Search Engines & SEO

Halloween 2018: Crab claws!

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Do you need something to cheer you up? You got it: I should explain this costume a little bit. At the US Digital Service, we do a thing called “crab claws.” Crab claws is like visual applause–you pinch your fingers up and down to say “great job” or “congratulations” or “way to go.” We do it because actual applause would be annoying when there’s someone on the phone. The love for crabs goes deep at USDS. So when I thought about what I wanted to be for Halloween, the answer was pretty simple. Lobster, crab–I wanted to share the crustacean love. One thing I love about the costume is that the shell has a hidden compartment. You could use the shell as a backpack for candy or goodies. So no homemade costume this year, but I figured people would enjoy this: Hope you had a good Halloween!

Some terrible personal news

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Cindy Cutts, my wife and best friend, passed away earlier this week. While I was traveling for work recently, Cindy went to visit her family in Omaha, Nebraska. On Sunday, while enjoying time with family, Cindy started having trouble breathing. Her family quickly called 911 and paramedics took Cindy to the hospital, but Cindy lost and never regained consciousness. She passed away on Monday. Cindy didn’t want any callouts on my blog, so I always just referred to her as my wife. But I’d like to tell you something about her. She loved her family and her cats, Emmy and Ozzie. She danced in the Bay Area with a fantastic troop of kick-ass women for years. She ran a half-marathon once and then decided that she never needed to do that again. She sang in show choir in high school and could still rock a karaoke room with an Adele song. She wrestled with anxiety and depression at times, as so many people do. We should all talk about mental health more to lessen the stigma for other people who think they’re alone when they’re not. Cindy enjoyed falling asleep to Parks and Rec. She liked re-reading William Gibson’s novel Pattern Recognition. Cindy made quilts for her family and crocheted scarves. She kept me healthy and on track and moving in the right direction, and I paid her back with occasional head rubs. Cindy was whip smart, with a particular gift with languages, from French to Chinese. I tackled small details like paperwork and license plates and paying bills, but she was the one who looked at the big picture. Cindy was the person who said “Let’s go try this Google thing for a while.” Cindy and I knew each other for 23 years and we were married for 18 years, which is no small thing. I’m unmanned and unmoored without her. I’m just going to tackle the details in front of me and count on time and family and friends to pull me back on course at some point. If anyone wants to send flowers, the service is at Heafey-Hoffmann-Dworak-Cutler at 7805 W Center Rd in Omaha on Saturday, March 10th, starting at 3pm. For the people who didn’t get to meet her, Cindy looked like a movie star: She loved hanging with her family: She had the best smile and amazing green eyes: And her cat Ozzie adored her as much as I did: Please give your friends or family a hug for me. We never know how much time we have with someone, and sometimes it’s all too short.

Talking to Mr. Money Mustache about the US Digital Service

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Last week, I passed my one year anniversary as head of the US Digital Service (USDS). So when Mr. Money Mustache asked for an interview, I was delighted to talk about some of the work that the USDS does. If you aren’t familiar with Mr. Money Mustache, he writes about a philosophy of badassity in which people make better life choices like biking to work or saving a higher percentage of their paychecks. I remember discovering Mr. Money Mustache and immediately reading through most of his site, so it was a pleasure to do an interview with him. And if you haven’t heard of the US Digital Service before, this interview is a good chance to find out more. The US Digital Service is still here, still working on projects that matter, and we’re hiring.

Staying with the US Digital Service

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A few months ago, I took a leave of absence from Google to do a stint with the US Digital Service. A lot of people know about the US Digital Service because they helped rescue the healthcare.gov website. But you might not realize that the US Digital Service has helped veterans get their health benefits, brought bug bounties to the federal government, and helped the IRS protect taxpayer info. When I joined the US Digital Service, I only planned to stay for three months. That quickly turned into six months after I saw the impact of the USDS. In the last month, I made a big decision. On December 31, 2016, I resigned from Google. I’m currently serving as director of engineering for the USDS. Mikey Dickerson, the first administrator of the USDS, is a political appointee, so he’ll step down on Inauguration Day. When that happens, I’ll serve as acting administrator of the USDS. The work that the USDS does is critical to the American people, and I’m honored to continue that tradition. If you’re reading this blog post, odds are that you might be a tech geek yourself. I’d like to ask you to review what the US Digital Service has accomplished in just a few years. If you’re a more visual person, you might enjoy this short video: Working for the government doesn’t pay as well as a big company in Silicon Valley. We don’t get any free lunches. Many days are incredibly frustrating. All I can tell you is that the work is deeply important and inspiring, and you have a chance to work on things that genuinely make peoples’ lives better. A friend who started working in this space several years ago told me “These last five years have been the hardest and worst and best and most rewarding I think I will ever have.” If you have experience in the tech industry, there’s a decent chance that you have skills that can benefit the American people. If you’re considering joining the US Digital Service, please fill out an application.

