Survey results analysis

Ok, so a few weeks ago, I asked you to help me with a survey. In the spirit of transparency, here are my goals for the survey:

  • Find out more about your interests so I know what excites you, what gets you jumping out of the bed in the morning (ok, maybe not the latter. But hey, it can happen!)
  • Mobile usage, catering to either this blog or my magazine
  • Product ideas (there, commercial interest. Happy?), which the first 2 goals should give me clues to

Specifically, a friend suggested to me about creating an iPhone/iPad app for the magazine. My gut feeling was it’s not really needed. I can’t think of anything I could add to provide more value, where you get something special while reading Singularity on your iPhone/iPad or whatever mobile device you’re using. A PDF file seemed to work just fine. And the general survey results seem to agree with that.

I’ve got a small sample of survey responses, so I’m not going to give specific details, just general answers and trends.

What websites/blogs do you regularly visit?

In my last attempt of a survey, I asked what topics I should write about. That was a dismal failure. The general answer was, “whatever you’re writing about now”. So this time, I had an idea. If I knew what you regularly read about, I could guess at the general topics that interest you. Clever, huh?

The websites/blogs listed have a high technology skew to it. Engadget, Ars Technica, Hacker News and the like. There were other sites listed, on maths, coding and even finance. Of note, The Endeavour (hi John!) and Rands In Repose (by Michael Lopp), because I also read them. My blog was also listed (thanks!). Not too surprising, given my main topics are maths and programming.

I believe I’ve said this before. I don’t write technology stuff because they update too fast and too frequently. And I’m not really that interested in the latest and greatest gadgets, because I’m not much of a consumer.

I’ve got one very amusing answer:

It’s too early in the morning to think about such things.

You made me laugh in this tough period of mine. Thanks!

What magazines (print or online) do you read?

Same reasoning as the first question, but this time with a focus on magazines. I want to know who my *ahem* competitors are…

The Economist was mentioned twice. Remember, I have a small sample size. From what I understand, The Economist is supposed to be hard to understand and digest. You are a very smart person.

I also got confused between 2 other magazines: Scientific American and American Scientist. They’re actually 2 different magazines.

I also discovered a new magazine: 2600. Interesting…

What books do you read? (ebooks count too)

Mostly programming books.

One intriguing response was The Blue and Brown Books (Amazon link) by Ludwig Wittgenstein, an Austrian philosopher.

Other responses include science fiction, fantasy, business, marketing, psychology, self-help, and productivity. This shows the diversity of interests of my readers, which further reinforce the underlying polymath theme of both my blog and magazine. Thank you.

What mobile devices do you use?

iPhone and iPad featured prominently. This suggests that if I were to do a mobile app, the iPhone/iPad platform would give that app the best chance of survival.

What do you use your mobile device(s) for?

The highest uses of mobile devices were browsing the Internet, email and watching videos. Watching videos?!? Really?

Next were work-related activities, listening to podcasts/music and playing games. Followed closely by online shopping and participating in social media sites.

Ok, personally, I prefer to watch videos and listen to podcasts on my desktop at home. This is because I have a slight problem in aural understanding. In simple terms, it means I need my full attention on just listening to words before I can understand them. I can’t put on a podcast and go jogging for example, because I won’t be getting anything from the podcast. And for watching videos on mobile devices, it’s typically done outside/outdoors where it’s noisier. I get irritated if I watch someone’s mouth move but I can’t hear or understand what they just said.

Moving on…

If I can create anything for you to enjoy, what will it be (and what’s the topic if relevant)?

The subtext of the question was

Examples: videos, ebooks, podcasts, webinars, e-course. I can try knitting a sweater for you, but you might find the size a little weird…

Yes, a more direct question on what products I can make money off of help you with.

The answers were all over the place. I’ve got someone who said webinars and e-courses would be nice (but didn’t tell me what topic it would be nice about). But from a few of the responses, it’s about doing what I’m already doing now (I seem to have heard that answer before…).

So my take is, for the disparate subjects, there are blogs and sites and magazines that already cater to those subjects. Maths, programming, entrepreneurship, business, even Singapore culture. I shouldn’t be writing about those subjects just because. I wrote about those subjects because they happen to be interesting at the moment, and that I want you to know about. And I should continue doing so. Perhaps some other interesting subject will come up, and then I’ll write about that.

