One or Two Spaces After the Period – How Wikipedia Handled the Ultimate Question

Photo: Kevin Spencer

While typing, how many spaces do you put after a period? I was taught to hit the spacebar twice after the end of a sentence. Turns out not everyone does this. I knew there were single spacers out there, but I thought they were heretical troglodytes. Then I saw this poll result: with a huge sample of 44,000 people, 47% use a single space!

How does this happen? I go for soooo long thinking almost everyone was on the same page, but in reality it is split down the middle.

Once I got over my ignorance as to how the rest of the world operates, I needed to know – how did Wikipedia standardize on which one to use? Obviously if you are going to embark on an monumental distributed encyclopedia, all authors should agree to either use single or double space. I could see this holding up the entire project and just turning into a huge debate to settle it once and for all. Propitiously, the HTML of web pages renders on the screen the same way whether you do a single space or ten spaces. Problem averted.

  • It turns out the double space is a holdover from the typewriter days when fonts were monospaced. Utterly useless now and really dating me beyond my years.
  • With my lofty aspiration to be the most efficient human alive, I must cut out the extraneous second space. I’ll keep you updated on the progress.
  • Here is something else I found even more eye opening (although I will not discuss my personal proclivity): Sitters vs. Standers – The Great Wipe Hope

The New Bay Bridge

Engineers love bridges. I think it is because they appear so simple, but engineers appreciate how much thought and calculation are required.

Living in the Bay Area, we have two of the most impressive bridges in the country. It’s a great time to be here because they are currently rebuilding the Bay Bridge, designed to last 150 years and withstand a whopping 8.5 earthquake. Check out this short video showing how awesome it will be:

And for those of you that haven’t seen this famous video of how not to build a bridge:

Nerd note: In engineering classes we were taught that the reason the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapsed was because the wind provided a periodic frequency that matched the natural frequency of the bridge. (Non-nerd note: think of a parent pushing a child on a swing – the parent (the wind) is providing a periodic push of the child (the bridge), who is moving back and forth at a frequency. If those frequencies match the kid will swing higher and higher.) The real cause was aeroelastic flutter – aerodynamic forces, not periodic wind gusts, that matched the natural frequency of the bridge. There is a startup that created a tiny wind powered generator using this principle.

Introducing Auctions in Unexpected Places

Google didn’t become the behemoth that they are by having the best technology. They didn’t invent a faster computer to retrieve the most accurate search results in .15 seconds. They became the leader in search and online advertising by being creative – and they did it through auctions. Yes, Google is the world’s largest auction company.

Have you noticed the advertisements that come up whenever you do a common Google search? They show both on the top and side of your search results (see image) and match incredibly closely to what you are looking for. Have you ever thought about how Google decides to place the accurate ads? Behind the scenes a genius little auction is held for every search that takes place.

Advertisers place bids for what they would be willing to pay to show up next to search terms that they believe are close to their product. Google also ranks the relevance of the ad using a complex algorithm. These two pieces of data are combined to rank each potential advertisement. Then a Vickrey auction is held to determine the price each advertiser must pay and the order of the ads. I highly recommend this extremely concise explanation from Wired magazine (only 226 words).

Well that isn’t so complicated, how much money did they make with that idea? Sure one step of the process is technologically complex, but even if their relevance ranking was created in one day, it would be able to get the job done. The real genius is applying an automated auction system to online advertising, optimizing for price and relevance while allowing the advertiser a high degree of control. So that begs the question – where else can I apply an efficient auction process that will make me billions of dollars?

Of course there are a lot of reasons Google is where it is today, I don’t mean to oversimplify things. But this simple auction is a good chunk of the $24 billion in revenue they made last year.


  • Descending-clock auction for electricity – Trade Electricity Like Pork Bellies
  • Terrific full Google article in the Wired magazine issue – Secret of Googlenomics: Data-Fueled Recipe Brews Profitability

Why Merle Haggard Out Travels Lady Gaga – What You Should Know About Radio Waves

Photo: Peter Megyeri

The radio is a perfect example of an old technology that we completely take for granted – do you know how it works or are you just cluelessly upset when all you hear is static? These older technologies are much easier to wrap my head around – if a some guy in the 19th century could figure it out, I should be able to understand the basic idea. I’m not going to focus on how a radio transmitter physically creates the signal or receiver is able to turn it into sound, but rather the basic theory and some interesting things to know.

What is the major difference between AM and FM?
AM stands for amplitude modulation. This means the sound determines the amplitude of the radio wave. FM stands for frequency modulation – the sound alters the frequency of the radio wave. The transmitter is able to turn the sound being created into the appropriate wave. Here is an example of a sound and how it would look as an AM and FM wave:

Source: Berserkerus

Another major difference is that AM radio waves are a much lower frequency than FM. Think of AM having the wavelength of a football field and FM the ball. In reality you can broadcast amplitude modulation or frequency modulation at any frequency, but high quality FM audio must be a high frequency to allow for the differences (or modulation) in frequency.

Keep reading…

Today Will Be Remembered as the Era When Technology Ruled Our Lives

Photo: Chris Metcalf

Technology was originally created with the intention of saving us time. The cotton gin was created to save time processing cotton, the steam engine to save time over using horses for power, and computers to save time on calculations. But where is all this free time? It seems that people are busier and more stressed than ever before.