A brief update

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Over the last couple years, I’ve seen more and more people in technology trying to make government work better. They’re idealists who are also making a large impact. These are people that I respect–some of them worked to fix healthcare.gov, for example. From talking to many of them, I can tell you that their energy is contagious and they’re trying to improve things in all kinds of ways. I want to see whether I can help too. So for the next few months, I’ll be taking a leave from Google. I’m joining the US Digital Service family, specifically the Defense Digital Service at the Pentagon. I’ll be moving out to Washington, D.C., as part of the change. If you’re in the area, please say hello! And if you’re interested in the US Digital Service, you can find more information at usds.gov.

Thanks, Amit

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Amit Singhal just announced that he’s retiring toward the end of the month. Amit has been a formative part of Google’s search team, but he’s also a good friend. Last year, after he marked 15 years with Google, I wrote this about Amit’s contributions: Amit Singhal, one of the unsung heroes of Google, just celebrated 15 years at the company. If you’ve ever gotten a magical answer from Google, you probably have Amit to thank for it. I can’t think of another person who has taken on so many different roles–individual contributor, manager, and head of search, not to mention dealing with press–and done such a superb job in each role. When a regular person hits a wall and gets discouraged, that’s when Amit is just getting started. It’s always fun to see how he cuts to the root of a problem and solves it. I’m proud to call him my friend. Billions of people have benefited in some way from Amit’s insight and judgment. Google will miss you, but thank you for everything, Amit. I’m also thankful that the leadership of search remains in excellent hands, including an experienced group of contributors and leaders in core ranking.

Solving a Verizon issue (Nexus 5X)

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I solved a problem today and figured that I’d document it for the rest of the world. Every time someone left me a voicemail on Verizon, I would get a cryptic text from Verizon at 900080006202 that looked like “//VZWVVM:SYNC:ev=NM;id=1;c=1;t=v;s=1XXXXXXXXXX;dt=18/01/2016 13:40-0900;l=13;dev_t=5” or “//VZWVVM:SYNC:ev=MBU;dev_t=5”. Here’s what happened. It turns out that Verizon has three kinds of voicemail: basic voicemail (free), basic visual voicemail (also free), and premium visual voicemail ($2.99/month). I have a Nexus 5X and I recently switched from an unlimited Verizon data plan to a different plan (long story). As part of that shift, it looks like Verizon switched me to visual voicemail. I suspect a lot of phones that you get at a Verizon store have some sort of visual voicemail app pre-installed. That app probably intercepts those cryptic texts and uses them to show a voicemail indicator. Ever wondered how the voicemail indicator disappears so fast after you call voicemail? I suspect that’s also because of a Verizon text that is interpreted by your phone. But a Nexus 5X doesn’t have Verizon’s voicemail app, so it just presents texts from Verizon. To fix this issue, I stopped by a Verizon store and had a rep change me from “basic visual voicemail” to “basic voicemail,” and that fixed the issue. I don’t think you can toggle that setting yourself on Verizon’s website. Nexus 5X rocks! By the way, I love my Nexus 5X. It fits well in my hand, the camera is superb, and the fingerprint reader is blazingly fast. Also, the speed and accuracy of voice recognition on the Nexus 5X is amazing. A final nice feature is that you can insert a Nano SIM card from any of the major carriers in the US. I often switch my Nexus 5X over to Google Fi in various situations; for example, Fi is great if you’re traveling outside the US. HD Voice One last tip if you’re still on Verizon: you can get HD Voice for free, but you have to enable it. HD Voice works via Voice over LTE, or VoLTE. HD Voice should have much better audio than a regular cell phone as long as both phones support it. On Verizon’s site, go to My Verizon->My Plan & Services->My Plan->Products & Apps->Manage Products & Apps and then click Free Products. Enable HD Voice on all your compatible lines on the website. Then you need to enable HD Voice on each of your phones. On recent Android phones, look for Settings->More->Cellular networks->Enhanced 4G LTE Mode. On iPhones, look for Settings->Cellular->Enable LTE and select Voice & Data. More info on HD Voice and Advanced Calling on Verizon is in these FAQs. What phone are you rocking right now, and how do you like it?

