APIs: A Strategy Guide by Daniel Jacobson, Greg Brail and Dan Woods

Learn to Speak API for The Sake of Your Business

You should read this book if you are remotely interested in the following:

1. Why your company needs to have an API

2. How to design, secure and manage the API

3. What API strategies your company should adopt, including legal and operational considerations

4. How to measure the success of the API

5. How to drive API engagement

The authors have years of experience in the API space and I think they did a pretty good job distilling their collective wisdom and learned best practices in this “short and sweet” booklet (134-pages!) I think it is important for the success of any API initiative that *all* stakeholders read this book to get on the same page of what needs to take place to ensure the success of the initiative. It’s hard to argue with the “tried and true” practices of which this book is rife.

If you’re interested in getting into the nitty gritty technical details of how to build an API, I highly recommend RESTful Web Services Cookbook: Solutions for Improving Scalability and Simplicity as a technical companion read to this book. Read this book first, and then delve into the technical details with Subbu’s book. Full Review

Caught My Attention: JavaScript guide, salt boarding, feedback loops in business, the fall of Netflix and data too big to understand

  1. The JavaScript Guide to Objects, Functions, Scope, Prototypes and Closures – Concise and very readable.
  2. Salt Boarding (YouTube) – Awesome video by Devin Graham and score by Stephen Anderson. Devin says: We filmed this all in Utah, on the Salt Flats. This was not shot at all on snow, it was salt, I promise, no hidden tricks or gimmicks 🙂 Because it’s such an awesome location, lots of movies film here… While filming we were able to pull people on the snowboards clocking in at 50 mph 🙂
  3. The Feedback Economy – Why it’s important to employ data feedback loops for your business and how to do it. A must-read for all aspiring data geeks.
  4. Netflix and The Age of the Platform – a cautionary tale of how to operate in today’s business expectations. Learn why Phil Simon is pessimistic about Netflix’s future and what he thinks the company should do to survive its “ultimate demise.”
  5. To Know, But Not Understand (The Atlantic) – In an edited excerpt from his new book, Too Big to Know, David Weinberger explains how the massive amounts of data necessary to deal with complex phenomena exceed any single brain’s ability to grasp, yet networked science rolls on.

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Jobs is a Four Letter Word

Many people might mistake this book for a mere biography of the man that made Apple a household name and its products coveted by millions around the world. It’s not.

This book is actually three books in one. It’s a business book on how to (and not to) run a company using Apple, NeXT and Pixar as case studies. It’s also a history book on the ascent and the drama behind the consumer electronics evolution. And as its title suggests, it’s the fascinating story of one of the most gifted people of our time.

As a business book, Isaacson writes about three distinct business practices. The first is how to really create a company from scratch. The passion exuded by Jobs and Wozniak is detailed with infectious enthusiasm in the first half of the book.

The second practice (and one often not talked about in business books) is how to drive a company to the ground. The book is rife with examples of internal politics, lack of leadership and the absence of focus that truly illustrate how companies fail.

The last practice is how to build and operate a creative company that endures. For me, this is the most fascinating narrative of all. But to fully appreciate it, one must truly understand the first two, which almost always precede this one.

The book offers a great case study of three companies: Apple, NeXT and Pixar. One fascinating vignette in the book draws a contrast between Apple and Sony and why Apple was successful in conquering the consumer-end of the music business while Sony, who was in a favorable position to do exactly that, failed to do so. This story draws attention to the importance of inter-departmental cohesion that Apple possessed and Sony didn’t, to the success of innovation in a company.

Business leaders reading this book will learn a lot about the power of “focus” in business. Steve Jobs’s most doled out advice was “focus.” Throughout the book, we learn how Jobs followed his own advice to a deadly fault.

As a business book, it is amongst the best.

