefully they can continue creating new categories and focusing on product.



My favorite things

This is a list of my favorite things. I will try to keep it updated as time goes on. To qualify to be on the list, there is only one requirement: I must be reminded of how awesome the product is every time I use it. There is an internal voice that says ‘damn I love this thing’. I put the things into two categories, Super Favorites and Favorites.

Super Favorites – these are things that I would replace immediately if I lost or misplaced.

  • Kindle Paperwhite ($119) – I hard sell virtually everyone I meet on the amazingness of the Kindle. It is a life-changing device and no I am not kidding. It helps me sleep and also gives me the opportunity to read a lot more.
  • Desk hammock ($10) – I don’t remember where I first saw this thing but it’s great. Back when I was a banker, I modified my desk to give me more foot space and I put a box under it that allowed me to prop up my feet during the day. Now I have a foot hammock specifically designed for the same purpose! It’s cheap and gives me a good stretch while I am sitting. I wish I sat less during the day but until I can get a standing desk or get away more, the foot hammock offers some very healthy variety.
  • Sunrise Alarm Clock ($130) – Waking up to light instead of an audible alarm is a game changer. Back in high school, I went through an elaborate home automation process to enable a gradual crescendo of light to act as my alarm. It was awesome and ever since then I have used some form of a sunrise alarm clock to get me up. Now I am using a borrowed Biobrite unit but if I had to buy one, I would probably buy the Philips unit linked.
  • Logitech G600 Gaming Mouse ($45) – Productivity is my jam and this mouse is a key tool for me. It is meant to be used for gaming but I program it for general productivity purposes. It has 12 programmable thumb keys plus a ring button modifier to allow for 24 programmable keys. Plus, you can enable the mouse to have software profiles which will switch the hotkey definitions based on the program that is currently active. It is extremely customizable and it allows me to do a ton of shortcuts with just my mouse. Aside from the programmable keys, the mouse is extremely precise and is wired so I don’t have to worry about latency/batteries/glitches.
  • Lenovo Thinkpad Compact Keyboard with Trackpoint ($54) – This is my daily driver keyboard attached to my desktop. It is basically the keyboard from a Thinkpad but as a standalone unit. I loved the keyboard in my Thinkpad so much that I bought an external keyboard for my desktop. I am also one of those rare people that use the Trackpoint (the nub) mouse instead of a trackpad. I hate trackpads. Using a Trackpoint is incredibly fast since you don’t have to move your hand off the keyboard. It takes a little getting used to but now I have used one for 10+ years. It is worth learning! With this keyboard and the G600 mouse, I have a mouse on my keyboard and a keyboard on my mouse, effectively. It’s a powerful combination! For those wondering, the reason I still have an external mouse is that certain programs are very challenging to use with just the Trackpoint. A real mouse offers better control for graphics and CAD work that the trackpoint can’t achieve. For general usage, the Trackpoint works great. I seamlessly switch between them and don’t think about which one to use for which purpose. The other benefit for the Trackpoint is that it is much more ergonomic. Using a mouse with the right hand way out to the side creates a lot of shoulder problems. Most people have terrible neck, back, and shoulder pain because of the ergonomics of the computer setup.
  • 24″ Dell Ultrasharp Monitor – At least one big monitor is critical, and it needs to be elevated to eye level. I don’t understand how people work all day on a laptop! If I work on a laptop for more than a couple of hours, my body is toast. These days, a 24″ monitor is the minimum and it should be IPS with a resolution of at least 1920 x 1200. For me, color accuracy is important as well. Dell’s Ultrasharp line has always had extremely solid reviews and I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending them. My current workstation has a 27″ 4k Dell monitor in the center and a 24″  Dell Ultrasharp to the left in portrait. Occasionally I will move the portrait monitor to the other side to even things out. I don’t think the 4k monitor was worth the money but I got one and it’s alright.
  • Airpods ($159) – They are awesome, simple as that. The press and early reviews have been less than stellar but the more I use the Airpods, the more I question those people’s ability to review electronics. Truth is, these are a game changer. I think the audio fidelity is better than the wired earbuds and the microphones are even better. Hard to believe but that’s my experience. The fact that they don’t have a wire and sit in my ears effortlessly makes them so much more convenient when I work with my hands or are moving around. Bluetooth performance has been great. The battery life is fine and since you ALWAYS put them back in the case when not in use, they are constantly charging. I also don’t have to do the spaghetti dance like I do when pulling the wired earbuds out of my pocket. Note, I generally use these for phone calls and podcasts. Obviously, they aren’t going to compare for over-ear cans for music but they still sounds as good, if not better than the wired earpods.
  • Podcasts (free!) – Podcasts aren’t something you need to buy (yet!) but they are without a doubt one of my favorite things. There are some incredible podcast shows out there and they provide an extremely high level of quality for no cost. I find the podcasts that I listen to regularly just as interesting and stimulating as any other sort of media, and they are free and can be listened to while on the go. The podcasts I regularly listen to are The Tim Ferriss Show and Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin. Occasionally I will listen to episodes from a bunch of others that are very good including Radiolab, This American Life and Creator Lab. Even listening for ~10 hours a week, it is still hard to keep up with just a few shows!

