Dribbles from my Brain

This post is a brain drain of ideas that I find myself repeating to people when I get asked advice about technology and the surrounding ecosystem. I give no guarantee that any of this information is going to be helpful.


There's no such thing as a free lunch (TNSTAAFL).

The main idea being whatever you think is free is being paid for by someone else or in another way. Why do Facebook and Twitter allow anyone to have accounts for free? So they can collect data about you and sell it to anyone willing to pay enough. The services are free of monetary cost, but you are paying with your privacy, the secret cost. Others try to spin TNSTAAFL saying the cost you are paying has a side effect that is more positive than the cost you are paying. Tim Kreider wrote an opinion piece called “Slaves of the Internet, Unite!” in which he explores how payoffs like exposure are not worth your time. Your time is valuable to you and you should not let other people waste it. Or in twitterspeak #yolo.

Just say no.

Say no to spec work. Say no to family members who need computer help because you are a computer geek. Say no to people who just want the solutions spoon fed to them. Say no when a company tries to lowball your work. Say no to bad design and Mike Monteiro says it best. Say no to unpaid gigs. Say no to extended work weeks. Say no to the suck. Say no to people questioning why you said no.


Not all conferences/events are created equal.

I would like to address two specific audiences with this, first being attendees and a reminder about Sturgeon's law. 90% of everything is crud no matter what field of endeavor. For a person to attend a conference they must believe that there is value to offset the costs of the event. The value is a combination of need to see speakers, content being presented and who else you know is attending. What is making this decision harder is the amount of events to choose from. Every year new events seem to popup all over the world and more and more talks are given. More events, more talks, more subjects, less attendee happiness.

Professor Barry Schwartz calls this The Paradox of Choice where the amount of choices exceeds “too many” people become more stressed and unhappy with their decision. While the “too many” value changes from person to person the core idea of why it makes people unhappy is the same. It takes too much time to properly research all the options and after making a selection you second guess the decision. A “grass is always greener” view on the problem. I suspect that more events will be created because of continued industry expansion. A shortcut I found to help research events is http://lanyrd.com a social media site for professional events.

The second audience is the speakers and people who apply to be speakers. As an attendee you show up, watch and listen to a presentation and then move on. Being an attendee does not require much pre-event work other than planning out the travel and accommodations to the event. Speakers on the other hand spend copious amounts of time doing the following

  • Finding relevant events to speak at.
  • Applying to events.
  • Waiting to hear back.
  • Prepare slides/presentation.
  • Practice, practice, practice.
  • Promotion.

Now a common estimate we hear for conference prep is 80-100 hours or 5 hours a day for 20 days. Now that might seem like an overestimation but in many cases that 100 hours is a lowball figure. The problem being solved or the research presented can easily take far longer than that to generate and analyze. The point being fellow speakers that building up a presentation is an investment for you. The payoff is the value you derive from the event. This value is affected by the event's public relations, the other speakers in the line up and the content of other presentations. Nicholas C. Zakas write an interesting piece the problem with conference talks lately which covers the different kinds of talks a conference can have. The takeaway for speakers is to check more into the talks others are presenting at the event and see if they are really a good fit.

“you're doing it wrong”

As a response to what someone else is doing only makes you look like a douchebag. It is one of the new forms of the “me too” post, a comment that provides no value to anyone involved. Simply don't do it.

Being smart is about being mentally flexible.

You have to be willing to change your point of view on a subject based on new information and ideas. Adaptability. Do not focus on just the details that support your existing point of view, understand the arguments against your view point. If you are unwilling to have your ideas criticized or challenged, freedom of thought becomes impossible. How can you grow if no free thought is taking place? Understanding the four stages of competence can help with this.

Read aloud what you have written.

The process of writing involves structuring words and ideas together to convey a message to an audience. Going from the brain to words on a screen is a process. Reading those words aloud engages a different process in your mind. It allows you to notice issues with the flow of your words and identify things that do not sound right. “Experts” are always saying to make your writing more conversational and easier for the audience to understand. Speaking the words aloud will help with that. Notice where you pause in speaking and see if your commas and semicolons match up.


Knowing how to better yourself and doing it are two different things. I heard it best as a comment on HN. To paraphrase since I cannot find the link: “It does not matter if I tell everyone how to knockoff my business plan and design the software it needs. When it comes down to doing the hard work to get a business going the vast majority are going to give up or fail because it requires hard work and motivation.”

Keeping motivated to finish hard tasks is far more valuable than just knowing how to solve a problem. Motivation comes in the following flavors fear, necessity, and joy. You fear the bear coming down the road towards you so your fight or flight response motivates you to run away. Necessity motivation is how people do their jobs, clean the house, do the laundry, etc... tasks that are mundane and provide no mental challenges. Joy motivation is the passion project you devote untold hours to. You are eager to work on it, excited by the progress you made and proud of the result.


"Why do Facebook and Twitter allow anyone to have accounts for free? So they can collect data about you and sell it to anyone willing to pay enough."

You're not the customer; you're the product.

"Speaking the words allowed will help with that."

... But it doesn't help you spot homophones. ;-)

Say no to people questioning why you said no.

I'm not sure about this one. Shouldn't you at least explain why you do or not do something?

Say no to family members who need computer help because you are a computer geek.
Grandma: Can you help me with my email?

Douche: I'll consult at $50/hr. Otherwise, get lost, you old bag!

No sociopaths here...

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About Kimmel

user-pic I like writing Perl code and since most of it is open source I might as well talk about it too. @KirkKimmel on twitter