It’s also an even better history book. It details the ascent of personal computing from the perspective of the very people that were (and still are) at its helm. The book doesn’t only cover Apple’s evolution, but Full Article

Caught My Attention: Write or die, connected cars, computers made from cotton, the French connection and education in Finland

  1. Write or Die – The writing Nazi has arrived. There’s no way you’ll procrastinate getting your writing assignments done with this iPad/desktop app. If you do, you risk having your previous work erased. That’s right. This app is not kind on slackers.
  2. Your Connected Vehicle is Arriving – Cars are the new ultimate mobile devices. The mechanical attributes of a car are no longer a clear differentiator in the space of transportation. Cars in the near future are expected to be connected and networked with each other and with your friends.
  3. Transistors Made from Cotton Yarn, T-Shirt Computers Incoming – This fascinating read shows you how a cotton thread is turned into a semiconductor. Computers will no longer be these rigid items made of metal and glass. We will literally be wearing them, and with voice recognition technology getting much better, no keyboard or mouse will be required. You will literally be giving orders to a beanie on your head to check you in, check your vitals, post something to Facebook or find a sushi bar near by. I can already see a future where the iPhone and Siri are “SO 2012!”
  4. Can Nicolas Sarkozy, and France, Survive the European Crisis? (New Yorker) – One of those long, satisfying reads in the New Yorker about the man running France and influencing how the EU deals with its crisis. It’s an eye-opener.
  5. What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland’s School Success (The Atlantic) – A must-read.

Macbook Air 11″: The Perfect Travel Machine

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Background

Here’s the thing. I own a 2.5GHz / 8GB RAM / Quad-Core i7 / 512GB SSD Macbook Pro 15″ that I use as my main computer to do all the heavy lifting I need (i.e. image processing in Aperture, code compilation & building in shell, manage my 94GB iTunes library, …etc.) It is reliable and powerful and I love it. It’s also a pain in the butt to shlep around when I’m on the go. It’s heavy enough and big enough to be absolutely immobile, at least for me. Here’s what the word mobile means to me:

Mobile: (adj.) Able to move or be moved easily and freely without any additional physical, mental or emotional hindrance to the person initiating the move (i.e. me.)

What I really need is a completely mobile machine. A travel machine. Something to use when I’m on the road speaking or attending a conference or chilling on a beach in Mexico. This travel machine has to be super light, super small and powerful enough to get things done. It also had to fit into my travel messenger bag (right.) This machine has got to be more powerful and more versatile than the iPad, which I also own but rarely use, and much lighter and far less bulkier than my Macbook Pro, which I’m on all the time when I’m at home.

Why Macbook Air?

Right about now you’re probably thinking, “come on, can’t you just use the iPad?!” or “man up, dude, and just shlep your Macbook Pro around and stop complaining.” Let me address these two passing thoughts quickly before we move on with the rest of the article.[[MORE]]

Let’s talk about the iPad. As much as I’ve liked it at first, I’ve increasingly become weary of its lack of a physical keyboard and command-line access. I tried the wireless keyboard for a while, but it kept dropping off to the point where it was never reliable and simply useless. When I’m on the road, I oftentimes need to get access to work’s VPN or to update a piece of code on my Github account, amongst other things. The iPad is just not made to do these tasks effectively. You really need a computer to do that, which brings us to the Macbook Pro and why it too is not a viable solution.

Mobility (check definition above) is paramount when traveling. When I travel, I travel light. I almost never check in luggage unless I’m going skiing or camping. I have a carry-on and a computer bag. In the computer bag, I normally carry my passport bag (when traveling internationally,) my Kindle for reading, a couple of magazines, iPhone charger, a couple of pens, headphones and a point & shoot camera. That’s it. Trying to fit my Macbook Pro into a medium-sized bag proved impossible. I would have lived with shlepping around the extra weight, but I definitely didn’t want to carry around a computer bag big enough for it. So I definitely needed something different.

