Math nerds like me would love this book. I’m thinking it would look like Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe. Each page would have a fancy drawing of the number with some text. Continue reading “A Biography of Numbers”
I keep hearing that we’re in a world of social distancing, but social distancing isn’t the right word. We need social connections more than ever to help keep us sane, but we need to physically distance ourselves from one another. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that the novel coronavirus uses our physical connections as a transmission vector, and the better the in person connections, the more dangerous it is. Continue reading “Global Pandemic and Global Friendship”
Who is Robert Schlaff?
I’m a devoted husband and father to an awesome family. For work, I’m a Product Manager who looks at the goals of the business and uses technology to deliver those business and customer goals. I’ve driven transformational change at Citi, AIG, and Amazon Web Services. For more information about what I do at work, please visit my LinkedIn profile.
About This Site
I collect stories. There are so many amazing things happening every day. I need to spend some time writing them down before they slip away. Madeleine L’Engle said that every writer needs to keep an honest, unpublishable journal that nobody reads, nobody but you. But some of this stuff is too good to keep to myself. So I’m sharing it with you.
When I’m writing, I picture having a conversation with some of the world’s smartest and most interesting people — you, my readers. I picture us all sitting around a table telling stories and having fun. I’d like to think we’re a digital version of the Algonquin Round Table. Throughout the 1920s, some friends would meet daily for lunch at the Algonquin Hotel in New York. They included the founding editor of the New Yorker Harold Ross, the playwright George S. Kaufmann and the writer Dorothy Parker. This group, called The Algonquin Round Table, would meet to tell stories and share quips in a bustling city that was finding its place on the world stage. They were the original raconteurs of New York, getting together to share stories that would enlighten and entertain. In an age when we no longer have two-martini lunches, I wanted to humbly bring that sensibility online.
- How to be Happy — Yale’s Most Popular Class. Yale’s most popular class ever is on how to be happier. Now it’s available online.
- Capture Better Memories Without a Camera. How technology is preventing me from building great memories and some techniques I’ve come up with some ways to use my brain to capture special moments instead of my phone.
- Thank You for Being a Friend. Friendship is about being there for other people. Anyone can celebrate with you when it’s convenient. A true friend stands by you when things are tough and just be with you.
- Carpe Diem! How to Live Like an Emperor. I realized that no matter where I am or where I go, I can live like an Emperor by seizing every moment.
- Fiction is the Lie That Tells the Truth. When dealing with really difficult problems in life, I’ve realized that fiction often has the best answers.
- In Praise of Humility — The Forgotten Story of Edward S. Harkness. While we say we praise humility as a virtue, we rarely remember the people who practice it.
Product and Design
- How Much is That Really Worth? The Mother-in-Law’s Guide to Valuation. A product gets its value from the job that they do. When I look at things this way, I can found that something like a crushed penny from a Penny Crushing Machine can be surprisingly valuable.
- What a Wonderful Word. As a Product Manager, it’s important to understand what populations have in common and how they differ. Even though there are unique words in different languages, there’s a strong commonality across the human experience.
- Alexa and Google in Our Home. How Alexa and Google work with our family (vs. phones that work against it). I also have a post on specifically how kids interact with Alexa.
- How Airbnb Changed the Meaning of Hotel Branding. In the past, trusting a hotel brand meant trusting Marriott or Starwood. Now it means trusting Airbnb.
- The Hidden Thirteenth Floor. How my children found the hidden number 13 in our elevator.
Art and Writing
- When a Book Gets Caught Up in the Story. The Art of the Book in the Digital Age. I picked up a book at the New York Public Library with a big purple stamp that read, “The Author of This Book Committed Suicide.” I quickly discovered that this book doesn’t just tell a story, it’s part of a larger conversation.
- When Millions of Eyes at Amazon Were Wrong. How I fixed the punctuation on Amazon’s 14 Leadership Principles.
- How I (Re-)Built My Favorite T-Shirt. When I was in college I saw a T-shirt that was attractive, geeky and protested government policy. No one had produced it since 2000. So I recreated it.
- The Mother-in-Law’s Guide to Cloud Computing. I explain Cloud Computing through an analogy to retail checkout lines.
- The Mother-in-Law’s Guide to Software Testing. I write about two different ways to test software for errors.