Halloween 2015: USB Drive

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I went a little overboard for Halloween last year. And as you can tell from my the Halloween category on my blog, sometimes I get a little too excited about Halloween. So this year I decided to go quick, easy, and lo-fi as a USB drive: To make a thumb drive/USB key, I just took a cardboard box, spray painted it black, and glued on some gold-colored paper. Super simple and easy to do. Then I cut out a curve for my head. I made the mask using digital plans I bought from wintercroft.com. Once I had the materials, it took me a couple hours and was lots of fun. It was like a super-simple version of this big head costume. If you wanted easy freedom of movement, you could also just wear the USB part on your head:

Give Google Contributor a try

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Recently I’ve seen several interesting conversations about ad blocking, and I wanted to remind people about a great offering called Google Contributor. With Google Contributor, you contribute a certain amount of money each month. That subscription means that you see fewer ads on the web, and you support the sites that you visit with your money. You get to decide how much to contribute (I do $10/month, but for example you can do $2/month if you prefer). The more you contribute, the fewer ads you see. The handwave-y explanation that when you go to a website, your monthly subscription actually bids on your behalf in ad auctions. So you end up buying the ad yourself rather than someone else. This is cool for several reasons: 1. You support the sites you visit without expending any energy. 2. You see fewer ads. 3. (And this is the cool part) you get to decide what to show in that ad space instead of ads. That’s right: you can pick a custom URL to show to yourself instead of ads. It’s like buying space on a billboard and showing nature scenes instead of ads. Personally, I like to show a dynamically generated Mondrian-like pattern: But here’s the part I love: when you sign in, click the gear icon and then “Advanced settings,” and at the bottom of the page you can provide any custom URL you want (it does have to serve over https). You could replace ads with pictures of kittens, or your family. Or make ads your todo list, or a reminder to get back to work. Think outside the box, like Paul Ford. It’s the open web–you can have all kinds of fun with your HTML. Here are some common misconceptions about Google Contributor: Q: I thought Google Contributor only worked with ten websites or so? A: No, it works with millions of websites. Contributor launched with a small set of websites initially, but if a website runs Google ads like AdSense or DoubleClick for Publishers, it’s likely to be compatible with Contributor. Q: Isn’t there a waitlist to join? Or I need an invite or something? A: Not anymore! You can sign up immediately and support tons of websites with one monthly payment. Q: Can I see which websites I’m supporting? A: Yes! You get a report that looks like this: If you like the web and use it as much as I do, why not support some of your favorite websites while reducing the number of ads you see? Give Google Contributor a try now.

Berkshire Hathaway

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My taste in financial advice runs toward the simple and the lessons I’ve learned the hard way. But I still like reading about investing/finance, and I recently read through the 2014 annual report for Berkshire Hathaway. Given that it was the 50th anniversary of Warren Buffett taking charge of Berkshire, I have to admit that I expected more nuggets of wisdom. I did have two favorite quotes though. On page 19, Buffett writes “Huge institutional investors, viewed as a group, have long underperformed the unsophisticated index-fund investor who simply sits tight for decades.” So take it from Warren Buffett: broad-based index funds with low fees will outperform most active management. That’s something that most people saving for retirement–which should be almost everyone–should keep in mind. The other quote I liked was on page 35: “In our view, it is madness to risk losing what you need in pursuing what you simply desire.” That’s some serious life wisdom there, not just good financial sense. I have to say though, I was troubled by a recent report from the Center for Public Integrity and the Seattle Times. The report contends that Clayton Homes, a subsidiary of Berkshire, preys on vulnerable people in all kinds of ways, including predatory sales and lending practices. The article is long, but it’s worth reading all of it. A follow-up post digs into Berkshire’s response to the story.

