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Technology

How My Friend Built the Best Video Game in the World

In 2018, What Remains of Edith Finch won the BAFTA for Best Game. Here’s my thoughts on how the creator of the game, my friend Ian Dallas, built such an awesome game. The game is now available on many platforms including iOS.

Screenshot from the game

Why are the best and brightest so boring these days? That’s the question that William Deresiewicz asks in his book Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite. He writes about the sad state of the Ivy League student, specifically at Yale, where he taught. He decries the students’ inability to take risks, instead putting all their attention into getting into climbing onto the corporate ladder of management consulting or investment banking.

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ChatGPT Technology

Mind over Machine: Rediscovering Memory Skills in a Digital World

These days, I feel swamped by the internet. Sure, it’s great to have all this information at my fingertips, but I think we lose something in the process. Our brains aren’t meant to hold endless information. They get lazy when we can just Google everything. Why bother remembering? Yet, even though we don’t really need to remember anything anymore, I find real joy in doing it.

There’s something refreshing about living without tools. We think of tools as being central to everything we do. And I don’t mean just iPhone and computers. What about books? How could we acquire knowledge without books? In the ancient world, our ancestors were able to create long and complex thoughts well before writing. They used memory tricks called mnemonic techniques. But these techniques are not just tools from the past; they can be useful today. Using this still is not that hard but it is they’re keys to unlocking a more mindful and empowered way of living in the present. I want to explore the art of memorization with you, transforming it from a lost skill to an everyday superpower.

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Technology

My Portable VR Arcade

I got a Quest 3 from my Bubby for Hanukkah. This is a bit odd because Bubby died in 2019. But before she died, in 2017, I told her about how much I wanted a Virtual Reality headset. At the time the Quest was only a prototype, called Santa Cruz. The top of the line device from Meta (then Oculus) was the Oculus Go, which was mainly for viewing media and couldn’t really interact. I told her I didn’t really want it because it wasn’t going to do a whole lot. She said, “I’ll get it for you. And don’t worry, I’ll get you a newer version when the good stuff comes out.”

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Amazon Technology

Autobahns to Andon Cords: Navigating the Fast Lane of Responsibility

They all want sharp knives, but I’m nervous about them running around with scissors.

I was having a conversation with my friend Lutz the other day about the differences between the US and Germany. He said, “I don’t understand Americans and driving. On parts of the autobahn we don’t have speed limits. Americans want the speed of the autobahn but don’t want any of the responsibility.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Driving in Germany is a responsibility. I feel like the only time Americans care about driving rules is when they are taking a driving test. For example, you have “guidance” to pass on the left and you do what you want. On the autobahn, passing on the right means a 450 euro fine. Also, there are non-autobahn roads, where speeding can mean 20 days of your salary.”

It made me think about how we view things in the US. We want to have the best and fastest of everything, but we don’t want the rules that come with them. It’s a weird form of American exceptionalism. We love the freedom, sure, but when it comes to following regulations? Not so much. We want to have the best and shiniest things but don’t take care of them. It’s like giving a kid a fancy new toy and finding it broken the next day. And this, my friends, is why we can’t have nice things.

Sharp Tools in Business: The Japanese Influence

In business, I call this sharp tools. I got the idea from Andy Jassy, Amazon’s CEO. When questioned about the nefarious uses of AWS, Jassy likes to say that AWS is just a tool. It’s like a knife. Knives can be used for good or bad depending on how you use them.

Let’s talk about tools in business. In the 1980s when American businesses were obsessed with Japan. No, not the tech gadgets or cars – I’m talking about leading edge business practices from Toyota. Post World War Two, these folks weren’t just rebuilding; they were redefining efficiency. These practices made it into the US with names like Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma.

Toyota’s tools? They were like the Ginzu knives of the business world. We’re talking about methodologies that cut through waste like butter. One of the key tools from Toyota was the Andon cord. This was a cord in the middle of the production line. If anyone sees a quality issue on the line, they yank that Andon Cord, and bam – the entire production line grinds to a halt.

This little cord was a game-changer. It wasn’t just about catching mistakes; it was about empowering everyone on that floor to be a guardian of quality. Pulling the cord could cost big bucks in the short term, but it led to greatly increased quality and efficiency.

Naturally, American companies saw the power of these Japanese processes and wanted to bring it to the US. They saw the Andon Cord and wanted to implement it. See something off? Pull a cord, stop the line. It was a clear process that would help them boost quality.

Misusing the Tools: The Dangers of Incomplete Adoption

But it’s not so easy. While companies like Netflix and Amazon have successfully implemented this process, the Andon Cord isn’t a cure all. The Andon Cord isn’t just a fancy break-the-glass-in-case-of-emergency tool. It’s a symbol, a philosophy, a whole new way of thinking about quality and responsibility.