Despite the incredible pace of technological innovations in the last several decades, it has been ineffective in actually saving us time. An incredible number of tools are available today that have never been available before, but we don’t know how to effectively use them to reduce stress and provide more leisure time. It is not a limitation of the technology, rather our training on these technologies lags far behind – we just don’t take the time to learn how to use them effectively!

The technologies that dominate our everyday lives
In the grand scheme of things cell phones and email are new technologies. The majority of people got their first cell phone less than 10 years ago and email maybe a couple years before that. Now we are combining the technologies – chances are if you bought a new cell phone in the last year or two it now has email on it. The downside to these rapid technological advances is that we haven’t had time to properly learn the best way to use them.

Have you ever been talking to someone in person when their cell phone rings? How is this person supposed to respond? It is wonderful that you can be reached at any time of day by your friend 10,000 miles away, but at what cost? The call disrupts your face-to-face conversation for a digital one. Text messages are less obtrusive but the same principle applies – they dictate our lives and take us out of the moment.

Keep reading …

Personal Informatics – What Gets Measured Gets Managed

Photo: Tyrone Shum

The often quoted Peter Drucker said “what gets measured gets managed.” If you can’t measure it you are merely guessing, not managing. Of course he was referring to applying metrics to better manage a business, but the same principle applies to individuals as well. How are you to optimize your life when you do not measure how exactly you spend it?

Personal Finance
Personal finance is the best example of this — in order to get your spending under control and save money you first need to know where your money is being spent. Track where your money is going, create a budget to control problem areas, and continue tracking to observe the improvements. is a terrific website to help individuals focus on tracking their expenses. From their website:

If you’ve tried to build a budget in the past and just couldn’t stick to it, we understand. Until now, trying to see where you’re spending and where you can cut back has been too difficult. But once you understand a few basic principles and start tracking your spending with, you’ll be able to set and stick to realistic goals, easily and automatically. has developed impressive technology to easily track and report on your spending – in turn allowing more people to stick to their financial goals. This website is only one example in an abundance of new tools utilizing technology to help you track your life. Beyond personal finance, there are similar services you can use to for almost any facet of your life.

Keep reading …

An Alternative to Traditional Venture Funding

Photo: Wally Gobetz

Yesterday I explained the pitfalls of too much venture funding. Whenever posting about a problem I will always attempt to follow up the next day with a potential solution. My idea is a Venture Capital funded bank account to be used by the startup where every X dollars spent translates into a percentage point of equity. The beauty in this model is that the startup receives the funding they need, but are incentivized to keeps their costs under control and become profitable in a hurry.

Let’s imagine a fictitious hot new internet startup looking for series B funding to take them to the next level. The offer they receive from KPCB is $10 million in exchange for a 40% in the company. Sounds great right: a ton of money from one of the best venture firms at what the founders feel is a generous valuation. Wrong! Take that same valuation but avoid the trap of taking more money than you need. Here is a potential counter offer:

  • $2 million immediately for an 8% stake
    • This amount will certainly be needed before becoming profitable.
  • The VC firm opens a bank account / line of credit for up to $8 million more where every $25k is 0.1% of equity
    • Forces the startup to watch their expenses rather than quickly burning through money without consequences
    • Protects startup from equity dilution (an excellent explanation) by only granting equity to the VC for funding used

If things start to go downhill for the startup there must be some protection from the VCs simply closing the account. Here are some potential rules:
Keep Reading …

Too Much Venture Funding – When More Money is a Bad Thing

Photo: Go Go Ninja

One pitfall for startups is taking on more funding than they need in exchange for a huge chunk of the company. It is obvious that the reverse is a problem — not enough funding means the young company has to be instantly profitable and will not be able to rapidly bring in new talent. Not as apparent but almost as dangerous is taking too much funding.

The examples are endless in the dot com boom. Webvan, Kozmo, RealNames, eStyle, Upromise, Priceline WebHouse Club,, Autolines, and are some companies that had north of $100 million in funding and went out of business. After that debacle venture capitalists are more weary to hand out that kind of money. Only a handful such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Zenga have crossed a $100 mil. A further sign of caution is that in these latest examples the money often came well after the company had proven themselves with millions of users or by already being profitable.

Despite the regression in funding since the dot com bust, there still is too much money flying around for internet startups. Websites that are a good idea but lack a monitization strategy can raise tens of millions of dollars with good connections and a little luck. These aren’t large-scale manufacturing companies that need to purchase machinery or brick and mortar stores that need to purchase expensive inventory, they are websites that only need to buy a few servers. They have no need for tens of millions.

What happens when a startup receives more funding than they need?

  • It removes the sense of urgency to become profitable.
  • It makes it appear like the funding is a win, when really it is just a step in the process to having a profitable company, not the end goal.
  • The founders may become paper millionaires and lose focus.
  • The company loses control in the form of pressure from a VC firm with a huge vested interest.
  • The company owns less by selling equity for money they don’t need.
  • They spend the money foolishly because they can.  There were famous dot com heyday parties that cost over a quarter million.
  • They blow money on marketing. Obviously marketing is important, but cash strapped companies are forced to be creative with their marketing and still get more results than a Super Bowl commercial.
  • Overaggressive expansion. Expanding before having a plan leads to unnecessary employees without direction.

Now that we all agree that too much venture funding is a bad thing, what can we do about it? Check back tomorrow for my idea.

Here is the second post “An Alternative to Traditional Venture Funding.”