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Olson’s Observations

Technology. Innovation. Science. VC. Media. :: by Eric Olson

Archive for April, 2007

Interactive Q&A with Dick “The Wizard” Costolo

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Dick CostoloMy friends over at SeekingAlpha have invited our fearless leader onto their site for an interactive Q&A. Just head over to the post at SeekingAlpha and add a question to the comments section in order to receive enlightenment. Dick will be replying to comments throughout the day today (Wednesday, April 25th). If you have some burning questions for the Wizard now’s the time to get them off your chest and end the insomnia (you know that thinking of feeds keeps you up at night - at least I hope I have some company in that respect).

Side note: If you haven’t subscribed to Dick’s blog yet you really need to. It’s packed with info that will be very useful to any current or aspiring entrepreneur.

Written by Eric Olson

April 25th, 2007 at 11:41 am

Posted in FeedBurner

Book Review: Getting Things Done

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Getting Things DoneSimply put, this book is great or at least the info in it is. As Rick put it the book could have probably been boiled down into ten or twenty pages from the 250 that it is but it did put forth a number of very useful tips on how to better manage workflow.

After reading the book and implementing some of the ideas in it I came away with three key takeaways that can change your life in five minutes:

1. Always ask “What is the Next Action?” when leaving a meeting or thinking about a project.

This is the next physical action you (or someone else) need to take to move something forward (i.e. “get tires for the car” does not work whereas “call the tire shop to make an appointment” does).

2. Write everything down either via a digital mechanism or on paper.

Either way you need to make sure the system you use to capture everything is trusted otherwise your mind will not let go of the item. The idea here is to clear your mind which will leave you with less anxiety and more creativity. (Since you may not have been doing this already the initial time it takes to get everything out of your head and “onto paper” could take more than five minutes - it could even take a whole day or two - but it is necessary to get the most benefit out of the system.)

3. Process items as they come at you (or in a batch at regular intervals).

If they will take less than two minutes do them right away (most of your tasks will fall into this category). If they will take more than two minutes you can then either figure out the next action, place them on a “someday/maybe” list or into a place for ideas that may warrant projects in the future (I call my ideas list the “incubator”), add them to your calendar to do on a certain date or delegate them to someone else (and notate that on a “waiting on” list).

I can attest to the fact that I have felt much more free and creative after implementing some of these workflow management practices. That said, I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to hack their life a bit. There is something in it for everyone and I believe that even if you only use one of the things David Allen suggests it will change your life for the better. Just to get you started the next action that you should take after reading this post is: Buy/order Getting Things Done by David Allen.

Written by Eric Olson

April 24th, 2007 at 6:38 pm

Posted in Books

Movie Review: Pi

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PiIt’s simply amazing that I had not seen this film until now. It had been on my list for years and I had heard great things but other films kept trumping it in my Netflix queue for some reason. Now that I have seen it I can say with certainty that Darren Aronofsky (also of Requiem for a Dream) did an outstanding job on this film.

Pi is an in depth and quite poignant look into both science and obsession. Maximillian Cohen (Sean Gullette), a brilliant mathematician, is our hero in the film. He is fanatical in his belief that everything in nature can be explained with numbers. He cites things like the golden ratio throughout the film as evidence of this.

With this belief in hand and a homemade computer that consumes his small New York apartment he begins to ponder the stock market. He hypothesizes that it is an organism just like any other and that he should be able to find a mathematical code that will crack it.

Looking for this code, a 216 digit number based in Pi, takes Max to some dark places both inside his head and out and we get to witness it all in black and white with jarring camera work all accompanied with a soundtrack that I saw described as an audible fractal (that’s a great description - via IMDB).

This film will leave you gasping for air and praying for it to stop. It’s uncanny how well Aronofsky pulls the viewer in. I felt physically disturbed at points in this movie which rarely happens. This is one example where all of the cinematic elements like the black and white footage, the soundtrack and the jagged camera work all make the movie much more compelling. They aren’t just done “for fun” so-to-speak.

Bottom line: This is a must watch film. It will give you a view into insanity you’ll appreciate but may never want to see again.

Side note: If you have seen Requiem for a Dream you’ll notice the “drug taking” sequences are shot in almost exactly the same manner.

Written by Eric Olson

April 24th, 2007 at 6:15 pm

Posted in Movie Reviews

Atlantis Found?

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AkrotiriSome of you may know that I am into a number of geeky things other than the web and business some of which are archaeology/ancient civilizations, history and physics. Following the archaeology thread I have always been fascinated by the legend of Atlantis. It always seemed to me that there was too much written about it with too many specifics for it to be completely fiction. This lead me to write my senior thesis for my high school humanities class on one of the theories of Atlantis that I found particular compelling.

