Moving

London panorama

It’s done. I moved to London. I still cannot comprehend it fully, but it happened. Two months ago I was still a Bulgarian in Sofia, going about his daily life. Now I am in the UK, I have a job and an apartment (flat, pardon me), and I am writing this in my new bedroom.

This is an attempt, rough and unedited, to put my thoughts on paper and maybe try to understand what happened. Why did I move? The truth is, I don’t know. I desperately needed a change. I had been working for the same (awesome) company for 5 years. I knew that I wanted to experience more of the world, but it would almost certainly mean that I had to put up with some unpleasant stuff and lose a lot. Change is hard. Maybe that’s why the British are not so fond of it, but it is necessary. Like they say – to make an omelette, you have to break some eggs. In the end, I am glad that I decided to move. Now I can at least say that I have tried and if it doesn’t work out for me, I will know why. Although the way it looks for now – it is going to work out.

I loved my life in Sofia. I had a job which allowed me to live carelessly. I was doing better than the average Bulgarian. I was out all the time with the friends I loved (and still love). I had time for guitar, I went snowboarding in the winter, went to the seaside for the summer where all the action is. I could visit my family whenever I wanted to, just a 2-hour drive away in my first self-bought car. But in a little corner in my mind I knew that I wasn’t getting everything I wanted. While I was going about my daily stuff, I couldn’t help but notice the misery and bad stuff around me. I couldn’t stay blind for the unimaginable corruption of the politicians which was becoming so widespread that everyone just accepted it. I was getting the feeling that the Bulgarian nation was just learning to live with the cancer that it had. It had switched from fighting to acceptance.

Then the protests happened. Hope. There were still people in my home country who cared and wanted to live a normal life like most 21-century human beings. This was like a ray of sunlight coming from out of nowhere in our dark basement. I grabbed onto it like it was the last thing that could save me. I was there when I could, walking the streets with the rest of the hard working people who’d had enough. For 6 months we stood on the streets standing up for what we thought was right. And nothing happened. The government stepped on the brakes, but instead of shifting into reverse and doing the right thing, they went around and still did what they’d planned, in secrecy.

There were, of course, the poets of the revolution, who were in the media all the time shouting about how this was the birth of the Bulgarian civil society, the beginning of a new era. But the corrupt were still in parliament, spending our money and the poor and uneducated were still voting for them in return for a 20 leva bill. Bulgaria had cancer, and we were treating it for sunburn. Worse, we couldn’t even agree what the actual disease was.

The education was becoming less and less relevant. More people were getting degrees, but there were less qualified workers. The national debt was increasing and someone would have to pay it afterwards. Everything was done without thinking about the cost and the next generations would have to just swallow it and deal with it.

Would I want to live in a society like this? No, I wouldn’t. Would I want my children to live in it? Of course not. Would I pay the price of losing contact with my closest people to try and fix my life for good? This was the question which had been bugging me for at least a year, and the hardest one to answer. And although I don’t know the answer to this moment, I am now in London trying to move on.

From what I have written it may seem like it was all a question of politics. It was not. There wasn’t just a single reason for my move. It wasn’t the dirty streets or the economic climate. It definitely wasn’t just the government. After all, I was doing fine despite their wrongdoing. It wasn’t just the job. I had a wonderful job, my colleagues were my friends and it payed generously. I wanted more opportunity, and wanted to do something different. I wanted to learn more, but I was still happy. Maybe that’s what made my choice so hard. I was happy the whole time and there wasn’t a single specific thing which was driving me mad to the point of giving up. But all these reasons, by their powers combined, created this Captain Dead End situation which felt like living in an artificial aquarium. I felt like a gold fish, which was doing better than the regular fish, but it was still in the same aquarium, being a prisoner. It had limits to what it could do, because it had already done what’s possible in this local environment. So I jumped out, hoping to reach the ocean. I am currently somewhere on land, where it feels foreign, but I seem to have caught some stream which allows me to breathe and is carrying me somewhere better.

London seems great. I have experienced only good things so far, and none of the bad. I haven’t been mugged, but I have gone through the awful process of finding an apartment (flat, that is. dammit). I have seen Camden, and Brick Lane market, and work seems to be starting off wonderfully. I miss everyone in Sofia, I miss my guitar, but I am starting to feel good. Let’s hope it keeps getting better and better.

I have a ton of things to explore. I have plenty of the best clubs in the world. There is also plenty of history waiting. There are startup meetups, bars, trains, castles, bakeries, restaurants, streets, graffiti, concerts, galleries, people. I am looking forward to all that. Wish me luck.