Favorites – Items of such high quality or utility that they fulfill the requirement for being a favorite thing but aren’t as critical.

  • Kindle case ($15) – My first kindle didn’t have a case and after a lot of abuse, it eventually broke in my backpack :(. I replaced the Kindle and then bought a matching case to match. It’s a great product. The link goes to the actual case I have which is for the 7th gen kindle (not the latest). Just the tiny added convenience of the Kindle waking when the case is opened is such a delight. And it protects the Kindle attractively for a very small addition to size/weight. Love it!
  • iPhone wallet case ($13) – I was late to the party on the wallet case but now that I have one, I love it. This one is cheap and of good quality. It adds minimal size to the iPhone and looks great.
  • Bose QC25 Noise Cancelling Headphones ($299) – I bought these prior to taking a lot of trips back and forth to China. Business travelers swear by them so I figured I would give them a chance. At first I thought the noise cancelling experience was strange and uncomfortable but now I love them. They feel great, have great sound and the noise cancelling aspect makes the listening experience on a plane much better. They also help me sleep which is awesome. I haven’t tried any other noise cancelling headphones but I am sure the others in this price range are just as good or maybe better. I would consider buying the wireless ones if I were to repurchase.
  • Logitech H390 USB Headset with Noise-Canceling Microphone ($25) – Once I started working with a lot of contractors that required regular skype calls, it wasn’t long before I realized that the audio quality was terrible on every mobile phone headset we tried. I finally bought Patrick and I USB headsets. These Logitech headsets were a game changer for us and are simple and awesome. The call quality is fantastic and cross-talk minimal.
  • Dyson V8 stick vacuum – Who would have thought vacuuming would be so fun?! I have one of the basic V6 models that I got refurbished for less than $200 but if needed a new one and had the money, I would get the new V8. It’s perfect for an apartment or as a second vac for a house. It is light, super powerful and crazy maneuverable. The way the head moves with a turn of the wrist is very satisfying.



The good stuff sticks – Creating Freewrite, Part 2

In the last post, I told the origin story of the idea for Freewrite. At the time, it wasn’t called Freewrite; it wasn’t even called Hemingwrite. It was just an idea.

Time went by, as it tends to do. From February until July of 2014, Patrick and I both sat on it. I wrote down the idea on my Projects List in Evernote and continued working on SunDaily.

But the good stuff sticks.(1)(A) This idea for a distraction-free hardware thing churned around in my mind despite my energy being spent elsewhere.

To set the scene, in Jan 2014 I had just recruited an old friend and former roommate of mine to join me at SunDaily. The rest of my small team had dissolved by that point so it was just down to the two of us. We had some good months. April of 2014 was our best with a whopping $3300 in vitamin sales. Jim was hitting the road and selling at gyms and chiropractor offices in the Metro Detroit area. We were sharing a car (my mother’s 10-year-old minivan) since I wasn’t paying him enough to get his own. It was insane but we were desperately trying to make things work. There were sparks of excitement and a lot of prospects for growth but ultimately we knew we were basically out of time (i.e. money).

At about the same time, Jim was desperately needed on the west coast for family matters. Recruiting Jim was my last-ditch effort to get SunDaily to break out so when Jim left, I finally had a very clear signal that SunDaily’s time was up.(2) I had struggled enough for the previous two years by myself that I had no interest doing that again. I had put tens of thousands of my own hard-earned savings and years of my life into SunDaily but it wasn’t even a hard decision at that point. I was burnt out, very broke, and I knew that I desperately needed a break. I also had given it all I could. My 28th year of life, the summer of 2013 (the start of Bizdumb) until the summer of 2014, was my most stressful, by far. It handily beats out any year I spent at MIT or on Wall Street, recession and all. That year was terrible and I frequently think about it as a place I never want to be in again.

Once Jim made the decision to leave, I took a really deep breath. It was probably my first deep breath since April 2013 when I started selling. After spending so much time staring at a computer, I remember thinking that I needed to do something with my hands again that didn’t involve juggling a business.

It was then that I started thinking much more seriously about this project that Patrick and I had talked about some months ago. In my mind it had legs. I really liked it.

The idea was starting to take shape too. I had a basic industrial design in my head that was visually interesting. The primary components were already spec’ed. Patrick could cobble together a software prototype on an E Ink screen using a hacked e-reader (I hoped). I could integrate an off-the-shelf 60% mechanical keyboard into a housing that would hold all the components. Most importantly, I thought other people would find it interesting once we showed it to them. Whether they would buy it or not was unimportant to me at the time. All I really wanted to do was get back in the workshop and work on something interesting.