And that, is what I believe you want me to do. And I will continue to introduce a breadth of interesting material for you as long as you find what I’ve written interesting.

If my blog (Polymath Programmer) and/or my magazine (Singularity) is available on the iPhone/iPad as an app, what do you want to use the app for?

Subtext is

(Or as an app on other mobile devices) (Exclusive interviews, videos, audio? What do you want to see? Let me know!)

The general answer is: don’t make the app. The blog/magazine reads just fine as it is.

Whew. That saves me tons of work with learning Objective-C and setting up the iTunes account and getting it approved and …

Perhaps I’ll do something else, but for now, a PDF file of the magazine works just fine. As technology improves, I think the integration of video/audio into a PDF file will work. You know, like those posters and books in Harry Potter’s world. Moving pictures and sound in a book! Imagine that!

Entrepreneurs and polymaths

Entrepreneurs and polymaths have something in common. Entrepreneurs need to be knowledgeable in many areas, though mostly in the management of business, and mostly being knowledgeable enough is enough (delegation then comes into the picture). Polymaths are knowledgeable in many areas, though the reasons for it may be different. I pin the common reason as simply being curious.

Scott Adams (who draws Dilbert) wrote an article on entrepreneurship.

The first thing you should learn in a course on entrepreneurship is how to make yourself valuable. […] The world has plenty of better artists, smarter writers, funnier humorists and more experienced business people. The rare part is that each of those modest skills is collected in one person. That’s how value is created.

We still need better artists, smarter writers, funnier humorists and more experienced business people. But to have one person advise you on art(istic inclinations), writing, humor and business? Priceless.

Happy Song

I played the piano part on my iPhone using the Virtuoso app.

Virtuoso app

Wait, how does it know I’m looking for lov… uh, I mean, hmmm… that’s an interesting advertisement.

Good grades no longer enough?

Here’s a quote from an article of The Seattle Times:

Valedictorians with straight-A’s were denied admission, while out-of-state students with lower grades were accepted.

The reason?

The decision is based squarely on economics: Nonresident students in effect subsidize the education of Washington residents, providing a much-needed boost in revenue at a time the UW could see its funding cut by $200 million over the next biennium.

It’s not ideal. Revenue, budgets and other financial concerns affect the direction of education.

I wrote an article on the merits of a debtless university education. However minute or major, money has an impact on how educational institutes are run. Perhaps it’s the focus of the university’s educational efforts (maybe putting more money into “money-making” departments such as business, medical and legal). Perhaps it’s the decision to take in more students who pay more in tuition fees. And lower the number of student intake with perfectly good grades but don’t pay as much in tuition fees.

The 10 types of scientists

Diana Garnham identifies 10 types of scientists.

  1. Explorer
  2. Investigator
  3. Developer/Translational
  4. Service provider/operational
  5. Monitor/regulator
  6. Entrepreneur
  7. Communicator
  8. Teacher
  9. Business/Marketing
  10. Policy maker

I can identify with the “Developer/Translational” and “Entrepreneur” scientist types. Possibly with “Communicator”, “Teacher” (?!?) and “Business/Marketing” too.

Which types do you identify with?

How can I help you?

I need your help. Maybe you’ve been reading this blog for a while. Maybe you just discovered it (hey welcome!). In any case, I really need your help. Because I want to create something that will be valuable to you.

Perhaps I can create supplementary material such as videos and audio. Perhaps there are topics you’re more interested in. I won’t know unless you tell me.

So I’d appreciate it if you could help me with a survey:

UPDATE: Survey closed. Thanks to all who helped!

It will take just a few minutes of your time. No personally identifiable information will be asked of you.


On military, startups and entrepreneurship

Do you know why there are so few entrepreneurs around? Because it’s uncomfortable to be one. Keep this notion of “comfortability” as you continue to read, since it’s going to be a running theme.

On surviving enormous weights

I slept late last night. Or more accurately, I slept in the early morning today. I do that a lot. One, because I work long hours. Two, because it’s really quiet between 11pm and 2am. I also went to bed hungry.

