When Jobs Get Automated

James Bessen on automating jobs that people do. Bessen makes the case that the increase in demand for goods and services that are made cheaper by automating part of their production leads to more humans doing work than before automation.



Startup Weekend

Startup Weekend Chicago is happening on February 26th! Tickets.


Lexical Distance Among the Languages of Europe

Interesting post on the major languages of Europe showing some of their relatedness and differences.


Amazon Warehouse Robots

Robohub has a great breakdown of the components of an older-model of one of the robots that helps operate Amazon’s warehouses.


Weather Radar

A pretty cool view of the last few hours of weather radar over the USA. The page loads zoomed in to the NorthWest, scroll around to find your region, or zoom the entire page out to see the whole country. Use cmd “-” on os x, or ctrl “-” on windows to zoom out. “-” is the minus or dash key.


‘Handwritten’ Notes Delivered

Bond has an interesting business idea: make it easy to send notes that appear handwritten to people. They are going after businesses who can increase their own customer loyalty and retention with the appearance of “taking the time to write someone a letter”.

I like how simple Bond’s website is, and how clearly it conveys their business model. You land on their page to some interrupting popovers that try to snag your email address, but under those, to a video of a machine writing a letter with a nice pen in a beautiful script. Further in their material you’ll see how they allow you to pick which kind of handwriting you want your letters to use, and how they’ll allow you to upload your own handwriting for totally custom letters.

A couple more thoughts on this:

  • I think it’s a silly and strange business idea, the concept of automating things that people do for each other and not telling one party about the automation has been around, i’ve had it once or twice for different markets.
  • It is weird. You are sending a fake letter. In a way, you are deceiving the people who receive these letters. That said, I don’t think people will actually be upset if and when they realize they are getting “hand written” letters.
  • Bond made an elegant solution with the robotic drawing of letters… likely could have gotten the same result with printers but the robots look cooler, perhaps conveys what is happening more directly, and makes people feel less like they are deceiving the recipients because of the way the letters are made. Come to think of it, there’s not much preventing Bond from actually printing the letters on a laser printer. The same kind of math that goes into having a machine ‘write’ the letters can be applied to create digital representations of the motion the machine would take, digital representations that can be printed on a normal printer.
  • Beautiful and custom products produced automatically only recently became cheap to produce. I expect to see more businesses and products taking advantage of the ability to quickly make something custom in a digital world and render it beautifully in the physical world with machines.
  • Bond has a good pitch, and they tell you how to make money from their product by sending thank you letters to important clients and business relationships.
  • If Bond stays nimble, I believe they will succeed in making a profitable business. I believe they could scale to… say.. a billion letters sent in the USA per year before the “wow a handwritten letter!” effect diminishes in recipients. The diminishing of the effect would not mean the value of a “hand written letter” would be completely gone just reduced as everyone realizes that most hand written letters in the business world are not actually hand written.

Mandelbrot Set in JS

A nice interface to the infinite mathematical universes of the Mandelbrot set in JavaScript. Worth a gander.


Work, Productivity, Leisure

BoingBoing on work

Harvard economist Benjamin M Friedman:

by 2029, American will have octupled its labor productivity, just as Keynes predicted.


Custom Christmas Gifts

This year I made Christmas presents for my family and friends. Spending some time and investing some creativity in making gifts elevates the gift from “something I could order from amazon prime and receive tomorrow” to a custom experience that is covered in personal attention and care. How often do Christmas gifts really satisfy a core need of the receiver? In my view, the best part of a gift is the giver’s intentions manifest as an object. In the case of these gifts, there is of course the side benefit of becoming more familiar with some powerful tools; a familiarity which has sparked some new project ideas. The gifts were a hit, my friends and I even hit the dance floor one evening sporting matching aqua-metalic-leopard tights 😛


IMG_0905I spent Christmas with my family in Portland, Oregon; my sister moved there for graduate school not too long ago. She and I go to Burning Man in the Summer and camp with the Black Rock Boutique. The dress code at Burning Man is nothing less than an extravagance of expression. People bring the most unique, custom, expressive, and interesting clothing they can get their hands on. Our mission with the Boutique is to help people dress to impress. Making these tights was a sure-fire way to bring some of fun and magic of burning man to our family Christmas get together. The tights did deliver, the photo above is of us moving and grooving on a dance floor in Portland with matching aqua-metalic-leopard patterned legs. … 


The Light Bulb Goes Off

Reading Lamp

IMG_0891While having a great dinner discussion with some friends, Andy, David, and Phil, a light bulb lit up: I need a reading lamp to catch up on some of the books my friends are speaking highly of! David recently made a practically bullet-proof argument for investing in good lighting to inspire page turning. I very-much enjoy making something that solves a problem and fits the specific needs of a space… I would make a custom, classy, and functional lamp in my living room!

I picked the most comfortable place in my apartment to install the lamp: it would hang right over the middle of the couch. I wanted to match the rugged design of the apartment: exposed brick, repurposed wood, and retro light bulbs. The dimmer would be reachable for turning the light on and adjusting brightness while comfortably sitting, the bulb would provide ample light to make print stand out on page, and the position of the bulb would be adjustable and comfortable.

I used several left over electrical components from renovating the apartment in this project. The supplies list included an LED Edison bulb, some flexible electrical shielding, Armored Bx cable, a coat hanger to give the lamp neck stiffness, a dimmer switch, and an outlet. In an afternoon I checked the wiring instructions diagrams for the dimmer and outlet, measured the needed lengths of shielded cables, and wired it up. I was sure to do resistance tests on the hot, cold, and ground legs of the circuit before plugging it all in.

Bluetooth Mandala Light