Lastly, if it got some interest, I thought it would be a perfect candidate to put on Kickstarter. Since crowdfunding came across my radar some years ago, a seed was planted in my head that I wanted to run a campaign one day. But I couldn’t just put up any idea on Kickstarter and expect it to sell. The format of Kickstarter and their users are not amenable to just anything. SunDaily was a terrible candidate. My other ideas up to that point didn’t quite fit either. But this distraction-free thing could be perfect. It was a real product that people could touch and feel. It was unique both visually and philosophically. It had elements of nostalgia while at the same time was very techy/progressive. It could work if we did it right.

Patrick was my next challenge. This project was not happening without him. I had no interest in going back to working alone. I was fine doing my pieces of the project by myself but I needed somebody else to have true ownership, it couldn’t just be me. Plus, Patrick and I had very complementary skillsets. We also both saw very eye to eye on the overall product design. Truthfully, I had never met anybody that had the same opinions on product design, let alone someone who also brought hard engineering skills. It was a match! But he wasn’t onboard right away. He was living his own life and working on Gridpar.

It was all a little too serendipitous. At just about the same time, Patrick’s business partner left to go back to graduate school on the west coast leaving him at crossroads as well. I continued to pepper his inbox with various thoughts and ideas about the project.

At some point during the summer, Patrick and I sat down to have the talk, “do you want to work on this thing?” I did and he did too. But how? Both of us agreed that we needed a deadline or else it would be one of those never-ending projects that we did in our mythical spare time. A little searching the internet found us a hardware competition called Insert Coin that was sponsored by Engadget. The deadline for applications, which required a video of a working prototype, was Sept 26, 2014. We had approximately 3 months to get our shit together. We agreed and parted. (Insert Coin Contest Page)

A solid month went by. Patrick and I met up again to have another talk. “Are we really going to do this thing?” I was as motivated as ever. Patrick was still interested. I figured we needed to go all in the next two months or this thing wasn’t happening. He agreed. After that, everything ramped up extremely quickly. We needed to build a working prototype in record time with a micro budget.


July 14, 2014 email to Patrick

(A) On July 14, 2014 I wrote this email to Patrick revealing some of my excitement about the project (and a hint to both of our future names).


(1) I could make an argument that this concept is so powerful that it is detrimental to keep a list at all! The advice would be to only work on things that are truly memorable. If it is memorable to you, it is much more likely to be memorable with someone else. Likewise, if the idea is not memorable to you, it would be hard to expect it to be any different to an outsider. I try to use the passage of time as a tool by letting the mediocre ideas whither and the best ideas rise above.

(2) Knowing when to quit is one of the hardest things I have experienced as an entrepreneur. I hope to write a future post to elaborate.

The Freewrite is not a typewriter – Creating Freewrite, Part 1

The story starts at the end of winter, 2014. Patrick and I were both working in the Bizdom office space in Downtown Detroit, doing our best to get our startups off the ground. Patrick was building Gridpar and I was hammering away at my nutrition startup, SunDaily. We had both been through a very traumatic experience in the Bizdom accelerator program but continued working in their office for a few months after it was officially over.

It was only happenstance that Patrick and I sat near each other. I had a friend that worked for Bizdom before coming into the program and he strategically set the seating chart such that I was near him as was another person he liked, in this case, Patrick. It was me, Patrick, and Brian in one end of the room sitting across and next to each other. We kept our days interesting by talking about all kinds of random topics, primarily to take our minds away from the stress that was our startups.

Patrick has since become one of my best conversation partners but at that time I was far too entrenched (i.e. stressed) on my startup to allow myself much time to chat across the desk.(A) Even so, some discussions slipped past my focus. One of them was about writing. This was probably in February 2014 but I don’t remember exactly. I know that we got kicked out of the office approximately 6 months after the start of the program (Sept 2013) so it had to be sometime between Jan and early march.

The discussion that led to the Freewrite started simple enough. Patrick was telling me about a piece of software that he used while journalling and essay writing. I was intrigued because I found the fact that he journaled and wrote essays interesting but also for one peculiarity of the aforementioned software: it disabled the backspace key. ‘Ridiculous! That seems awfully masochistic. Why would you do that to yourself?’ I was the first skeptic.

The conversation continued on and I tried to keep an open mind. He explained to me how he is his own worst enemy while writing and by removing the ability to backspace, it pushed him forward. Drafting first and then editing later was a well-established method for writing and is often taught in MFA programs. Huh, that is interesting!