My next project: AutoSEO

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I’ve been working really hard with some friends on a project to handle SEO automatically. Now we’re ready to take the wraps off it over at seo.ninja. One of the ideas that helped the World Wide Web succeed was that it separated presentation and content. You could write your text and decouple it from the problem of how the text looked. AutoSEO takes that to the next stage with search engines, so you don’t have to think about things like redirects. How much would you pay to never have to worry about keyword density, H1 headers, or meta descriptions again? How about.. free? That’s right, AutoSEO is free for individual, students, self-hosted installs, and companies with fewer than 100 employees. AutoSEO is also built from the ground up to handle mobile browsers. We’re starting with a limited set of invites to kick the tires on the system before opening things up for wider usage. Read more about the project over at seo.ninja!

Next 30 day challenge: social media/news cleanse

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For January 2015, I tried to declutter around the house for 15 minutes a day. We now have a couple rooms that are much cleaner, and I gave away a bunch of magazines. For February 2015, my 30 day challenge was to go on daily 15 minute walks with my wife. That was nice. Lately I’ve been spending more time than I’d like on social media and reading news sites. So for March 2015, I’m going to do a social media and news cleanse. I’ve done a social media cleanse several times before and it’s usually quite helpful for getting re-centered. Here’s the steps that I’m taking: – I’m using the StayFocusd Chrome extension to limit myself to 15 minutes a day of Google News, Twitter, Google+, Hacker News, Techmeme, Nuzzel, Reddit, and Imgur. – On my R7000 home router I’m using the “block site” functionality for several of these sites. It looks like the R7000 can block HTTP sites, but not HTTPS. – On my phone, I’m removing the new tab thumbnails for these sites. I’m also removing some social media apps from my home screen. I figure that either I’ll get some good stuff done, read a lot of books, or die of boredom. I may (rarely) drop a link on social media, but if you see me just hanging out, please remind me to close my tab and move on.

Fixing “full path disclosure” issues

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Whether you’re running a web service or a blog, you should always keep your software fully patched to prevent attacks and minimize your attack surface. Another smart step is to prevent full path disclosures. For example, if your blog or service throws an error like “Warning: require(ABSPATHwp-includes/load.php) [function.require]: failed to open stream: No such file or directory in /home/horace/public_html/wp-settings.php on line 21″ then by noting the full pathname from that error, an attacker could reasonably infer that your username is “horace” and use that try to guess your password. It’s not the end of the world if your attacker has that information, but why not make an attack as hard as possible? For WordPress, here’s a couple ways to prevent full path disclosure vulnerabilities: – In a php.ini file, you can add a line like “display_errors = off” (without the quotes). – In an .htaccess file, you can add a line that says “php_flag display_errors off” (without the quotes). It sounds like the php.ini approach might be slightly better, because some web hosts run PHP in CGI mode which might not allow php_flag or php_value directives in .htaccess files. After you’ve made this change, php errors shouldn’t be shown to web clients. If you’re developing live code on a PHP installation, that can make debugging slightly less easy. But if you’re running (say) a blog, it’s probably better to turn off display errors for a little extra protection against attacking hackers.

Lessons learned from the early days of Google

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Earlier this month I did a talk at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill about lessons learned from the early days of Google. The video is now online and watchable, or you can watch it on YouTube: We did the talk in a pretty large room, and the camera at the back of the room couldn’t easily record me and the slides at the same time. So here are the slides to go along with the talk: Or you can view the slides at this link. I believe all the pictures should be covered either by license or fair use (the talk was free), but let me know if you see anything that you believe is problematic. I hope you enjoy the talk!

My two favorite books of 2014

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I’d like to mention two books that stood out for me in 2014: Nonfiction: The First 20 Minutes. Gretchen Reynolds is a New York Times columnist who distills health and exercise research down to practical, readable advice. I’ve never dog-eared as many pages in a book as The First 20 Minutes. Reynolds writes about why you might want to brush your teeth standing on one foot, work out before eating breakfast, and how pickle juice might help with cramps. Should you get a cortisone shot? Does it help to believe in luck? Does long-distance running make your knees less healthy? Is chocolate milk a good recovery drink? Read the book and find out. Whether you’re a couch potato or a ultramarathoner, you’ll probably learn something interesting and helpful from Reynolds’ book. Reynolds also writes with the easy readability of a seasoned newspaper columnist, and each chapter ends with bite-sized summaries of what the current scientific research recommends. My only nitpick is that I wish Reynolds had included footnotes pointing to the original research for people who want to dig deeper. Fiction: As I’ve written before, The Martian describes an astronaut stranded on Mars who needs to figure out how to survive and get home with minimal supplies. Some of the science gets detailed, but the book builds to a very successful ending in my opinion. What was the single best fiction or nonfiction book you read in 2014?