I lie on my bed, and my last thoughts before I drift off to sleep are typically a combination of the following:

  • What can I do to improve my products/services?
  • “I can work on that piece of code for the product first.”
  • “Wonder what functions do Excel users use? Or what development teams do to support their users? I want to work on practical aspects for the guide, but where and how can I get that information? Nobody’s willing to tell me anything.”
  • What else can I do to create some cashflow?
  • What else can I do to make my customers’ lives easier?
  • What wording should I use for my Google ads?
  • What should I write for the next issue of my magazine?
  • What can I do to improve the copy on the sales page?
  • What can I do to market my products/services without being pushy?
  • Who should I interview for the next issue of my magazine?
  • What videos should I create? How can I do them better?
  • I’m hungry

Last night, faced with the enormity and weight of the tasks ahead of me, a new thought came to the fore. I’m damned lonely. Running an IttyBiz is lonely business, because no one around you understands what the **** you’re doing. (There’ll be some swearing, because it’s the only appropriate response. And that hunger can drain your will and self-control like nothing can.)

So the “I’m damned lonely” and the “I’m hungry” thoughts met one another, and decided to wreak havoc on me. I started sobbing. Silently of course. After a few minutes of self-pity, I reined in my thoughts and emotions and calmed down. (Some might say I shouldn’t “air my failures“, so to speak, but I’m just telling you the truth of what I’m going through. I’m not really failing, I’m just not succeeding enough. Now there’s positive thinking for you!) A new thought came up. “Let’s go to the library!” I don’t know where that came from.

I woke up the next day, hungry of course, and decided to just freakin’ go to the library. Maybe it’ll improve my mood. I just published the April issue of my magazine, and for the 1 or 2 days just after publishing an issue, I would usually feel completely drained. Have you ever launched a product? There’ll be a lot of marketing, blog posts to publish, emails to sent, people to inform, processes to check, and so on. Now imagine doing that every single month.

On military

Anyway, if I’m going to the library, I might as well read some business books or something. So I found this book, Start-Up Nation, by Dan Senor and Saul Singer. Generally, it’s about how the culture and history and geography of Israel made the Israeli military a force to be reckoned with. And subsequently, also made Israel a country of entrepreneurs.

Did you know that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) helped with the design of rules for Singapore’s own military forces? I didn’t know that, and I’m a Singaporean. The authors wrote that the 3 countries, Israel, Singapore and South Korea are similar in that they’re close to hostile or larger countries. All 3 countries share a strong sense of “self-preservation”, of independence, and thus built a strong military force. However, only Israel created a strong entrepreneurial spirit in her people as well.

Although Singapore’s military is modeled after the IDF – the testing ground for many of Israel’s entrepreneurs – the “Asian Tiger” has failed to incubate start-ups. Why?

Further on, the authors wrote

Singapore’s leaders have failed to keep up in a world that puts a high premium on a trio of attributes historically alien to Singapore’s culture: initiative, risk-taking, and agility.

And all three attributes require a person to be comfortable with being uncomfortable (as paradoxical as it may sound).

Today the alarm bells are being sounded even by Singapore’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, who served as prime minister for three decades. “It’s time for a new burst of creativity in business,” he says. “We need many new tries, many start-ups.”

That’s “tries”, not “guarantees”. It implies being uncomfortable, at least for a while. And most people only want to be comfortable.

On foreigners

Israel welcomes immigrants, especially those who are Jewish. Singapore has, well, Singaporeans actually, have issues with immigrants, or what is termed “Foreign Talent” (yes, capital F and T). From what I’ve heard, many Americans have issues with immigrants to America too. One of the reasons is fear. “They will take our jobs! They will feed off our welfare system!”

Singapore and America require immigrants to stay for a while (about 2 years?) before being considered for citizenship. Israel issues citizenship on arrival.

Maids (hired from countries such as Philippines or Indonesian) are fairly common in Singapore. I’ve also heard of a story where a girl was so “comfortable”, that at a buffet spread, she simply points to the food she wants, and the trailing maid behind her would get the food for the girl. Spoilt child, or privileged times? Recently, there’s also a wildly spreading photograph of a Singaporean man in military uniform walking in front of his maid. The maid was carrying the man’s military backpack. I’m ashamed I have to give this as an example of how Singaporeans are too comfortable in their lives. (UPDATE: I’m not sure about the maid carrying the military backpack part. Might be a stunt. But the “comfortable Singaporean” point stands.)

