Category Archives: Start-up

Help Or Perfection

Each of us has our own idea of what is ideal for any given endeavor. That unique perspective also means involving others introduces the risk that the reality won’t exactly match our personal vision. As a recovering perfectionist I often feel getting help and achieving perfection are mutually exclusive. Yet my experience has also been that the results are often fruitful when I step aside and let others do what they do best.

Of course allowing someone with no experience or talent undertake a significant or fundamental part of a project, especially without any supervision, is unwise. Still, any undertaking involving others must find the balance between a learner-friendly environment and encouraging laziness or incompetence.

One key factor is the significance of the project itself. Imagine the construction of a nuclear power plant compared to a painting for a friend as a personal favor. If the power plant were not well constructed it could impact millions of lives for hundreds of years. If the artwork didn’t turn out well then it would only disappoint a friend. I find such comparisons help maintain a healthy perspective when it is tempting to stress over someone’s work.

Remembering my own past work is another tactic that helps overcome an unhealthy obsession with perfection. If I were still working and reworking those same early efforts then I’d never have left preschool. They also demonstrate how far each of us has progressed precisely because we were allowed to make mistakes.

Working alone for long periods is one contributing factor to perfectionism. When making something solely for oneself it can lead to an extreme where the work is never quite good enough.

Sometimes even the learning itself leads to an endless cycle of improvement. In such cases it is helpful to have another, unbiased perspective. Consider the friend who looks over your shoulder to say how good it looks or how great it’s working; despite the flaws that jump out at you. People experienced in mentoring are best for this, assuming they aren’t overly concerned with perfection.

Despite the freedom and independence working solo has brought me over the years perfection is actually closer the more I interact with other skilled professionals. We introverts may be a productive bunch, but there is still much to learn from the more social among us.

‘Easy’ Is Relative

When evaluating someone else’s work I often fall into thinking “it looks so easy”; especially when the concept is simple. Yet when embarking on actually doing something that seems easy myself I’ve found that most often it’s quite a bit more difficult. Occasionally the reverse is true: what appears very challenging turns out to be a breeze.

One deceptively simple example is partially automating pausing and resuming Pandora Radio with a keystroke. While purchasing the Pandora One player/service is a quick and inexpensive solution, I was interested in automating the user-interface myself. (There are also 3rd party clients with hot-keys, but they exclude the advertisements which are how I indirectly support Pandora’s free service.)

Image Search

My first attempt was a Sikuli script to find the Pandora tab in my browser, then the play or pause button, and finally click it. As I tried reusing it on other computers I noticed higher resolutions meant Sikuli needed more time to find the tab. And if the tab was off screen, because I had too many tabs open, then it also failed. Finally the Pandora icon didn’t always appear the same on different browsers and OS’s.

Pandora’s Keyboard Shortcuts

Next I tried using AutoIt to get the Pandora window more reliably. Thankfully Pandora’s player has keyboard shortcuts, so there was no more need for image recognition. Unfortunately I found that using ‘Alt’ in the pause-play shortcut meant that browsers like Internet Explorer thought they should open the file menu. Another problem is that the key Pandora chose (space-bar) is also the default to scroll down; therefore, when the player’s frame is not active my script would only scroll the page instead of resuming or pausing playback.

Blind Mouse

To workaround the space-bar problem I resorted to blindly clicking the mouse where the play/pause button resides. Alt was still opening the file menu, so the mouse position had to carefully aligned to work whether or not the menu was visible.

Since the process was blind I retrained myself to always leave the window at the top. (One could auto-press ‘Home’ to get the browser back to the top.) Even so, the clicking was too quick for the browser to redraw at times. This required adding a small delay before clicking to get the desired result.

Off-screen Trouble

Using virtual desktops meant Pandora wasn’t always on screen. SysInternals Desktops solution was especially troublesome because each desktop was so isolated software didn’t work across them. Switching to VirtuaWin helped; though, after the script was done it left the Pandora window on the current desktop instead of putting it back where I had left it. AutoIt allowed me to minimize the window for the time being. (A better long term solution may be to keep track of the move and put it back on the original ‘desk’.) Minimizing also required it’s own delay or else the automated click may happen after the window is already off screen.

The final, ‘simple’ procedure turned out to be:

  1. Open or raise the Pandora window by title
  2. Wait a moment so the flash player can draw the button
  3. Auto move the mouse to the button’s menu-or-no-menu position
  4. Simulate the click
  5. Wait for the click event to actually play or pause
  6. Minimize the Pandora window

While this won’t work for everyone (AutoIt only works on Windows), and has a lot of room to improve, it does make my life a little easier. The process has also been a lesson in UI automation and the value of seemingly simple things.

Fake It And They Will Come

A disturbing trend among new, often social, services is to create fake users and content in order to give the impression they are active and popular.

First impressions are not everything, but they can set expectations for both those producing a service and those consuming it. If a service such as Reddit gains traction because they followed the fake-it-until-you-make-it philosophy then what’s to stop them from again choosing dishonesty when faced with other ethical dilemmas? There is also the hypocrisy factor when services demand complete honesty in their terms of service.

Imagine this ‘seeding’ practice becomes so well known among users that it’s expected of all new sites? Consumers may become increasingly cynical and untrustworthy of unfamiliar offerings. It could provide more security for established services at the expense of younger ones. Which would be ironic for those services which became entrenched by dishonest seeding.

There are plenty of other ways to establish a user base without resorting to lying. Offering consumers incentives for sign up and participation may also be considered shady since it is not purely natural behavior. Yet doing so offers a clear benefit for both parties without pretense. When content or users are faked the legitimate users gain only a false sense of the community or service.

What do you think? Have you encountered a service or site that relied upon falsified content? If so please consider commenting.

Maximum Sustainable Business

What upper bounds limit, or should limit, the size or scope of a business? Developing the lower boundary of a product is already a proven strategy for launching products. And since the idea of a minimum viable business has already been addressed, let’s consider the upper bound.

Physical limits impose some basic restrictions such as the amount of arable land, number of possible consumers, or the amount of money in a market. Some may change over time while others may be fixed. For example, if Canada’s economy had only 2 trillion units of currency available then it’s impossible for a company to exceed that value in Canada; at least until the economy grows.

Legal restrictions also exist in many markets. Cuba’s Agrarian Reform Law limits farm sizes to protect the workers. In the US there are several anti-trust laws to prevent abuse and promote competition among businesses. Whatever one’s view of government’s place in the economy, the intention is clearly to balance the interests of consumers, producers, and employees.

Having worked at larger and smaller companies I’ve seen the advantages of scale: efficient use of (some) resources like instructors’ time, fewer workers needed for administration, and spreading risk. Smaller scales also have their pros; such as more personal management, less bureaucracy, and often a faster path to promotion. However, I think the disadvantages of larger businesses outweigh the benefits. Some cons I’ve witnessed include compensation not tied to performance (discouraging working harder or even at all), reluctance to change, more careless about environmental effects, and a tendency towards anti-competitive behavior.

Sustainability in the long term is another important goal. If a company wants to exist forever then environmental impact becomes a priority. Thankfully even some larger companies are becoming more aware of the issue.

If all businesses considered the human and environmental factors as heavily as financial ones then perhaps more would choose to limit their size. If government regulation more aggressively addressed anti-competitive concerns and taxation encouraged sustainable, small business then I believe it would also be more humane. As machines are increasingly competing with people for jobs wouldn’t it be better if there were many more, independent opportunities for employment?

Please consider sharing your thoughts in the comments.