Fun mosaic effect with Go

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A few months ago I saw a cool mosaic effect in a Wired ad for CA Technologies. Here’s what part of the ad looked like: I liked the ad, so I wondered how they did it. Can you see out how to create a similar effect? Take a minute to figure it out as an exercise. Here’s what I came up with: divide the image into tiles. For each tile, compute an average overall color for that tile. Then go back and blend every pixel in that tile with the average color. So if a tile is partly dark and partly blue, the average color is a dark blue, so the blue in that tile becomes even darker. I like that the effect is pretty simple once you figure out how to do it. Of course, once I had an idea of how to do it, I wanted to write some code and see whether I could recreate the effect. Go has good libraries for handling images and I’ve been meaning to try Go. I ended up with about 70 lines of moderately-ghastly Go code that did the job. For this Creative Commons image (thanks Fuelrefuel/Wikimedia Commons!) I ended up with a photomosaic like this: As far as I can tell, that’s pretty much the same filter that ran in the ad. Here’s another example. First, a picture of me: and here’s the resulting mosaic’ed image: That’s all the interesting stuff. You can stop reading now. This part is boring. Really. No need to keep reading. The code I came up with is really ugly, but the pseudo-code is pretty simple: - Read the picture into a go image - Number of horizontal tiles = image_width / desired_tile_width - Number of vertical tiles = image_height / desired_tile_height - Loop through tiles with nested vertical and horizontal for loops - For each tile, loop over the tile's pixels to compute average RGB values - Loop over the tile's pixels again & set new_color = (avg_color+curr_color)/2 - Write the image out as a new picture That’s it! I wanted a quick and dirty test, so I didn’t worry about things like the leftover pixels if the tiles didn’t evenly divide the image. Let’s see, what else. Things I liked about Go: – It’s super-easy to read and write images, so I could concentrate on the fun stuff. – I like that documentation like this gives a clear, easy way to set up your environment. The golang tour is great too. And installing Go on Ubuntu is easy: “sudo apt-get install golang” and you’re done. – The language makes a lot of sense to me, in a C kind of way. Some things didn’t make as much sense to me, or at least I need to do more reading: – My initial program just read a JPEG and wrote it back out, and the output image was considerably dimmer. I was just using default encoding values, so maybe some gamma values got left out, but it was a little weird. I was expecting read->decode->encode->write to be a no-op. – When I read the JPEG into an image and tried to write directly to that image, Go gave me an error. That was a little strange. I ended up copying the JPEG to a new image and then I could write. – In the spirit of just doing stuff without reading the documentation, it seemed like Go images stored their At() component colors with 16 bits of range (from 0..65536). But when I wanted to write colors with Set() it seemed like Go wanted 8 bits in the example I found. So for a while I was casting stuff with (uint8) and getting totally random bits written into the image. That also generated a fun image: but it took me a few minutes to figure out what was going on. I’m sure some reading would clear things up, but.. who cares? I was also doing some weird float arithmetic to compute color averages. This was just quick/dirty code, and I can read more about the nitty gritty later. As soon as I got the effect I wanted, I rapidly lost interest. I even hard-coded image filenames because I couldn’t be bothered to search for go command-line flag info. All in good fun. – Arrays and slices are cool, but allocating 2D arrays and slices seems a little verbose. – I like that Go’s designers have opinions and enforce them, at least 99% of the time. When you’re hacking ugly code, it was annoying to get the “you didn’t use this variable” errors. But I understand the rationale and it’s probably a good idea for writing Real Code that’s not intended to be thrown away. – I was all set to grouse about go fmt’s enforced indentations/spacing, but it actually looks pretty reasonable. Basically, each indent is a tab. Then if you’re a 3 or 4 space indent kind of guy, you can configure your editor like vim or emacs to change how the tab width is displayed. Historically, Python is my language of choice to knock out a quick script thing–I love Python dictionaries. But with Go’s speed, support for dictionaries/maps, and capability to do HTTP servers very easily, I might end up switching to Go. I think I’ll use Go for my next little fun project.