After months of thorough due diligence, I decided to go with the 1.6GHz / 4GB RAM / Core i5 / 128GB SSD Macbook Air 11″. This spec had just the right dimensions, weight, and power to be the perfect travel machine for me. Quite frankly, it’s powerful enough to be the main machine for most people (more on that in the parting thoughtssection below.) During my research, I had three main factors in mind against which I measured my options. Those factors were:

1. Portability

To me, portability means two things: light, small and mobile. That basically excludes all the machines in the Macbook Pro line because light and mobile they’re not. That leaves me with either the 13″ or the 11″ Macbook Air. Although both are lighter and smaller than the Pro machines, the 11″ machine definitely feelsmuch lighter than the 13″ model and fits perfectly in my messenger bag, while the 13″ machine does not. So in the portability department, the Macbook Air 11″ has no parallel.

2. Performance

Although I won’t be doing hardcore image processing with this new machine, I still need it to be powerful enough to handle Keynote presentations and the occasional image processing and code compilation tasks I’ll invariably end up doing on the go. So in that respect, the higher end 13″ and 11″ machines are good enough for what I needed. The mid-2011 update beefed up the processing power of the entire Macbook Air line that it rendered it comparable in performance to the mid-2010 Macbook Pros. That was a huge leap forward in performance for the Macbook Air and it made me realize that regardless of which Macbook Air I pick, I’m going to get a powerful machine.

3. Screen Size

The Macbook Air 13″ is the clear winner in this category. But you could get an extra inch on your Macbook Air 11″ screen real-estate by hiding the dock. This makes the screen feel bigger on the 11″. I also learned to appreciate the power of the two-finger tap zoom, which comes very handy on the 11″ screen. As a matter of fact, it was so handy it rendered the screen size category irrelevant in my decision.

Conclusion and Parting Thoughts

In the end, portability was the deciding factor for me. I decided to go with the higher-end spec of the Macbook Air 11″, and I’m glad to say it was the best decision I’ve made in a long time as far as electronics are concerned. As far as productivity on the go is concerned, the Macbook Air 11″ blows any tablet, including the iPad, out of the park. If you’re in the market for a new computer and if nothing you do requires serious processing power (i.e. image processing in Photoshop, video editing in Final Cut Pro, …etc,) then I highly recommend getting the Macbook Air 11″ (or 13″ if screen size is very important to you.) If you plan to make this machine your main computer, I highly recommend getting the Apple 27″ Thunderbolt Display to hook it up to. I have the older 24″ display and I love it. If you can afford to wait, then I’d recommend waiting for the rumored merger between the Pro and Air lines which promises to pack the Macbook Pro power into the Macbook Air body. You’ll get the best of both worlds, that’s of course if you’re patient enough to wait. Patience does pay off in this case 😉 In the image below, I put my Macbook Air on top of my Macbook Pro to give you perspective on the huge size difference between the two machines.

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Highlights from Fast Company’s Innovation Uncensored Event in San Francisco

Great conferences don’t need to span two or three days. In fact, they can be done in one day as Fast Company fabulously demonstrated earlier this week.

The Innovation Uncensored Conference was an impressive feat. It featured great speakers like Scott Case of Startup America, Padmaress Warrior of Cisco and Seth Priebatsch of SCNGR, who discussed pressing topics like customer-centric development, social in the enterprise and game mechanics in business. The mix of speakers and topics was intense without being overwhelming. I was able to walk away with many great learnings.

Oh and the catering … amazing!

Here are some of the learnings I gleaned from the conference:

#1 Successful Businesses are Flexible and Persistent

Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn gave general good advice to startups. He singled out perseverance and focus as the two main objectives of any business. He emphasized the importance of listening to the “smartest people that will talk to you” and heed their advice. He also recommended getting an introduction to VCs you don’t know instead of sending them unsolicited emails (they hate it.)