(Photo credits: http://www.flickr.com/photos/38181284@N06/8697705007/)

One week with iPhone 5

5 days ago (not even a full week), I got an iPhone 5. If I have to describe these first 5 days of using it in one sentence, the sentence will be “It’s freaking FAST!” And since this description is too simplistic, here’s a more detailed version of my experience.

Before I say anything, please note that I’m coming from an Android background, and more specifically the shitty HTC-version-of-Android background. Before this phone I had an HTC Desire HD. Well, in the last days before the iPhone I had to force myself not to throw it away. My Android story is that I bought the HTC a little over 2 years ago to replace my… wait for it… Windows Mobile phone. This is Windows Mobile, not Windows Phone… you know… the archaic stylus-based version with 5×5 pixel buttons. It was again an HTC (Touch Diamond 2) and it was my first encounter with smartphones. The HTC Desire HD was my first encounter with Android and although I loved it in the beginning, after 2 years I started to experience THE issue with Android, which is lack of updates. HTC decided that my hardware was too incapable to run their Icecream Sandwich and stopped providing updates. While newer and better versions of Android were released, I was patient with my 2.3.5 Gingerbread and quietly wept every night. This all made me switch to Apple. And before you ask “Why didn’t you just root and use Cyanogen?”, I will say: Why do I have to? I paid a big pile of cash for a phone, I don’t want to waste another night of my life redoing everything from scratch. Having the ability to root your phone is one thing, having the necessity to do it is another. I don’t want to be forced to root. Plus, Cyanogen with Android 4+ is still not officially available at the time I write this.

If you haven’t realized it until now, I’m not a fan boy, I just like technology and base my choices on facts and experience. Now, on to the iPhone.

This thing is great. Even though I’m comparing it to a very old HTC, I cannot help but wonder how awesome the display is. Once I look at the iPhone, looking back at my 22″ monitor feels like the right half of this (in other words, painful):

Retina Compare

Retina has spoiled me. The iPhone is also super-fast. iOS is very good in terms of user experience. I haven’t had a dealbreaker issue until now. Did I mention that the iPhone is very fast? Here is the list of my top pros and cons:

Good

Bad

FAST! No ability to arrange homescreen icons (no widgets)
Good ecosystem (many apps) No FM Radio app
Very good looking Turning WiFi on/off is harder than it shoud be
Very light Setting a custom ringtone requires Googling and iTunes

Although there are some things I don’t like, I wouldn’t go back to Android. For me, the huge Apple ecosystem and the very good user experience are the two most important factors in a phone, and I would trade the ability to do some customization for them. After a while you get used to the iOS way of doing things and you form habits. That’s a good thing, because most apps try to conform to those habits, and you know how to use them before you’ve tried them. While Android also have some UI Guidelines for developers, in reality the marketplace (Play Store) is one big mess, where each application introduces its own UI, and there is so much diversity, that at some point you just give up.

I am very happy with my first week with the iPhone. There are definitely things that can be fixed, but I’d bet Apple will do that at some point. My hopes for cleaning up the Google Play Store are just not helping. Oh and here’s the answer your other hypothetical question about why I didn’t get a Windows Phone: I like shadows and rounded corners more than single-color squares and sharp edges.

(Photo credits: http://www.apple.com/pr/products/iphone/iphone.html, http://www.theverge.com/2012/3/7/2851127/new-ipad-hands-on-preview)

Bottom Limits, Top Limits

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Treating all customers the same and treating every customer well is putting a bottom limit on frustration – you can’t go too bad if you do it. Treating customers differently gives you the opportunity to make your best ones love you.

In college I only studied Intro to Marketing for one semester, and it was far from my main focus. What I noticed, though, is that all textbooks and materials tell you that the customer is always right, you should always listen to the customer. Well, not always. Not if this customer makes you spend double the effort on him just to not hate you. Instead, you can devote this time to invent something for the customers that love you. As Seth Godin says, they will talk about you and bring many more after them.

Where I come from, in elementary schools they treat all students the same. They put a bottom limit on quality. They ensure that every student is educated and literate. What they don’t ensure is that schools produce geniuses and achievers. For this to happen, you need to remove the top limit, you need to give students the freedom to explore, the resources and the attention.

In my daily job I sometimes come in contact with customers who always complain about something and want a solution ASAP. They threaten to abandon your product and go to the competition. I say let them go. You have two choices to spend your time – convince them they are wrong and your product is good, or work on the product and make it awesome. You could also work on a program to provide benefits to your VIP customers (the ones who love you). This second choice would be a much better investment than the first one.

This could probably be applied everywhere people are involved – HR, education, communications. Don’t introduce bottom limits. Remove the top limits instead.

UPDATE: Here’s a very good article by Seth Godin that I think relates to this post.