- The Mother-in-Law’s Guide to Chaos Engineering. A guide to how Netflix and others plan for failure. I also dig a bit deeper into how software needs to be built to solve human needs — not just optimized for machines.
- “Saving Money” by Paying More for Netflix. With subscription pricing, some people feel like they’re getting a deal when they are actually paying more.
- What Do You Mean by “Film?” An interview with kids about film cameras from 2010. Spoiler alert: They’re confused.
- Prospect Theory: Losing Feels Bad More than Winning Feels Good. An example of how our biases in interpreting gains and losses cause us to make bad decisions.
Math and Logic
- How Numbers Work in the Real World. In school, we were taught that math is linear; however, in the real world, distributions are more likely to be exponential.
- Why Today Can’t Be an Opposite Day. How the statement “Today is Opposite Day” is mathematically inconsistent.
- Game Theory for Parents. Game theory provides some interesting lessons on how to equitably share a piece of pie.
I know that money wouldn’t make me happy, but I still had dreams of being an early retiree. I dreamt of being that person who quit their job, moved to Hawaii, and sipped margaritas while I cashed my dividend checks. But as I got older, I realized that it’s not about the age of retirement but the quality of that retirement. Continue reading “My Ideal Retirement Plan”
These days, people are having to make really hard decisions. With the COVID-19 virus overwhelming Italy, doctors are having to make decisions about who lives and who dies. It raises the great moral question, “Given limited resources, who do you save?” Continue reading “Whose Life Do You Save?”
Summary: All the things that make a great social event like large groups, diverse groups of people, and close connections also create a great environment to spread coronavirus. After the pandemic is over, it’s worth using the coronavirus prevention guidelines, and going against them, to find great events.
What makes a great social event? Lots of people from all over the world are sharing their ideas and meeting new people. Some people are new, drawn there because they’d heard this is the place to be. Others are old friends, hugging and kissing each other hello. Everyone is interacting intensely, going out for drinks and dinner. Maybe they even share some appetizers or try each other’s drinks.
If you’re been paying attention to the news this week, these are also the things that spread coronavirus: lots of people, close contact, diversity, and sharing. This makes sense because viruses piggyback on the social nature of humans. When we get together and interact in a community, viruses are shared as well. Continue reading “Coronavirus Prevention – Everything Great is Bad for You”
Catfish: To trick someone into a relationship online using a fictional persona and/or photographs.
I was trying to set up a meeting with one of my friends. He has his own venture-capital firm so he runs a lean shop. Also, as a venture capitalist, he likes to leverage new forms of technology.
I sent an email and said, “Hey, let’s meet up.“
He writes me back, “That sounds great! Clara, can you set something up?” and CCed his secretary Clara. Continue reading “That Time I was Catfished by a Robot Secretary”
Guest Post: My 10-year-old son Blake is an avid Fortnite player who often plays with his friends. I thought it would be good for him (with my help) to tell everyone about the world of social gaming.
Fortnite is not just a game about fighting. Yes, there is a lot of shooting, collecting guns, and exploring the world. The most exciting part isn’t about fighting it’s about spending time with friends online. Even though my parents only let me play Fortnite with people that I know, playing Fortnite with them is different, and in some ways better, than playing with them in the real world. Playing Fortnite is a lot like being in a virtual world together with my friends, like the Oasis in Ready Player One. Continue reading “Guest Post: Blake Schlaff on Fortnite Friendships”
Summary: In the beginning, computers were expensive and complicated machines and needed a cadre of high priests to cater to their every beck and call. However, as computers have become cheaper and more ubiquitous in business, technology processes need to become business processes. While many businesses know they have to do this, old habits and processes die hard. In order to be successful, technology needs to be fully integrated into the business, like any other function.
In the early days of enterprise computing, computers were giant, room-sized machines. They spoke an arcane language and ate specially formulated punchcards. They were complicated and finicky, broke frequently and needed an army of technicians to keep them running.
Computing power was the most scarce resource in the company. A mistake in a punchcard could cause the business to waste thousands of dollars in lost processing time. In order to run these machines at peak efficiency, a cadre of high priests of computing grew up to tend to their every need. Much like ancient gods, these priests’ main goal is to make sure that the machines were kept happy with their daily supply of punchcards. Continue reading “Cloud Banking 101: Technology Exists to Support the Business”