Scott Case of Startup America echoed Hoffman’s sentiments with his “10 Steps Toward Success:”

  1. Ecosystem: Be part of the environment in which you partake. Give your time to fledgling startups that seek your help.
  2. Pick Your Team Carefully: Founding team members can make or break your business.
  3. Embrace the Pivot: Know how to pivot. Read Eric Reis’s book (my review.)
  4. FOCUS: You have to manage distractions, otherwise you’ll fail.
  5. Build Your Network: The smartest people in the world can’t get anything done without help. Build your support system and mingle with people that are smarter than you.
  6. FOCUS: You have to manage distractions, otherwise you’ll fail.
  7. Customer Development: Know your customers. Read Steven Blank’s book.
  8. Capital: Are you going to raise money? Self-fund? Where is your capital coming from?
  9. Get The Boring Stuff Right: Business, legal, accounting, …etc. Most founders waste their time figuring this out instead of focusing on their product.
  10. FOCUS: Do I really need to say it?
Pretty much everyone that spoke mentioned “focus.” They made a compelling case for the power of saying “NO” and how crucial that is for success. It’s only when you’re “focused” you can be flexible and have the energy to persist.

#2 Your Customers are Your No. 1 Asset

This was another common takeaway and one we take to heart at Edmunds.com.

David Cush of Virgin America stressed the paramount importance of managing customer expectations when rolling out a new system. Virgin America just recently implemented a new reservation system (still buggy as of this writing) and they have worked closely with the marketing department to manage customer expectations and reactions.

Padmaress Warrior of Cisco said the same thing. She implemented BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy at work after her customers (i.e. Cisco engineers) continued using their “unsupported devices” (i.e. Macs.) The new policy has been great not only for her consumers but for business as well.

Customer is the No.1 asset. Also, if your employees are happy and satisfied, that normally translates to customer satisfaction as well.

#3 Focus

I know I mentioned it above, but it was such a focal (no pun intended) point at the event. Focus is success.

Gary White of Water.org and Doug Ulman of Livestrong talked about passion, social responsibility and the role of focus in their success. If you come up with ten projects, prioritize them and then cut the last two and focus all your resources on the first eight. Personally, I’d go further and say cut eight and focus on the top two, but I guess it all depends on the amount of resources you have. Full Article

The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires by Tim Wu

Important History All Entrepreneurs Should Know

I read this book when it first came out back in November 2010 and I’ve been catching myself referencing it ever since.

From describing to my colleagues what a “Cycle” meant to engaging in long debates about what constituted a sustaining versus disruptive innovation in the context of the projects we’re working on. One story I find myself relaying whenever I get a chance is the one about how the telegraph was rendered obsolete with the introduction of the telephone and how that represented a typical “Cycle.”

Tim Wu does something very powerful in this book; he defines a cyclical business pattern, calls it a “Cycle,” explores its history and explains the one we’re going through right now and its probable outcomes. He relies on history to understand the present and foretell the future, which makes the book a very entertaining read if you’re a history buff.

The book is rife with accounts of industries that have gone through the “Cycle.” They rose to success, conquered the competition, became a closed system, declined slowly and invariably fell. Tim says:

History also shows that whatever has been closed too long is ripe for ingenuity’s assault: in time a closed industry can be opened anew, giving way to all sorts of technical possibilities and expressive uses for the medium before the effort to close the system likewise begins again.

This oscillation of information in industries between open and closed is so typical a phenomenon that I have given it a name: “the Cycle.”

Business owners and senior executives must be aware of the “Cycle” and the stage of the Cycle at which their business lies in order to make informed decisions about the future and continuity of that business. Understanding the Cycle and preparing for it is prudent if not absolutely crucial to the survival of a business. Full Review

Sweetness and Blood by Michael Scott Moore

Catching a Wave Across the World of Global Surf Culture

I love surfing. I’ve always been fascinated by the surf culture (Point Break is one of my favorite movies ever.) So when I saw this book, I did what any self-respecting Southern California surfer dude would do: I bought it.

I was expecting a “surfari” of sort but what I got was so much more. I was immersed in a global adventure, history lessons, cultural analysis and fine reporting by the pithy prose of Michael Scott Moore. A foreign correspondent and a world traveler himself, Moore took me on a global journey that is as unique as it is enriching. He wrote nine very entertaining and informative chapters about the culture of surfing around the world starting in California and moving on to Hawaii, Indonesia, Germany, Morocco, England, Israel, Gaza, Cuba, Sao Tome and Principe, and Japan.