Software Installation User Interface

I’m a bit of a control freak when it comes to how my computer is configured. I like to be aware of how things happen and why they do. Currently on a Windows system, the thing that irritates me the most is the Windows Registry. A nasty, unknown shared resource used by almost all applications and extremely hard to fix manually when corrupted. But it is a standard, so somehow I get along with it.

Anyway, installing programs has always been one of the worst experiences ever while setting up my work/fun environment, on any platform. Linux makes it easy for you to install distribution packages, but I still haven’t spend the time to figure out how to uninstall them. What happens to all dependencies that you didn’t note down when installing? Do they remain in the system?

Since program installation is usually the first impression that software makes in a user, I think every software developer should spend the time and make it as perfect as it can be. This is clearly not only my opinion, but in this post I wanted to mention two features of software installations in general that I find wonderful, and cannot figure out why there are people that miss to put them in.

1. “Don’t create a Start Menu folder” option

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2. “Create a Desktop icon” and “Create a Quick Launch icon”

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First, I have so many things in the Windows Start Menu, that I probably never open it. I don’t need more things there by default, and I need an option to control this when installing software. Second, I extensively use the Quick Launch toolbar, and if the installer puts an icon there for me, that would be great. Obviously the FeedDemon installer made me happy and the people from NewsGator did their job. Why don’t the others do it? Why don’t you do it every time?

Chrome Experiments

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Are you using Google Chrome? A while ago I talked about how this browser’s introduction into the market would affect the other players. I don’t know what’s the situation today, I only know they released a final 1.0 version and are out of beta. For me, the speed and user experience that I have in this new browser is unmatched. The only reason keeping me from making it my default are Firefox’s plugins. I guess once Chrome introduces a plugin system, they would have to sacrifice a lot of the performance benefits. Similar to what happened to Firefox. With one exception: we’re talking Google this time, not Mozilla. And probably most of you know that once Google decides to do something (another innovative way to try and rule the web), they don’t stop no matter what.

In short I’m saying Google have far more power and willingness to contribute to their browser than Mozilla had. But this is not why I started this post. I started it to share a really cool Javascript experience that these guys announced a while ago. They are exploring the nuts and bolts of the V8 framework used in Chrome to create wonderful applications. Here’s the site (make sure to open it with Chrome):

http://www.chromeexperiments.com/

And then some people say Javascript was dead and the future would belong to rich applications (to read: Flash and Silverlight). I so disagree.

You Are Reading Blogs, Right?

blogging

A stupid question, I know. Especially after you are already reading this. But I’m fascinated about the fact that so many people I know still don’t read blogs on a regular basis or don’t use RSS or Atom or some other publishing protocol reader. For me, blogs are the primary way to stay informed about what’s happening in my communities, and the main news channel. They are also the easiest way for me to chill out and relax for a minute between two tasks requiring high concentration. A personal opinion on a topic is much more valuable than the 20-times-edited newspage on cnn.com or any other mass news site.

So, since I’m so passionate about this, what blogs do I read? Well, this post is an attempt to summarize a fraction of my Google Reader subscriptions, with explanations of why I read them. Hopefully this would shed some light on the topics I’m mostly interested in nowadays, too. Here’s the list:

47 Hats – Bob Walsh’s advice for independent software vendors (MicroISVs) and startups. Digests of news about the community, events and nice articles from all around.

A Smart Bear – Tagline: Startups + Marketing + Geekery. Jason Cohen, an entrepreneur and his takes on small business

Erik Sink – The definitive guide to the Business of Software.

Hacker News – This is a site that Paul Graham set up to get together a community of developers and provoke discussion about the things shared in the dev community in general. Something like reddit.com/r/programming.

How to Change the World – Guy Kawasaki, former Apple evangelist, currently a venture capitalist, blogging about entrepreneurship, providing tips and tricks.

Joel on Software – One of THE bloggers in the software development community. Former Microsoftie, currently owner of Fog Creek Software, doesn’t write much lately. Launched a developer community site together with Atwood called Stackoverflow. Rare but quality material.

Paul Graham – An angel investor in Silicon Valley. Created the Y Combinator project, writing very valuable essays on investment, especially VC and Angel. See Hacker News.

Seth Godin – the marketing guy. Top marketing blog. Ever.

Friday Reflections – a new storyline and a new thought each Friday. Author is Anand Shah. Unbelievably inspirational.

Coding Horror – comparable to Joel in software development. Jeff Atwood, Joel’s partner in Stackoveflow, again writing for devs. See Joel on Software.

Scott Hanselman – another prominent software development blogger. Lots of info, primary Microsoft.

Scott Gu – The Gu, Scott Guthrie, running the following dev teams in Microsoft – CLR and core .NET libraries, ASP.NET, Silverlight, WPF, IIS 7, Visual Studio Tools for ASP.NET, Silverlight, WPF and mobile. A must read for every Microsoft dev.