I couldn’t help but think about my own challenges with writing growing up. Everyone has to write while in grade school and I was no different. But I did always struggle and I never quite pinpointed my finger on why that was. One theory that I came up with well after college was what I call vertical vs horizontal thinking. I am a horizontal thinker and thus have a tendency to get pulled into elaboration and clarification for the perceived benefit of completeness. Whereas, vertical thinkers do not get mired in details when they are not critical to the story. The more I read good stories, the more I recognize the value of vertical narrative development. As a reader, I have more tolerance for horizontal divergence but even I can see my interest waning in these cases.

But I digress (see what I mean), Patrick introduced me a to a completely new concept in writing, this write first, edit later methodology. It’s like living your whole life trying to set nails with a log and then someone handing you a hammer. I often wonder what my relationship with writing would be if I was taught from the beginning to write first and then edit later.

During that first discussion, I learned that there are many different programs that modern writers use to help them stay focused. The software Patrick used was only one variety. There was another called ‘Write or die’ that would start deleting words if the writer paused for too long. There are many like iA Writer and Ommwriter that try to provide a pleasing writing canvas with a curated blend of fonts, desktop, and even music. The overarching concept was that the design of these environments affected the writer enough such that writers preferred them over Word to get work done. If each element of the experience was carefully thought about, the writer could get into a flow state quicker AND stay there. Distractions were the enemy, whether they were edits or email notifications or displeasing fonts, each piece of software had a method for smoothing the experience. There was a lot of room for optimization and the prevalence of these apps revealed that to me.

Just knowing that there were all these different types of software out there and that so many writers were using them was enough for my brain to start thinking creatively. ‘What if we created a piece of hardware that takes the distraction-free concept even further?’ That’s what I thought about ~20 minutes into the conversation. That may seem like a big jump to make but that’s how my brain works as a person that likes to make physical things.

In that very first conversation, we had established the vision for the eventual product. It would have a mechanical keyboard, E Ink screen, and would save all your drafts seamlessly to the cloud with Wi-Fi. The software would be pared down to a very basic writing experience. The device would turn on instantly and there would be no browser or ‘software’ to open/close.

How did I know these features would be the right choices without research or customer testing or more knowledge into supply chain? Let’s take them one at a time.

Mechanical keyboard – At some point previous to the conversation I had become aware of the mechanical keyboard community on Reddit. They are an incredibly passionate group of people, mostly gamers, that buy and customize mechanical keyboards costing between $125 and $300. Since I was never a gamer, I looked on as a curious observer. In the forums they talked about how pleasing it was to use a mechanical keyboard because of the tactile feedback, the amount of travel in the keys, and how reliable the keyboards were. Once familiar, a typist could fly across a mechanical keyboard with more precision and comfort.

I vaguely remembered what it was like to type on an older desktop keyboard and I also knew the difference a high-quality keyboard can make, in general, through my experience with Thinkpads. My first laptop was a Thinkpad and even though it was a laptop, the keyboard was so good that it actually reminded me of its awesomeness every single time I used it. Even now I am typing on a ThinkPad keyboard connected to my desktop! Writers, even more than gamers, are entirely dependent on their keyboards. They deserve the best possible typing experience. A side benefit is that a mechanical keyboard is visually interesting compared to all the laptops and external keyboards that modern writers are currently using. Maybe we could facilitate bringing mechanical keyboards, for which there was always an incredible community of gamers, into the mainstream for writers. The fact that these keyboards were legitimately better in virtually every way was nearly universally accepted. The downsides are the cost (greater than 10x a traditional membrane keyboard) and potentially, size. For this concept, it absolutely needed the best possible keyboard for writing and that meant a mechanical keyboard.

Screen – After the keyboard, the second most interacted with element of the device is the screen. Both Patrick and I love the Kindle from Amazon and first-hand know the experience that comes with an E Ink screen. Looking at text on an E Ink screen is significantly more pleasing and less straining than on a traditional LCD. What the Kindle did for reading, we could do for writing. Similar to the requirements of an e-reader, we wanted to facilitate writing anywhere, indoors or outdoors, and at any time. The E Ink screen is a step change above LCDs when it comes to readability in all environments. It’s no competition with other technologies. E Ink was the clear choice.

In practice, there were some things that we were worried about. We had never seen an E Ink display pushed to refresh as quickly as possible and thus had no idea how it would look/feel when we are trying to use it as a writing display. E-readers have a different requirement because page turning is intermittent and the user doesn’t mind waiting 500ms. Writers expect their words to show up on the display immediately and we knew that was not an option with E Ink displays. It is generally considered that a refresh rate of at least 60hz is required to show ‘instantaneous’ updates. We didn’t even know the exact refresh rate limit for E Ink but our best guess from what we read online was something like 1-10hz. Even at it’s fastest, it would be 1/6th of the speed needed to show no lag. Would that be good enough? We didn’t know but I was confident that the known benefits outweighed the potential downsides. When spec’ing the screen, we also had to contend with increased cost, lack of available information on driving the display, limited hardware support, oh and one more thing, the MOQ (minimum order quantity) was 1 million displays. There were challenges but that didn’t stop us from knowing that E Ink was the best choice.