Hawaii has surfing in its blood, culture and history, and the state just recently made it a High School sport. In, California, Huntington Beach is crowned “Surf City” and by so sparked the birth of a new counterculture that soon after took over the nation. In Munich, people surf canals and risk being arrested for doing so. In Morocco, a surf school is instituted by the King to counter the radical Islamic wave threatening the youth. In Gaza, surfing is as popular as a falafel sandwitch.

The stories collected in this book are a testament to the power of American pop-culture and its indelible effect on the lives of people worldwide. I’m not just talking Madonna, Michael Jackson, Eminem, Friends, Glee or Desperate Housewives. I’m talking about skateboarding, rollerskating and of course, surfing. The American way of life is evidently embraced and emulated even in parts of the world where we think we’re so despised.

You don’t have to like surfing to enjoy this book. If you love travel and adventure, you will enjoy it. If you love history and culture, you will enjoy it. And of course, if you love all of that and love to surf, you will definitely love this book.

Open Government: Collaboration, Transparency, and Participation in Practice

It’s The Consumer, Stupid!

This book is comprised of 34 essays written by thought leaders in both technology and government who are passionate about open data. The authors argue the case for “openness” in government and offer best practices and examples (several case studies included at the end as well) for building, supporting and evangelizing Open Platforms in government.

With the clout of Social Networks and hacker communities, the idea of being “open” isn’t as radical as it used to be several years ago, and the book clearly capitalizes on that. Almost all successful companies have open APIs today. These companies realize that it is “data accessibility” that will invariably create value for the consumer–and their business.

So why can’t governments do the same? The book argues the case for governments to “open up” and give access to their data (e.g. documents, bills, voting records, proceedings, initiatives, …etc) so that the electorate is informed and able to fully participate in governance, which is in effect the ultimate goal of democracy.

Out of all 34 essays, Tim O’Reilly’s “Government as a Platform” offered the most comprehensive blueprint for what needs to be done to get to the next level in Open Government. He offers seven lessons, or principles, that lead to Open Platform. These aren’t government specific, which makes them even more valuable to anyone interested in the subject of Open Platform.

The seven principles are:

  1. Open Standards Spark Innovation and Growth
  2. Build a Simple System and Let It Evolve
  3. Design for Participation
  4. Learn From Your “Hackers”
  5. Data Mining Allows You To Harness Implicit Participation
  6. Lower the Barriers to Experimentation
  7. Lead by Example

The principles are pretty self-explanatory and Tim fleshes each one out with examples and guiding thoughts. I highly recommend reading those sections twice to fully understand what they require of you and your company to build a successful Open Platform.

The principle that resonated with me the most was #2. I see this all the time (I’m guilty of it sometimes too): Engineers embark on an elaborative architecture quest to build the most “awesome” or “kick ass” software that will undeniably be the best platform EVER. The only thing is they often end up with a convoluted, unmaintainable system that ends up being “legacy” in no time. Tim quotes John Gall’s Systemantics:

A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. The inverse proposition also appears to be true. A complex system designed from scratch never workes and cannot be make to work. You have to start over, beginning witha  working simple system.

It’s so very true.

At the end of his essay, Tim O’Reilly offers ten practical steps that government agencies can adopt to be more open. If you don’t have time to read the entire book, I strongly recommend you read his chapter.

In the end, the paramount beneficiary of Open Platforms is the Consumer. In government, the consumer is the Electorate. President Obama understood that. He is the first US President to fully embrace the Open Government movement. We saw clear signs of that during his campaign in 2008 and in the release of data.gov and change.gov.

A few weeks back, I went to interview protesters at the Occupy LA encampment in downtown Los Angeles as part of my research for the new startup I co-founded, Voterspring.com. When I asked the question, “how do you think we can hold government accountable?” The overwhelming answer was, “information and transparent access to it.”

This book paves the road to open and transparent government. Now the ball is in the government’s court.