The thesis that had subscribed to and still do is based on the Greek island of Santorini (also known as Thera or Thira) being the fabled Atlantis. If you interpret the writings of Plato in a certain way you are lead there since the similarities between Santorini and Altantis are staggering.


The picture above is a satellite shot of Santorini today. The tiny piece of land in the center of the crescent is the top of a volcano. Ok, not super interesting yet. However, what if I told you that the island was in fact whole at the time of the Atlantean disaster and when the volcano exploded the center of island sank very quickly and wiped out everything and everyone on the island. Hmmm - now we’re getting somewhere. A sinking island and a population destroyed in a huge calamity. Check.

What about the population though? Were they rich and advanced? Actually, yes they were. The population that inhabited both Santorini and the larger Greek island of Crete were known as the Minoans. (Check.)

The Minoans had a very advanced civilization. They had running water, sewers, buildings with multiple stories, paved streets and many other modern conveniences we have today. They were also the center of trade in the Mediterranean which helped them to amass a lot of wealth. Their wealth also afforded them the ability to pursue the arts resulting in incredible frescos and mosaics as well as sculptures.

I was lucky enough to see a lot of this first hand when I had a chance to walk through the Minoan ruins on Santorini (the Akrotiri ruins to be specific). The parallels to modern cities were incredible. (I just touched the surface in the last couple paragraphs so if you’d like more detailed info on the parallels between Plato’s description of Atlantis and Santorini please click here. I am willing to bet that you’ll be floored by the similarities.)

Honestly I hadn’t thought too much about Atlantis in the last 6 or 7 years having concluded a lot of my thoughts on the matter back in High School and since there was not much in the way of new evidence there wasn’t much to think about anyway. However, it turns out there is new evidence concerning Atlantis that was recently found. In a piece published by the BBC last Friday scientists discuss the evidence they found that shows that Crete was destroyed by a huge tsunami around the same time that Atlantis was supposedly destroyed. Here is what Professor Bruins had to say about his findings:

“The geo-archaeological deposits contain a number of distinct tsunami signatures,” says Dutch-born geologist Professor Hendrik Bruins of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel.

“Minoan building material, pottery and cups along with food residue such as isolated animal bones were mixed up with rounded beach pebbles and sea shells and microscopic marine fauna.

“The latter can only have been scooped up from the sea-bed by one mechanism - a powerful tsunami, dumping all these materials together in a destructive swoop,” says Professor Bruins.

The deposits are up to seven metres above sea level, well above the normal reach of storm waves.

“An event of ferocious force hit the coast of Crete and this wasn’t just a Mediterranean storm,” says Professor Bruins.

What about Santorini though? That island was home to the Minoans as well so is there a connection? It turns out there is. Scientists think the cause of the giant tsunami that wiped out Crete was caused by the eruption on Santorini and subsequent sinking of a large portion of that island.

So it all comes together. A rich and powerful civilization that was incredibly advanced is destroyed by a huge volcanic explosion and the tsunami that followed it. Both homes of the minoans were destroyed in the blink of an eye.

I had originally concluded that Santorini was Atlantis in and of itself but in light of the new evidence about Crete being destroyed by the tsunami that followed the explosion on Santorini I am beginning to wonder if the Atlantis refers to both Crete and Santorini and the overall Minoan civilization. I have a large suspician that it might and the facts are supporting that feeling more and more each day. While we may never know the truth about Atlantis this new evidence is starting to bring us closer to it and I am very excited to see what other evidence will be discovered in the future.

Photo Credit: Klearchos P. Kapoutsis on July,4 2006.

Written by Eric Olson

April 23rd, 2007 at 9:02 pm

Posted in Archeology

There’s No Place Like Fenway

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The Green MonsterI was back in Boston this weekend to visit family and friends and for the yearly ritual my Dad and I have of attending a Yankees v. Red Sox game at Fenway each April. Of course I always knew Fenway was special but now that I have lived outside of Boston for about a year and a half and have subsequently been to many different ballparks in that time I can truly say that the place is special and unique among ball parks. However, I think a lot of what makes Fenway so special is the passion for baseball that my fellow Sox fans exhibit.

We’re die hards. There are a ton of people in the stands who still score the games by hand. There are even more that know every stat you could possibly want to know and, to keep with that theme, the scoreboards at Fenway show very in-depth stats aside from the simple batting average and ERA numbers. This is a baseball town through and through. Here are a few comments and stories from my fellow section mates from Saturday’s game that will illustrate my point.