Cloud syncing – This was a no-brainer. Again, both Patrick’s and my own experience with Dropbox showed us the light on the power of the cloud. Dropbox is by far the best cloud service, by the way. I transitioned completely to the cloud such that I could drop my laptop in the trash and not worry a minute about having all my files where I need them. They are accessible on all my computers and mobile and I just don’t worry anymore about moving files from computer to computer or syncing. Backups are a thing of the past and good riddance! But I know not everybody is as technology-forward. For the modern writer, many are still managing USB keys or risking their documents on unbacked-up computers. SCARY! We can fix that and more by incorporating a robust cloud service that is constantly saving locally and syncing to the cloud. Even better, it can integrate with Dropbox and sync files there at the same time. This is a game changer and in practice, is quite strange for how simple it feels.

In high school I had a Dymo label stuck to the bezel of my computer monitor that said ‘Save Now!’ because I had so many experiences losing work or having to work from recovered documents. To hell with Word! Pressing ctrl-s as frequently as possible became a force of habit. That’s no longer needed. In fact, nothing is needed. If you can see the writing on the display, it is saved. There is something truly powerful about this. And the fact that it is simultaneously saved to the cloud as long as you are connected to the internet is game changing. The idea is that a writer can draft on the device and swivel his/her chair to the computer and continue working straight away, no manual saving or syncing required. With Dropbox, the draft is already there waiting for editing, publishing, etc. Every element of worry, doubt, and general friction in the process that we can remove is a win for the writer.

That’s it. All of the core components of the Freewrite were chosen during the very first conversation when the concept was ideated.

What I hope is also apparent is that the origin had nothing to do with typewriters. In no way did we want to create a modern typewriter or recreate the typewriter. Typewriters are terrible! We made the decision at some point to call the Freewrite a ‘smart typewriter’ but I am still on the fence as to whether that was a net positive idea. The one thing that I find funny is that people will come to us with a feature request and try to make an argument for it based on the fact that typewriters could do it. Sorry friend, it doesn’t matter if a typewriter could do it or a word processor could do it or a pencil could do it. The only features that made it into the Freewrite or would ever be added to the Freewrite are those that can stand on their merits alone while at the same time holistically improving the experience for the user.


Written on Sprinter





2013-10-09 First Hangout with Patrick Paul

A. This is the very first recorded chat between Patrick and I, and it is absolutely hysterical to me. Patrick sends me an article on Medium titled Bitcoin, Energy and the Future of Money and I immediately respond ‘Go away’. Note that it was after 8 pm on a Wednesday and I can almost guarantee that I was itching to get out of the office while Patrick couldn’t help himself but send me an article as a continuation of the lengthy discussion we just had about monetary policy and joule based currencies. This epitomizes a lot of our relationship in that we both love chatting about esoteric subjects and we both can be relentless in our views!

How to get a job at Astrohaus

Hello all current and future applicants, I am going to make this really easy. Here is how to get a job at Astrohaus:

Find this post

If you find this post, that means that you have at least Googled me and clicked around my website. It astounds me how little googling people do before coming to the interview.

Write an intro

A generic intro is better than no intro. A specific intro is, of course, the best. I know a lot of job seekers are following the spray and pray method but the best people know what they want and then pursue the best opportunities for them aggressively. There is no question that writing a quick note to give me an idea of ‘why you are interested in this role’ shows that you are more interested in it than most people. Interest tells me a lot about a person.  If you don’t have highly relevant experience, tell me exactly why you think you could still be a good fit. Even if you do have relevant experience, tell me how your successes would translate to even bigger successes working with Astrohaus.

Have a great resume and portfolio

Thankfully, candidates in NYC that I have seen rarely have terrible resumes or portfolios. However, there are some things that I frequently see that are not doing candidates any favors. If you are any kind of designer, you should have a visually pleasing resume. I would vote against over designing the resume to the point it looks like a cartoon or movie poster or something crazy (this would be fine if that is the job you are applying for but not for us). Just make a normal resume but put extra care into typography and a simple color palette. If I am hiring a designer and their resume is bland or has terrible style, that’s no bueno. All designers should have a portfolio online and it should be listed as prominently as possible on a resume and everywhere else you are marketing yourself. Don’t make me work to find it. Most importantly, only put the projects that you are very proud of in your portfolio. Sure, I will mentally note if something was a school project or whatever but why make me do that? Just put your best stuff online. I would hire a designer with one incredible masterpiece (note relevance of etymology) over another that had a big portfolio of mixed quality.