An investment reading list

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If you’ve read Scott Adams’ financial advice and my financial tips in case you win a startup lottery, then you might be interested in a few more pointers to good resources. Some web pages and books: – Don’t Play the Losers’ Game, by Henry Blodget. This is a short, accessible piece that explains why picking individual stocks on Wall Street is a bad idea for almost anyone. – Website: the Bogleheads forum. An incredibly smart group of people who like to discuss investing, finance, and money. Their investment philosophy page is pure financial wisdom distilled. – A Random Walk Down Wall Street, by Burton Malkiel. This book is remarkably readable, though it can be dense at times. If you believe you can pick individual stocks with enough success to beat a diversified portfolio of low-cost index funds, this is the book you should read to throw a wet blanket on that belief. – The Lazy Person’s Guide to Investing, by Paul B. Farrell. This book will show you how to outperform the majority of active money managers in just 15 minutes a year. This book is seriously good. If I had to recommend only a single book, this book might win: it’s a breeze to read, but it imparts nearly as much wisdom as much denser tomes. – This is a great description of how Google tried to educate and protect its employees before Google’s IPO. You’ll get most of the idea from the first page. How can you not love an article where a financial advisor admits “We work in the most overcompensated industry in the country”? – The Wall Street Self-Defense Manual, by Henry Blodget. In many ways, this book is a deeper version of Blodget’s article that I linked to above. This book is short, readable, and packed with most of the advice that you need to know. – If you’re ready to go deeper, consider The Four Pillars of Investing, by William Bernstein. You might also check out Bernstein’s The Intelligent Asset Allocator. – Rich Dad, Poor Dad, by Robert Kiyosaki. This book has its flaws, but it’s very readable and could be good for teenagers or college students. The book uses stories to discuss the goal of financial independence via assets that produce money. I grew up in a family focused on academia, so this book was a good wake-up call that a lot of people care about money, not just getting a Ph.D. Money and Wall Street stories, color, and culture – Realistically, I’d recommend almost anything that Michael Lewis has ever written. His most recent book is Flash Boys and I enjoyed that story. But I also enjoyed Liar’s Poker, The Big Short, and Boomerang. A few more to consider: – Perfectly Legal (rich people get away with lots of tax loopholes) – Confessions of a Tax Collector (a tale from inside the IRS when the IRS had more teeth) There’s also a whole sub-genre of books about rich people: – Richistan (pretty entertaining) – The Millionaire Next Door (most millionaires are cheap!) – Rich Like Them (mostly a bunch of anecdotes from interviews) Stock Options – Consider Your Options, by Kaye A. Thomas. If you’re joining a startup that offers stock options, I strongly recommend that you study this book from cover to cover. It can help you avoid a lot of treacherous mistakes. If you don’t put in the time to understand your stock options, you might regret it later. Thomas also has a good book called Capital Gains, Minimal Taxes that covers the mechanics of a lot of tax issues and logistics for investors. – I really recommend Consider Your Options as the definitive work, but An Engineer’s Guide to Silicon Valley Startups, by Piaw Na is very accessible. This book also covers a wide range of skills that you might need if you want to join a startup. Disclosure: I know Piaw from his time at Google. – I have used Stock Options: An Authoritative Guide to Incentive and Nonqualified Stock Options as a reference for at least one complicated situation. – Want to understand stock options at a basic level? Stock Options for Dummies isn’t too bad. Anti-recommendations – This won’t be popular, but I just don’t find John C. Bogle’s books very readable. I agree with him about lots of things, but his books like Don’t Count on it! just didn’t grab me. – Hedgehogging, by Barton Biggs. I’m not even going to link to this book–that’s how angry this book made me. Biggs actually writes stuff like this: “My real theory is that the investment superstars have some special magic with markets that enables them almost intuitively to do the right things most of the time.” What hogwash. Elsewhere in the book (which lists a copyright date of 2006), Biggs quotes someone who accurately identifies the housing bubble: “another bubble is about to burst. Existing home prices have been rising 7% to 8% a year, financed by Fannie and Freddie.” Then Biggs goes on scoff at the guy, like “Look at this dork, predicting a major depression due to a housing bubble in the next three years.” The Wikipedia page on Biggs reports that Biggs’ hedge fund was blindsided by the subsequent global financial crisis. If you want a snapshot of how Wall Street can suck, then you might want to read this book. – I’m not a big fan of Jim Cramer. If you want to watch Cramer for entertainment that’s great, but exercise caution on his advice. – Beating the Street, by Peter Lynch. I just don’t think this book has aged very well. You can pick up most of what you need from other books. The advice to “invest in what you know” can be good. However, it also risks becoming “invest in what’s familiar” instead of doing your homework. So those are some books and websites that I’ve liked or disliked. How about you–what books about investing, money, or finance would you add to the list?