I can say I only listed the MUST ones. Except for those, I’m following about 97 more. Anyone who wants the full list, just drop a line. So what are you waiting for? Publish your list and let me know. What blogs are YOU reading?

Survivorship Bias and Its Cousins in Social Networking

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I was reading somewhere about survivorship bias recently. It strikes me when I think about it, how often it is out there, in the articles you read, the statistics you view and in any written material that you rely on for information. The easiest way to avoid it would be to have doubt in anything you read, any author, no matter how credible and unbiased he may seem; no matter how hard he worked to win your trust. If you ask Jeff, that’s the way to go – be inquisitive and reinvent the wheel, think through every piece of information that is presented to you. But this is not the point.

The point is, every content provider, news agency or service you are using is entitled to bring you unbiased information. How often this happens in reality, you tell me. I think it takes time for one to actually understand that survivorship bias is everywhere. Our society, our culture is such that we always pay attention to successful people, and try to avoid failures.

Take shelfari.com. It is a site brining social networking into the world of reading. People add books to their shelf, review them, rate them and answer to questions other people have about books. I’ve been a member for a while, and looking at my shelf, there’s no book with a bad review, no book I don’t like. Unconsciously, I’ve been adding only the books that I was impressed by, skipping everything else. Everything in my profile is biased. You cannot call it survivorship bias in this case, but maybe something like good impression bias. Same thing.

And when I think about it, it is normal for me to do this. I don’t remember the books I didn’t like. If I started using shelfari when I started reading and added each book as I finished it, it might be a different story. But the thing is, most social networking tools we use have been out there for a very short time. Does that mean all the information in them is biased? Yes. Does that mean we should care about it? Probably not. A social network in itself is subjective. It relates to one’s personal story and friends and does not serve as an institution providing opinion. I wouldn’t be surprised, though, if most people on Facebook took every piece of information that is shared for granted; I wouldn’t be surprised if Shelfari reviews are taken seriously; I wouldn’t be surprised if Twitter messages are considered news, although they might be completely untrue.

All I’m saying is – we should be wary. It is our nature to trust someone who is talking to us, but if we want unbiased information, we should look somewhere else, not in social networks.

Rants About Writing and Starbucks

writersblock

Reading Rob Conery’s post today, I started thinking about how often I read blogs of people having no ideas of their own, but instead writing and restating things they’ve enjoyed reading somewhere else. Now the question is – is this ok? To me it is.

After all, if we waited for everyone to have his own "Eureka!" before writing, then that would mean everyone would be a genius and we would be developing and growing on a much faster scale than we do today. The truth is that everyone shares his personal opinion through blogging, and it’s ok to comment on other people’s posts. It’s ok to just criticize and provoke discussion, and not just wait for a brilliant idea of yours to share. It’s even ok to do how-tos for things totally not your opinion and totally not invented by you.

Then the only problem left is actually doing it. Go! as in a joke a friend of mine told me once:

He was traveling from Istanbul to Sofia on a train, and they were just crossing the Bulgarian-Turkish border. Passport control people were passing through the train and making sure everyone was legal and things were in order. A French guy, obviously excited about his East European trip told the passport control officer: "I want to go to Budapest!" After a few seconds pause, the officer looked at each of the people sitting around the French guy, pointed his arm in (arguably) the direction of Budapest and said: "Go!"

With the risk of many people not understanding the East European context of this joke, I’m posting it. With the risk of many people not understanding the European style of drinking coffee, I’m saying that the Starbucks experience has been around for decades, if not centuries. And, Starbucks is just not fun in Europe – it’s just a normal American store trying to look European. This is like making some breakthrough of exciting Europeans to play baseball, establishing some behavior, and then trying to expand business in the States. But I guess it earns money, so it’s ok.

Hooray for people posting rants when they have nothing else to say. And hooray for me putting links to Instanbul, Sofia and Budapest. So stop wondering about what to do next and what excuse to make up and do what you’ve always waited to do. Write that post and launch that site. Go!

Is Windows 7 the panacea?

windows7logo

Microsoft recently announced that Windows 7 beta is available for download. There were so many people trying to download it, that they had to disable the link for a while while upgrading the hardware. A lot has been said about its predecessor – Vista. After all the complaints and attempts from Microsoft to actually conceal the low performance and mistakes they had done, they finally admitted Vista’s problems and decided to release the next version.

But even if it is called the next version, is it actually that? Here’s what Microsoft say on the Windows 7 website:

"Windows 7 was built around your feedback, so you’ll see a lot of things you’ve asked for. You asked us to make everyday tasks faster and easier, make your PC work the way you want it to, and make new things possible. And that’s exactly what we’re doing."

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