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Olson’s Observations

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

Archive for the ‘General Thoughts’ Category

She Said Yes!

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After six great years together Laura and I are now officially engaged. She is the greatest woman in the world and I am very lucky to have her. I mean, let’s be honest, I am probably (definitely) not the easiest guy to live with considering my wacky company ideas and my myriad of interests and pursuits but she is able to do it and do it well. *cliche warning* She is definitely the yin to my yang. She balances me out and keeps me focused on what is important which is, well, important (man, should have headed over to thesaurus.com for that one).

If it wasn’t for Laura’s unwavering support I may never have taken the leap to move to Chicago and join FeedBurner which turned out to be the catalyst for many great things that have happened since including TECH cocktail, DFJ Portage and meeting all of my great friends here in Chicago. She packed up and moved here with me right away because she knew what a great opportunity FeedBurner was. Who could ask for better in a partner?

Babe, here’s to many, many more great years together. I am very much looking forward to continuing the adventure and to seeing where life takes us.

Written by Eric Olson

March 19th, 2008 at 12:12 pm

Posted in General Thoughts

Rethinking Education: Sir Ken Robinson at TED 2006

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I remember when I first figured out that schools educated students to be workers rather than creative thinkers. It was a hard pill to swallow but it was the truth. In school, as in the workplace, we stigmatize mistakes. This causes fear amongst students and workers and this fear is the cause of their inability to take risks and strive for innovation. As Sir Ken says, “You can’t do anything new if you are afraid of being wrong.”

Another thing I began to realize at roughly the same time was that academic inflation has slowly been creeping up on us. Jobs that used to take a high school degree in the 50s took a undergraduate degree in the 70s and now take a masters or a PhD. The question is: do the jobs really require that much more education or have we simply let the education system get out of whack?

What always confused me in high school was the choice I was forced to make between music (the arts) and sports. I absolutely loved (and still love) playing the drums. It is one of my true passions and I will do it until the day I die. That said, I also like to stay in shape and I love baseball. So, naturally I played in the marching band (hahaha - get your laughs out now) and I also wanted to play baseball but the coach of the baseball team told me I couldn’t do both. I just remember wondering why that was the case.

Being a student of history the Greeks came to mind. The Greeks valued a healthy combination of the arts, athletics and academics and they were one of the greatest societies the world has ever seen. Why, then, do we only allow students to choose two of the three things that make education and learning complete?

On top of all that why do we also value math and science higher than the arts? Being a guy who loves both science and the arts I just don’t see the rational for making one better than the other or in forcing kids who are very good musically into the sciences or into business so “they can get a job.”

Just yesterday I was given some hope that things are changing though. Howard Tullman was nice enough to show me around Flashpoint Academy, his new digital arts and sciences school in downtown Chicago. This place was awesome and certainly a haven for the creative folks behind video games, movies, sound/music, etc. What stuck in my mind, though, was one of Howard’s comments to me which was basically:

These kids are not at all lazy. They just don’t fit the mold of the traditional education system. When they get here they work hard and excel and become the best at what they do.

It is good to know there are outlets for folks who don’t fit the traditional academic mold which, as Sir Ken describes it in his TED talk, is a system where we are all trained to be university professors and that profs should be held up as the highest form of intelligence. Sir Ken follows that by saying that profs should simply be looked at as another form a life not better or worse than anyone else.

Now that I have stood on my soapbox for a bit I will turn it over to Sir Ken Robinson. Please take twenty minutes to watch his talk. I think you’ll truly be inspired.

Written by Eric Olson

February 29th, 2008 at 12:00 pm

Posted in General Thoughts

Moving to or within NYC? Check out Flexible Moving

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As you all know I recently moved to NYC and back out of NYC. What most of you may not know is that I moved into a 4th floor walk up apartment. I’ll tell you, lugging boxes up four flights of stairs while people are yelling at you on the street for partially blocking the road with your truck is not fun. That was the scene when Laura and I moved into and out of Boston and we weren’t up for it again.

That said Laura’s brother took to the internet while we were driving out to NYC back in October and found us the number of a moving company. We called the guys and booked them to come help move all of the stuff from the truck up to the apartment.

I wasn’t sure what to expect but these three guys were great. They had the whole 10′ truck done in about an hour and charged me a flat rate of $225 (not including gratuity) which I thought was dirt cheap considering other moving companies we called quotes me about that per guy and this was a group of three guys.

When it was time to move back to Chicago this past weekend I called the guys again. They had the truck packed in about 90 minutes and everything arrived in Chicago safe and sound including Laura’s grandmas table and my bikes which if I had packed the truck would have probably been damaged.

So, the moral of the story is if you are moving into or out of NYC you should call Flexible Moving and talk to Percy Sellers (347.206.8796). He’s a hard working entrepreneur and he deserves your business.