Many people look at the Andon Cord as a shortcut to quality, a quick-fix solution. But it’s more than just a cord; it’s a commitment. It requires an environment where quality is king, where every employee, from the CEO to the floor worker, is aligned in a relentless pursuit of excellence.

Implementing the Andon Cord without changing the culture makes causes more problems than it selves. Imagine this: production lines stopping left and right, because there are large problems in quality beforehand. The Andon Cord is a final quality check before things go out to the market. There’s a huge got to pulling it but that’s the point. When used correctly, everyone is signing up for superior quality. When used incorrectly it’s just a big, giant “I told you so” that “someone else” messed up.

Conclusion

We need to be careful with sharp tools. Adopting tools without a deep understanding of their purpose and without laying the necessary groundwork is like handing over a Formula 1 car to someone who’s only ever driven in a school zone. It’s not just about the tool; it’s about the readiness to use it effectively and responsibly.

So, what have we learned? It boils down to this: with great power comes great responsibility. Whether it’s the freedom of a no-speed-limit road, the prowess of cutting-edge technology, or the precision of an Andon Cord, the underlying message is crystal clear – respect the tool, understand its power, and use it wisely.

This took about 40 minutes to edit. It’s hard to find the right tone that doesn’t sound too overconfident. The ideas tend to be pretty on point which is what’s fun. I had an interesting problem with this one because I told it that companies implemented the Andon Cord and failed so it created that fictional history and I needed to correct that. Also, for this one I spent another 20 minutes editing it. Here’s the chat.

I’m getting to this point where I want to just have an idea and write it out and get it to a point where the bones show well enough. Can people understand what I’m trying to say. Likely, I need to get ChatGPT to flesh out the idea without being too clever.

Categories
Technology

Watching Clubhouse Get Built in Real-Time

There’s something special about being an early adopter. There are obviously painful things like capacity limits and features that don’t work quite right. But the wonderful thing, if it’s done right, is that the community and the founders work together to build something magical.

That’s the feeling on Clubhouse now. I’ve been playing around with the platform for a week. I’ve been in these unfiltered rooms with Joe Rogan, Marc Andresson, and Guy Raz. The rooms are currently capped at 8,000 users because of platform constraints. Back when I started on the platform last week is was 5,000 users. Then 7,000 users. Then, on Friday night when I joined the Joe Rogan Room (which maxed out at 7,000 users on Joe’s first day), and Paul Davison, one of the founders of Clubhouse, said, “Oh, during this call it looks like we’ve raised the limit to 8,000 users.”

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Technology

Disney and the New Digital Theme Parks

The Virtual Travis Scott Concert in Fortnite

These days I’m sitting at home thinking about jetting off to Florida and entering the fantasy land of Disney World. We could walk around meeting the characters in Toy Story, travel to the past, or visit countries from around the world. Of course, these experiences are not the real thing but theme park adaptions of them. While we can’t have the real-world experiences of Disney World, there’s a new, and in some ways better, version of theme parks that I can experience at home.

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Technology

Guest Post: Blake Schlaff on Fortnite Friendships

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.

Categories
Product Management Technology

On Amazon – A Peculiar Company

Disclaimer: I worked as the Head of Banking for Amazon Web Services. This writing does not represent Amazon in any way. Opinions written here are strictly my own.

Amazon has a very strong culture. At other places I’ve worked, culture is an aspiration at the senior level but took a back seat to more pressing concerns like making as much money as possible. Amazon’s culture is embedded in its 14 Leadership Principles that are a common language and framework that form the basis of everything the company does, from interviews to everyday decisions. You can get a good feeling of the Amazon culture by watching videos of Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. A few good ones are from the Economic Club of Washingtonan interview by his brother Mark,  the Axel Springer Award, and a 60 Minutes Story about Amazon from 1999.

Categories
Product Management Technology

The Future of Payments

Disclaimer: I work at Amazon but this writing does not represent Amazon in any way. Opinions written here are strictly my own.

When I was working at Citi Cards, I was under the impression that people were spending a lot of time figuring out what credit cards they should have. Were they going to get points or miles? Weren’t they going to be so excited that they could redeem their points with Amazon? Of course, working in a credit card company I was thinking about this all day and I lost sight of the fact that my customers had far better things to do with their time.

Categories
Kids Technology

Growing Up Alexa

A few months ago, I wrote about how Alexa and Google Home are used in our house. In my experience, these devices are a better way for kids to use the internet than a mobile phone. A phone becomes an extension of a person, isolating her from the group. Interacting with Alexa is more of a family activity with Alexa acting like another person in the room.

Some people think it’s odd to treat Alexa humanely. As a machine, she doesn’t have any feelings. But think about the way we refer to Alexa. It feels more natural to refer to Alexa as a “her” than an “it” because that’s the way we interface with her. And if we interface with her as a person, we should be polite and say please and thank you.