All non-designers should have a nicely formatted resume but nothing more than that. Just stick to something traditional. Most importantly, do not include any jobs/roles that you are not proud of. I would have thought this was obvious but I think some other resume coaches make it seem that it is worse to have a gap in your resume. This is terrible advice. A gap wont come up until an interview (if ever) and at that point you can at least explain it. If you put some lame job on your resume, I will probably question your judgement and never even give the interview.


The more research you do, the more valuable our conversation can be. If I have to explain the product to you during an interview, that’s not a good sign. If you don’t find our Kickstarter (even though it was under a different name) you are not going to mesh well with our organization. The more you know about the product and can accurately deduce from the diverse information and misinformation on the web, the more impressed I will be. Sometimes I think candidates are slightly bashful about revealing how much they ‘stalked’ the product or me. Don’t be bashful about showing how much prep you put into the interview!

Be honest

Always. This includes questions that you may not think are important or you may not feel 100% comfortable answering. For example, if I ask you if you are a dog person or a cat person, don’t be afraid to say which. If you don’t know the answer to a question, think about it, then say that you don’t know. The way someone tells me that they don’t know something says a lot about their character.

Use jargon in the interview

I want to hire the smartest people I can find. The smartest people can’t help themselves from using jargon because they are experts in their field and no other words are suitable other than the actual words that people use within that field. If you don’t use jargon in the interview, I will assume you are not sufficiently technical or embedded. I don’t mean you should use a lot of buzzwords. There is a difference! Using buzzwords will likely have the opposite effect.

Write stuff down

You don’t have to take notes on everything but if I bring something up in the interview which is related to your role or area of expertise, write it down. Show me that you are interested in the subject matter and you are curious enough to check it out later.

Email me after the interview

Thank you notes are fine but what I am really looking for is a follow-up to something that we discussed in the interview. Something in our conversation should have got your wheels turning and inspired more thought.

Be persistent

Do not harass me or the other employees. Do follow up multiple times if you haven’t heard anything. Persistence is a rare quality that I value. If you really want the job (or anything) persistence always pays off.

Bonus points

Knowing more than your role

It’s great when candidates are knowledgeable about the full machine they work within, not just their part. It doesn’t matter if you are a marketer or a designer, you should know the some high level stuff about your current company like number of employees, revenue, users, etc.

Having clear stories

Having a clear story about how you made an impact at your current role or in a previous role is very helpful. Numbers are good too. Know a few!


I want to hire the smartest, most passionate, curious people that I can find. Everything you do and say should be aimed at encouraging me to think that you are one of these people.

Not All Multivitamins Are Created Equal, Enough With The Nonsense Studies

Multivitamins are not created equal

It’s been a rough week for multivitamins. Two unrelated studies were released monday along with a scathing editorial in the Annals of Internal Medicine that demonstrated the lack of efficacy of multivitamins on cognitive function and cardiovascular health.  Studies:Long-Term Multivitamin Supplementation and Cognitive Function in Men: A Randomized Trial, High-Dose Multivitamins and Minerals After a Heart Attack

Should we chuck our multivitamins in the bin and move on? The related editorial seems to think so: Enough Is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements

If you can get past the misleading title of the editorial, it becomes clear that what they have done in the cited studies on multivitamins is essentially useless. Not just useless, but silly. I am not referring to their use of control groups or clinical methods to arrive at results, it’s the basic hypothesis that they are testing which is flawed. Making claims or discrediting claims of multivitamins is futile since the term multivitamin describes a product category with wide variation and no standardization.

The problem is that the word ‘multivitamin’ means nothing more than a mixture of multiple vitamins. So when you run a study using Centrum Silver as the cognitive function study above did, your results shouldn’t reflect all multivitamins, just the vitamins and dosages that Centrum Silver chose to include. For example, they chose to use 500IU of Vitamin D however many Doctors and Nutritionists are recommending 4-5x that amount to maintain adequate levels. If Centrum Silver doesn’t prove beneficial, it’s because of the ingredients they chose to include (or not include), not because of an inherent flaw in all vitamins.

The value and potential for healthy benefits from multivitamins completely depends on what is inside the formula. The reality is that there are a lot of formulas out there that do little more than provide a very basic suite of vitamins and minerals. But that doesn’t mean that multivitamins are useless.

Even one of the studies co-authors, John Michael Gaziano, doesn’t agree with the editorial, “It drives me crazy that they say ‘enough is enough,’ when there’s only been one large study of (standard) multivitamins and it’s ours.” Source

And what about non-standard multivitamins? Since there is no definition of what a standard multivitamin comprises, that’s going to be a tough question!

As the founder of a supplement company focused on reinventing the multivitamin, I have a vested interest in this conversation. Maybe it is wishful thinking that the scientific community will stop blanketing all multivitamins with their limited studies but at least now you can decide whether their results apply to you.

The Boy Scouts Need to Be More Like the Girl Scouts

The Boy Scouts of America needs to get it together.  No, I am not talking about their inability to make delicious cookies.