Disclaimer: By reading this article you agree not to hold me responsible for any damage done to any of your stuff or any other form of loss or suffering you incur by using/working with/hiring Flexible Moving/Percy Sellers. Man, the fact that I even feel the need to write that disclaimer tells you a lot about our overly litigious society.

Written by Eric Olson

February 20th, 2008 at 7:22 pm

Posted in General Thoughts

Multitasking: Scientists Say It Hurts Our Brains

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Reading Time: 4 minutes 30 seconds

People have always given me a bit of a hard time for not being a great multitasker. In fact, my girlfriend makes fun of me here and there for not being able to carry on a conversation and read a book at the same time or about how I really zone into my work or my writing and don’t realize that she’s talking to me. (To be fair, she is super supportive and the multitasking thing is just one of the very few things she teases me about. I mean, I am honestly not sure how she puts up with me. She’s a saint.)

I used to think multitasking was something that I needed to work on but I always had this feeling that focusing on a task, one task, would result in a better end product and in me learning much more about what I was doing and how I could improve.

Well, it turns out that the scientists (Who are these people anyway? I just picture a huge lab full of guys in white lab coats with a bunch of “test subjects” sitting around with a bunch of machines and wires hooked to them. Too much sci-fi for me…) may have proven that my suspicion about multitasking not being very productive is actually a fact.

Thanks to my friend Jason I came across an article in the Atlantic that discusses the topic and has some very good insight into why multitasking is not good for us (and our brains).

Summary: our brain is, in fact, not a computer capable of doing many things at once (actually it can do many things at once but in the cases where the brain is in that mode it actually concentrates a lot on concentrating rather than the tasks it is trying to complete). It is, however, a highly advanced tool capable of solving large problems and focusing on one task at a time with complete clarity. Check out this excerpt from the Altantic article as I think it illustrates the point nicely.

Multitasking messes with the brain in several ways. At the most basic level, the mental balancing acts that it requires—the constant switching and pivoting—energize regions of the brain that specialize in visual processing and physical coordination and simultaneously appear to shortchange some of the higher areas related to memory and learning. We concentrate on the act of concentration at the expense of whatever it is that we’re supposed to be concentrating on.

What does this mean in practice? Consider a recent experiment at UCLA, where researchers asked a group of 20-somethings to sort index cards in two trials, once in silence and once while simultaneously listening for specific tones in a series of randomly presented sounds. The subjects’ brains coped with the additional task by shifting responsibility from the hippocampus—which stores and recalls information—to the striatum, which takes care of rote, repetitive activities. Thanks to this switch, the subjects managed to sort the cards just as well with the musical distraction—but they had a much harder time remembering what, exactly, they’d been sorting once the experiment was over.

Even worse, certain studies find that multitasking boosts the level of stress-related hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline and wears down our systems through biochemical friction, prematurely aging us. In the short term, the confusion, fatigue, and chaos merely hamper our ability to focus and analyze, but in the long term, they may cause it to atrophy.

Ouch! That is not good at all. What’s that you say? Not a fan of science? OK, let’s take a look at the monetary cost of multitasking. Atlantic article, show us the money!

Six hundred and fifty billion dollars [Eric's note: this is a per year figure.]. That’s what we might call our National Attention Deficit, according to Jonathan B. Spira, who’s the chief analyst at a business- research firm called Basex and has estimated the per annum cost to the economy of multitasking-induced disruptions. (He obtained the figure by surveying office workers across the country, who reported that some 28 percent of their time was wasted dealing with multitasking- related transitions and interruptions.)

Now do I have your attention? Right… you’re reading this while also trying to do yoga and e-mail people on your BlackBerry. My bad. I should have known.

With all that said I would like to note that you can in fact have a variety of activities and interests in your life and even different things to do at work (everyone that knows me well knows I do a lot of different things in and outside of work). The idea is not that you should only do one specific thing in life, the idea is that you should focus on one thing at a time.

Basically you just need to break up your day. While you are answering e-mail that is all you should be doing. While you are working on a big client proposal you shouldn’t be doing anything else (especially answering intermittent e-mails). While you are riding your bike you shouldn’t be listening to your iPod or reading e-mail on your BlackBerry (seems crazy but I have seen them both and in the latter case the guy was coming straight at me - don’t worry though, collision avoided due to my focus on the task at hand). While you are reading, just read. Don’t keep answering the e-mail that come in, don’t answer your phone (unless it may be an emergency), etc. You get the idea. It’s not about having one task or activity in life, it’s simply about focusing on one at a time.

Multitasking is really hurting the experience of life in the sense that the journey is lost in the rush to some end game. That’s truly unfortunate because the journey is what it’s all about. It’s where you learn things, grow as a person and really enjoy your life.