New 30 day challenge: “hermit mode”

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I’ve been spending more time surfing the web on my laptop than I’d like to. I’ve also noticed more emails that lure me into short tasks, but eventually eat up a large chunk of my day. I’d prefer to be spending more time working on projects, reading, and unplugging. So my new 30 day challenge will be to enter a sort of “hermit mode” where I don’t spend more than an hour a day on my laptop. I’m also going to try to say “no” more often. My hope is that if I turn down a few meetings for a while, I’ll end up working more on projects that I want to tackle. I don’t know whether that will work, but I’m going to try it. I might still write a few blog posts or say something on Twitter, but I want that to be a conscious choice, not just something I back into. This challenge will be a hard one to judge for success, but my hope is that at the end of the month, I’ll be making more active choices about how I spend my time, and tackling more things that I want to do.

30 day challenge wrap-up: writing

Matt Cutts Blog (Head of Google's Webspam Team) -

So how did I do on my 30 day writing challenge? Well, the picture tells the story: Not too bad! I did miss one day, but here’s a secret about 30 day challenges: if you miss a day or two, you can just keep doing the challenge for another day or so at the end. Or don’t worry about it: you’re trying out something new, and you only have to answer to yourself. What went well this time? Well, I finally wrote down a few things that I’ve been meaning to publish for years, from Scott Adams’ financial advice to my own hard-won financial tips, and from a piece about a level playing field to how to buy viagra online. Some posts were like hairballs that I just needed to get out of my system. I also liked my running tips post, my post about dial tone moments, and my tips to protect your account security. I even got to pick on active.com for their Active Advantage membership program. I also enjoyed loosening up a little bit (“fuck Columbus Day”). It’s so much more fun to write when you don’t put as much pressure on yourself. What didn’t go well? Well, I meant to do some journaling, short stories, and private writing, but somehow this challenge morphed into a public blogging exercise. That’s okay. I like that I wrote a bunch of new things. I still put too much emphasis on polish (or at least correct spelling/grammar) in my writing. Part of my goal was to lower my bar a little bit so that I could knock out a quick blog post whenever the mood strikes. I partly met that goal. Overall, I’m glad that I did this challenge.

Buy Viagra online?

Matt Cutts Blog (Head of Google's Webspam Team) -

Working in webspam, we sometimes use the phrase “buy Viagra online” as an example of a search query that might be spammy. That’s why I noticed and remembered the 2013 announcement that you can officially buy Viagra online. As this Time article points out, you’ve actually been able to buy Viagra online through legitimate pharmacy websites for quite some time. In May of 2013, Pfizer announced the process would become more direct through a collaboration with CVS. What about “generic Viagra”? To the best of my knowledge, some patents on Viagra haven’t expired in the US. Consequently, a generic version of Viagra has not yet been approved in the US. So I believe there’s no exact thing as “generic viagra” in the United States. Interestingly, there is a drug called Revatio which is also sildenafil. The patent for Revatio expired in 2012 and so there are generic versions of Revatio. Revatio is intended to treat pulmonary arterial hypertension, but your doctor could legally prescribe generic Revatio for an “off label” usage. It’s even more interesting to read about generic Viagra in other countries. For example, Canada invalidated Pfizer’s patent on Viagra, so there is a generic version of Viagra in Canada. Likewise, the patent on Viagra has expired in many countries in Europe. It also looks like India makes a generic version of Viagra. However, at least in the US it appears that there’s still not a generic version. What about “herbal Viagra”? I believe “Viagra” is a brand name, so it’s not correct to refer to “herbal Viagra.” The term may be internet slang for wide variety of different things, but it’s not Viagra as such. As a result, you should do your research and exercise caution with anything that claims to be “herbal Viagra.” What about Cialis? As long as I was doing this research, I was curious about the situation with Cialis, which is a similar drug to Viagra. In case you were wondering about how to buy cialis online, you can find official information about that here. It looks like if you get a prescription, then you can order official Cialis from legitimate online pharmacies. If you see something that I got wrong, please let me know.

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