Being a startup founder or entrepreneur is uncomfortable

You’re probably a programmer, or a person working in the technology department. You might be considering becoming a founder of a web startup that will then make millions of dollars. I’m here to tell you it’s going to be uncomfortable. Can you stand being uncomfortable?

You will need to think about making money. From Day One. Not about how cool the application is, or how many users you will get, or how much people will be talking about you. Make money, or sink.

Venture capital or angel funding is not going to save you if you can’t make money. If your startup or business cannot sustain itself, you’re screwed, because it will fail eventually. Because no one’s willing to pay you to sustain it.

On ramen profitability

There were a few times when I tried to explain my plan to a friend or family member. The short-term plan is to reach ramen profitability. After I explained it, the friend or family member would say “That’s not enough! What about savings, health insurance, [insert reason]?”.

Do you know what “ramen profitable” means to you? It means you no longer have to worry about living expenses. Given some margin, it means you can eat whatever you want (oh foooood… uh, sorry.), buy whatever necessities you need, and basically go about your life without worrying too much. In some sense, it’s like financial independence.

But what it really does is give you something that no man can give you, no amount of money can buy: time. You can then make the startup/business better, which generally means more profit without much more work. Or you can create another startup or business if you so wish. Or you can work on that novel (which, let’s face it, is probably not going to make you a lot of money, but gives you much satisfaction). Or that painting. Or volunteering at a shelter. It gives you freedom.

And nobody around me understands that. Of course, the long-term plan is still to make sure I get all the savings and health insurance and whatever finances in order. People see a fixed monthly income, that might possibly increase every year. They see the ramping up of income as “unsafe”, “insecure” and “uncomfortable”, especially since it starts at zero (then to ramen profitable, then to, well however high you want as long you’re willing to work on it).

I had to change my lifestyle so I can work on my business. I’m willing to be uncomfortable, at least for the short-term. I walk whenever I can to save on transport costs. My body aches, either because I’m sitting for too long, or walking for too long. I have this lingering ache right now on my back between the left shoulder blade and the spinal cord. I am frickin’ uncomfortable! I have bread and peanut butter for dinner. Every day. For the past few months. Sometimes, I throw my hands up and just get a proper meal of rice, vegetables and meat. I have lost friends because of the decisions I made. I’m serious about this.

How much are you willing to fight for your dreams? How much are you willing to give up for your goals? How much are you prepared to be uncomfortable?

P.S. I’m working on the “bread and peanut butter” dinner thing. I’m sick and tired of being continually hungry…

I hate April Fool’s Day!

Just a fun video I made for you. Remember to read the April issue of Singularity.

Behind the scenes

That took me 2 shoots on 2 separate days. One of them was to of me in unshaven, slovenly, just-rolled-out-of-bed form. The other was where I acted as a news caster.

You know what’s the hardest part? I don’t have anything to wear to look like a news caster… I’ve never worn a suit and tie when I was a professional programmer!

Singularity Magazine April 2011

Singularity Magazine April 2011

For April 2011, we have our “thickest” magazine issue ever. 95 pages! Even I’m surprised…

Download the April 2011 issue of Singularity magazine (about 11MB).

I have the pleasure of interviewing Thom Chambers, a fellow magazine editor who runs the In Treehouses magazine.

You might notice that I’m sort of slowing down writing for the blog here in favour of writing for my magazine. One reason is that I find some of my ideas harder or inappropriate to write here, due to design or expression or simply the idea itself. Another reason is that I feel a greater satisfaction of having created something, compared to just a blog post. You will do well subscribing to my magazine. I will still write here, just maybe not as often. Maybe.

Behind the scenes

Visits to 2 cafes, coverage of 2 events, 1 gruesome evening at an art museum and 95 pages later, I’m tired. To say the least. March was gruelling, what with working on my small business and writing the magazine and all. I asked my fairy helpers for, well, additional help. They did this:

Double Vincent

There once was a man named Vincent
Whose work had caused him to be spent
He bathed in fairy goo
And then split into two
Thus the laws of physics were bent

Let’s not do this too often…