So, next time you are about to multitask remember that life’s all about the journey, oh, and that you don’t want to fry your brain early on in life. Frying your brain = bad.

Written by Eric Olson

January 30th, 2008 at 8:07 pm

Another Olson in the Valley

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I am not actually going to be in the Valley any time soon but my brother, Jeff, is. In fact, he’s already there. He’s working at eBay in San Jose on a trimester long project (about 10 weeks) as part of his senior capstone project.

Jeff is a senior at Worcester Polytech and will graduate this spring with a degree in Computer Software Engineering. He’s also right at the top of his class. He’s definitely the smarter Olson brother.

I figured I would post about Jeff being in the Valley to see if anyone was interested in meeting up with him. I am sure he’d love to meet some other coders, engineers and entrepreneurs if he can get some time away from eBay.

If you’re interested in getting in touch with my brother just ping me (eric [at] ericjohnolson [dot] com) or comment on this post and I’ll make the intro.

Written by Eric Olson

January 10th, 2008 at 5:47 pm

Posted in General Thoughts

Olson’s 2007 Holiday Gift Guide: Buy Handmade at Etsy

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Buy HandmadeBetter late than never, right? I can’t believe I almost forgot to post a gift guide this year. However, I am glad I waited to write this post. Typically my mind would head straight to cool gadgets and things of a technological nature when putting together a gift guide but this year I have become enamored with handmade goods and, specifically, Etsy.com.

One of the major themes in my musings on business, as long time readers will know, is that I really believe business should be more about people. Sure, everyone always says that their company is about people and that people are what make the difference and are what truly matter but, unfortunately, I don’t see a lot of companies actually implementing anything that would make those statements true (to be fair a lot of businesses are doing good things in this area).

Of course the tough part of people is that they don’t necessarily scale. That’s a whole other post though. Back to handmade goods and Etsy.

I have known about Etsy for a long time but I had never really spent a good amount of time on the site. I always knew I loved the concept though. This year things changed. I decided to join folks like Fred Wilson and take the handmade pledge and I was glad I did.

I spent a lot of time on Etsy’s site over the past few weeks and was astounded at what I found. There was something for everyone on my list and the items were top quality. Not only that, most of them were one-of-a-kind adding to the cache and they had a great story behind them (another thing I like to see). There is no question that the people that place items on Etsy are very passionate about their various crafts and their passion permeates the shopping experience.

In the end of the day I walked away with some of the best and most thoughtful gifts I have ever purchased. I’d write about them here but I don’t want to spoil the surprise for my family.

So this years gift guide is simply to tell you all to buy handmade and to do so via Etsy. Sure, you won’t find the latest gadget there or an LCD TV but what you will find are great items made with love and passion and, after the purchase, you can interact with the artisan bringing back the human feel of business which I find is lacking in today’s world (most of the folks I purchased from pinged me to let me know the items were on the way and made themselves available for any questions I had).

That said, there are a lot of neat visualizations and technologies behind Etsy so the techie in you won’t be disappointed. For example, you can check out the Showcase for the 36 top items of the day, Pounce to check out what just sold and find things like it from the same artist and the Time Machine which is a great visualization of the most recently listed items. Still having trouble finding the right gift? Try the Gift Guides or the search feature.

I hope you are able to find your last minute gifts on Etsy or at least are able to buy handmade elsewhere. I know I loved the experience and I am sure you and your family and friends will as well.

Written by Eric Olson

December 14th, 2007 at 10:45 pm

Posted in General Thoughts

The American Diner

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I don’t know about you but I have, and will always be, a big fan of the classic American diner. I just can’t help myself. The food is always so good and the service is quick and usually fantastic (although sometimes they are a bit mean but it is usually part of the shtick which keeps things interesting).

Each diner also has its own personality which is what makes it so fun to continually check out new places. This is also why your “home” diner always feels like, well, home.

Needless to say I got pretty excited today when I was checking out my friends latest Flickr pictures. C.C. Chapman had recently been to one of my old Bentley haunts, Wilson’s Diner on Main Street in Waltham, MA (C.C. is a fellow alum too making Wilson’s his old stomping grounds as well).

Seeing this picture lead me to one of C.C.’s new projects. C.C., along with Scott Monty, have started a new site that will chronicle diners and other assorted eateries. This should prove to be a lot of fun to watch. You should go check out the site and subscribe if you’re interested in diners.

Diners are true slices of Americana and they remind us of a simpler time. They are truly a great escape from the hustle of bustle of modern life. Now, time to start exploring the diners of NYC. I have my work cut out for me!

Google Update: Trying to fix this Google stuff has taken a lot of time lately - hence the lack of posts - but I am making some headway. Let’s hope I can get this figured out soon.

Written by Eric Olson

December 14th, 2007 at 12:33 pm

Posted in General Thoughts