The BSA has openly reaffirmed its policy against members of the LGBT community in their private organization.  They have removed gay leaders and scouts only to confirm that the organization’s leaders are backwards pieces of crap.


You can read all about the controversy on wiki’s page

As many of you know, or may not, I was an active scout all the way from Tigers to Eagle.  That’s right, I spent about 10 years in the boy scouts and worked very hard to reach the rank of Eagle, the highest ranking in the Boy Scouts.

Going through high school while trying to balance grades, social pressures and fun was not exactly easy with Boy Scouts as an extracurricular.   And as everyone knows, being a boy scout isn’t exactly the coolest thing to do around town.  Often it felt like I was leading a double life, trying to be the cool guy with my friends and then once a week and during outings, a scout.

As time filled in the gap between high school and my current position in life, I became more confident about my scouting history.  I had always been proud of my accomplishments and thought highly of my times in the Scouts.  And then I started to become aware of this little problem they have with the gay community.

What a bunch of idiots.  The Boy Scouts have so much to offer; so much that I, personally, have benefited from.  I would even like to have my kids someday experience scouting.  But their homophobia  is ruining everything not just for LGBT scouts but also for the rest of us that want to be proud of our affiliation.  Its almost funny that I used to not tell people that I was a boy scout because I didn’t want them to think I was uncool and now I still I don’t want to tell people but for an entirely different reason.

Then there was hope!

“The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members, or parents,” said a spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America, Deron Smith, in a statement. “This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs.”

It’s not a full reversal from their previous stance but its certainly a big step in the right direction.  The board has since then punted their decision until at least May.  That’s not a great sign but we’ll just have to wait and see.

News came out today that a bill in California has been introduced to remove the tax exempt status for organizations that exclude gay members. Maybe that will push the organization in the right direction.

The sad truth is that this is not just a moral viewpoint to which the Boy Scouts are clinging. It all comes back to money and the fact is that by changing their policy, the BSA could, and probably will, lose millions of dollars from conservative donors. Almost 70% of Boy Scout units are chartered by faith based organizations.  The largest of which is the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with over 15% scouts represented. Most of these churches don’t exactly have an open door policy on gay members.

However the pendulum of popular opinion is starting to sway donors in the other direction, Merck, UPS and Intel have all pulled funding due to the BSA’s anti-gay policies.    We’ll just have to wait and see if the BSA can make the right decision in spite of the difficult short term funding problems it could have.

Lance is just like everyone else but is still a better athlete than you

Lance came out last week during a landmark interview with Oprah to reveal the truth: he doped. During each and every one of his 7 wins at the Tour de France, Lance Armstrong used some combination of blood doping, EPO, cortisone and testosterone to illegally boost his performance.

To anyone even casually following this saga over the past years, this news is shocking. Lance Armstrong spent the last decade systematically denying his use of PEDs (performance enhancing drugs) which involved him lying under oath, suing his accusers and deceiving his friends, family and the world.  After everything, he decides now is the time to set the record straight?


In the interview, Lance tries to sidesteps questions about others involved in this deep dark conspiracy but Oprah is relentless about digging out the details.  Oprah repeatedly asks questions about Dr. Ferrari who was supposedly the mastermind behind the teams doping regiment, his teammates and how exactly everything went down: “Did you REALLY receive blood transfusions while staying overnight in hotels between stages of the race?  shoot EPO in the tents along the course while your fans cheered outside and store the empty syringes in coke cans? ”  “Yes, yes and I [Lance] take full responsibility.”



Yeah, it’s a big deal that Lance finally came clean(ish) about his doping, drug smuggling, deceiving habit.  But is anyone really surprised?  The evidence against him was piling up at an alarming rate.  Virtually all of his teammates had testified against him.  The walls of his defense were crumbling for years.

Here is my question, is what he did really as bad as everyone is saying it is?  Obviously the lying is bad, as is the suing of innocent people for speaking out against him.  But is the actual taking of these performance enhancing drugs bad?  Should Lance Armstrong go directly to Jail??

If you look at the history of doping at the Tour, it is startling how prevalent the use of drugs seems to be.  Is finding new ways to dope and beat the tests just part of the contest? I am starting to think so.

This is a direct quote from the USADA decision against Lance Armstrong:

Twenty of the twenty-one podium finishers in the Tour de France from 1999 through 2005 have been directly tied to likely doping through admissions, sanctions, public investigations or exceeding the UCI hematocrit threshold. Of the forty-five (45) podium finishes during the time period between 1996 and 2010, thirty-six(36) were by riders similarly tainted by doping.

That means that only 9 out of 45 riders that made it to the podium during the 15 year period were clean.  There is a complete chart in the 200+ page report linked above.