Guy to my left (affectionately known as peanut guy - we have names for everyone since we’ve been sitting together with them for four years now and this guy always eats peanuts hence the name - its very Seinfeldian) asks me who is warming up for Yankees. I’m not sure so I ask my Dad and the twins who sit on his left. No go. So then we ask scorebook guy (he scores the game by hand of course - I never said these names were creative) at the end of the row and he replies that Farnsworth is warming up for the Yanks. I pass this info to peanut guy who says thanks, composes himself and then yells with all his might:

“Farnsworth, you suck!”

Only at Fenway would someone go to that much trouble to make sure that they had the right name of the opposing teams pitcher so they could properly heckle him.

Here’s another one: There’s a Yankee at 2nd base and the ball is hit to Cora at short. The runner proceeds back to second and Cora should get the sure out at first. Instead he thinks he’s smarter than the average little leaguer and tries to throw out the runner heading back to second which ends with the ball heading into the outfield and a Yankee on 1st and 3rd. This is in the second inning mind you. Then a guy a couple rows behind us stands up and starts to yell/rant:

“That’s little league 101. You have to go for the sure out. What were you thinking? How could you….”

This goes on for about 2 minutes until he finally yells:

“OK, I’m done now!”

and proceeds to sit down. Too funny.

The last situation came out of a good shift that the Red Sox had on to protect against the bunt. Youkilis moved in and Pedroia shifted to cover 1st. Basic stuff. As the shift is happening peanut guy’s friend proceeds to talk to peanut guy about their softball team:

“Hey man we really need to get that type of stuff worked into our team strategy. We could win a ton more games with smart moves like that. We have to be doing that type of sh*t.”

And it went on from there. Gotta love it.

Fenway is a magical place and I love going back there year after year especially when the Red Sox sweep the Yanks. Go Sox!

Written by Eric Olson

April 23rd, 2007 at 4:49 pm

Posted in Baseball

Experiencia’s Exchange City: Teaching Life

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Exchange CityI was introduced to an innovative company called Experiencia the other day by its’ Chairman, Howard Tullman. Experiencia runs two distinct learning programs called Exchange City and Earth Works but this post will focus on Exchange City in particular.

Exchange City is a miniature city in which children are immersed in “real life.” Together the students run the entire city for one whole day. They elect a mayor, start and run businesses, take out bank loans, get paid, run the TV station, manage the bank and do a number of other things to keep the city moving forward.

This experience, as you can imagine, is much more than play. The amount of responsibility these kids undertake throughout the day is sizeable. For example, businesses that take loans need to work to repay them by the end of the day. The businesses also need to monitor their electricity usage, have the phone service come set-up their phone lines and pay their bills.

The program is fantastic (I wish I had it when I was growing up) and it gets the 4 - 6 graders who participate in the program thinking about the real world and what they may want out of work when they get older. It is very important to instill this type of real world experience early on but, unfortunately, the public schools (for the most part) simply don’t have the budget to put something like this together on their own so it is great that there are programs like Experiencia’s Exchange City out there. Hopefully the Exchange City concept will move to more cities going forward so that other students around country can have a chance to experience life.

Check out the Exchange City video for a look at the program.

Side note: Experiencia also runs Earth Works which gives children the opportunity to learn about careers in Science through an immersive program that involves many interesting situations and unique animals.

Written by Eric Olson

April 19th, 2007 at 6:36 pm

Posted in General Thoughts

Where in the World is FeedBurner?

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To answer that question simply - everywhere. One of the great things about web applications is that they are accessible by anyone with internet connectivity making your company instantly global. Of course this also presents design/UI challenges and support challenges which are something companies like ours definitely need to address. You simply can’t ignore the rest of the globe when you run an inherently global service.

We’ve been very conscious of that fact here at FeedBurner and have entered into reseller relationships in countries like Spain (feedburner.es), Japan (feedburner.jp) and Russia (feedburner.ru) in order to ensure great service around the globe. We have also begun to translate our site into a number of languages in order to make it easier for anyone anywhere to join the FeedBurner family. Oh, and by we I mean our users. They’ve done the heavy lifting on the physical translation piece as, alas, there aren’t many language scholars on the FeedBurner team.

I love interacting with publishers all over the globe and that interaction has only increased as of late. In fact, I have even been giving interviews for folks in different parts of the world (Tecnocracia in Brazil and HedgePlus in Korea). Some of these guys are even taking matters into their own hands and creating FeedBurner Networks in order to help bring their blogging communities together and to make a unified property that will be interesting to advertisers.

If you’re thinking about starting a web service make sure to think of your international brothers and sisters. There’s no doubt in my mind that they will end up being both a big an integral part of your companies success.

Side note: Check out our official post on going global which I actually didn’t know we were putting out until I mentioned I had written this post up. We’re really on the same wavelength here at FeedBurner. It’s kind of scary actually.

Written by Eric Olson

April 19th, 2007 at 3:40 pm