The primary reason for disallowing the use of performance enhancing drugs is that they put people on an uneven playing field.  They also can be abused to the short and long term detriment of the athlete.  But if the Tour was as dirty as everyone is saying it was, who was Lance or any other rider, to think of PEDs as a leg up on the competition?  One could make the case that it is the requirement of the race organization to maintain the standards they prescribe.  They may not be able to catch the occasional outlier but surely if the majority of racers are breaking a specific rule, it is hardly a rule at all.

Lance is still at fault and should suffer the consequences.  I don’t know what those consequences should be but luckily nobody cares about what I have to say anyway.

If nothing else, at least SNL got some good material

Aaron Swartz, Hacktivist Commits Suicide at 26 – Where did we go wrong?

News was released today that Aaron Swartz died tragically on January 11 by suicide in his New York apartment.

Aaron Swartz, a wizardly programmer who as a teenager helped develop code that delivered ever-changing Web content to users and who later became a steadfast crusader to make that information freely available, was found dead on Friday in his New York apartment.

John Schwartz of the New York Times


Many people across the internet are weighing in to discuss who was to blame.  Larry Lessig, Aaron’s friend and one time lawyer, writes of the shame the federal prosecutors should feel for showing no restraint by charging him 13 felony counts.  Others are pointing their fingers at MIT for standing idly by allowing the prosecution to move forward with the case even when JSTOR decided they did not want to pursue charges.

As an alum, I can’t help but to feel discomfort with my former university and the role they might have played in this person’s decision to end their life.  Particularly because what Aaron was accused of doing, making information free and accessible, is so essential to the ethos, the absolute core, of MIT’s culture.

In the past, I have always been very proud of MIT and its ability to strike a balance between letting the students run free and maintaining legal and safety standards of the institution.  Frequently laws are bent, infractions overlooked and matters dealt with internally to protect their students.  Because what administrators at MIT acutely understand is that for the groundbreaking research and entrepreneurship to continue to flourish at the institution like it does nowhere else, students need to have the space to do crazy things, even if they aren’t completely within the rules.

Even though he was not a student, Aaron very easily represents many of the approximate 10 thousand students and staff at the institution that sit so precariously on the edge of brilliance.  It was Aaron this time but every year new classes come into the institution with the same attitude; the same naivety that allows them to  change the world by breaking the rules.  And every year, we are reminded of how delicate these minds are when we lose precious members of our community to suicide.

And so what happened with Aaron is sad on many levels.  We all lost an incredible person and MIT had a very serious, hopefully temporary, lapse in judgment.  Because in this case, MIT did not do what it should have done, protect its own, not just students but any member of the community.

While nothing will bring Aaron back, we need to make sure that the way MIT handled the prior events do not become data points in a trend.  For the sake of all current and future students, MIT’s administration must remember what the institute stands for above all else: that the hacker culture is important and those within it must be dealt with restraint for the culture and its members to survive.  By forgetting this, MIT chipped its moral footing and sadly saw the effects of another brilliant mind being trapped into a corner with seemingly nowhere to go.

Rafael Reif, MIT’s president, emailed this out to the MIT community that starts the long conversation about what could have been done better.  It’s a good start that will hopefully shine more light on what happened.

~Adam Leeb

Read this to know why all future blog posts will be 70% incoherent and 30% squirrel

My resolution for 2013 is to write in this blog.  I have never really had a resolution before but I don’t think that I will treat this goal as any different, its just that this one came around the beginning of the year.  The point is, that I have made it a goal to write in this blog, no matter how painful it is for me, so that is what I will do.

Because, as you will quickly see if you haven’t already, I am a terrible writer.  It’s not that words come difficultly to me, or that I have a lack of things to say.  The problem lies in the fact that thoughts are supposed to be presented on the page in order.  A narrative should take shape so people can follow a story.  I suck at that.

It took me years and years of writing and then rewriting papers to realize that I don’t think in a way that is conducive to writing.  I constantly want to go on tangents and use parentheticals (within parentheticals)  to go into more detail about some random topic that I just referenced.  It is what I call horizontal thinking versus what most people do, vertical thinking.   It makes for good conversation but is terrible for a story line.  Good story tellers are able to include just the right amount of detail while moving forward without getting bogged down in minutiae.  Well, that’s my theory anyway.

Hopefully this blog will allow me to practice my writing, maybe even develop my own writing style, and in the absolute best case scenario, invoke some kind of interest in readers.

Aside from my writing problem, starting up this blog is very frightening.  What if nobody reads it and then I get discouraged and stop?  Or worse yet, what if people do read it?  Should I constantly remind myself that nothing on the internet can ever be truly deleted just in case I want to run for public office someday?? there is a lot to think about!

Next posts will have substance, I [tooltip_link title=”Sorry, I would pinky swear to show my sincerity but that seems awfully formal for a contract of this nature” to=”#”]promise[/tooltip_link].