📚 the boiling river

I recently finished The Boiling River: Adventure and Discovery in The Amazon—a TED book by Andrés Ruzo. I love the short format and interestingness of these books, this one was no exception.

“At a time when everything seems mapped, measured, and understood, this river challenges what we /think/ we know. It has forced me to question the line between known and unknown, ancient and modern, scientific and spiritual. It is a reminder that there are still great wonders to be discovered. We find them not just in the black void of the unknown but in the white noise of everyday life—in the things we barely notice, the things we almost forget, even in the detail of a story.”

“My headlamp concentrates my focus on the small area it illuminates and makes the darkness beyond seem impenetrable. I contemplate the marvels that must be out there, shrouded in darkness or hidden in the everyday. That is the lesson of the darkness: it is our perspective that draws the line between the known and the unknown, the sacred and the trivial, the things we take for granted and the things we have yet to discover.”

we tell stories to children for many reasons…

“We tell stories to children for many reasons, and if the goal is to teach them a moral lesson then one way to make the lesson more accessible to children is to use human characters. Yes, we should consider the diversity of story characters and the roles they are depicted in”

Patricia Ganea, from the University of Toronto on why having all the animals in most children’s books isn’t such a great idea after all.

defining silence 

Do you consider silence to be:

  1. The absence of sound?
  2. The absence of language?
  3. The absence of human made noise? (eg. aircraft noise)

I’d lean towards the absence of human made noise, since I would consider walking through the bushland with just the sounds of nature to be walking in silence. But if a helicopter flew low overhead the silence would be broken.

Thoughts inspired through reading How to Be Alone by Sara Maitland

being a good role model for your kids

Children learn by imitating adults. They copy what they see you do, not what you tell them to do. Seeing your three-year-old stomp around in your high heels is cute. Experiencing your 18-year-old drive the same way you do is terrifying (and I really, really wish I had never ever used a mobile phone while driving with them).

~ Michelle Archard – I Wish I’d Been A Better Role Model For My Kids

I believe one of the best things you can do for your kids is to be a good role model (and not be a hypocrite). Continue reading being a good role model for your kids

thinking like a freak

I really enjoyed Think Like A Freak; I was going through some old notes and found the notes I made when reading it a couple of years ago. I’ll have to re-read it at some point. 

How to think smarter about almost everything 

Solving problems is hard. If a given problem still exists, you can bet that a lot of people have already come along and failed to solve it 
Easy problems evaporate, it’s the hard ones that linger 

Incentives are the cornerstone of modern life

Knowing what to measure, and how to measure it, can make a complicated world less so

The conventional wisdom is often wrong

Correlation does not equal causality

Even the smartest people tend to seek our evidence that confirms what they already think 

Most people are too busy to rethink the way they think. 

“Few people think more than two or three times per year. I have made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week” ~ George Bernard Shaw

When people don’t pay the true cost of something, they tend to consume it inefficiently 

“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts” ~ Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Ultracrepidarianism: the habit of giving opinions and advice on matters outside of one’s knowledge or competence

The miracle of a good experiment is that in one simple cut, you can eliminate all the complexity that makes it so hard to determine cause and effect. 
Hardest thing for adults to say is ‘I don’t know’. Experiments answer this. 
“Ideas nearly always seem brilliant when they’re hatched, so we never act on a new idea for at least twenty-four hours. It is remarkable how stinky some ideas become after just one day in the sun”

alain de botton

Having just finished How to Think More about Sex, I was reminded how often I find Alain de Botton insufferable; yet somehow I continue to be fascinated and drawn towards everything he writes.

Basic CMYK

As someone who finds it difficult to write things that people don’t want to hear, I admire his courage to continue writing things like Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person.

michael connelly at qut, brisbane

I went to see a public question and answer session with Michael Connelly tonight at QUT Kelvin Grove campus. He’s the author of many crime novels including the Lincoln Lawyer which was recently made into a feature film, and the Harry Bosch series featuring an eccentric LA detective I have gotten to know and love.

I really enjoyed his latest Mickey Haller novel: ‘The Fifth Witness’, and find it especially interesting that he writes courtroom fiction so well having never been a lawyer.

reading novels in the bath

This morning I bought a Kobo, a cheaper, lo-fi, more open, version of the Kindle.

What I love about it is the screen that’s made of eInk that’s like no other electronic screen I have used. It isn’t backlit and is fully readable in full sunlight, plus it doesn’t use any power except when turning a page, so you can leave it ‘on’ and open to a page for as long as you like. Pretty amazing stuff.

Besides the screen, one of the reasons I bought an eBook reader is summed up in this quote:

What do you say to Kindle users who like to read in the bathtub?

I’ll tell you what I do. I take a one-gallon Ziploc bag, and I put my Kindle in my one-gallon Ziploc bag, and it works beautifully. It’s much better than a physical book, because obviously if you put your physical book in a Ziploc bag you can’t turn the pages. But with Kindle, you can just push the buttons.

~ Jeff Bezos – CEO of Amazon.com talks about eBooks in the bath

So yes, I will be taking my Kobo in the bath, and the spa, and the pool, if only Junior Pixels would allow me some time to read!

Here’s some photos of my Kobo (in a Ziploc bag):

a cheap yet thoughtful christmas gift idea

If you’re looking for a cheap yet thoughtful Christmas gift idea then I don’t think you can go past the Popular Penguins. They’re a series of re-released Penguins, all with classic Penguin covers, and retailing for AUD $9.95 each. The currently available one hundred titles include: High Fidelity, Going Solo and The Consolations of Philosophy.

popular-penguin-covers

If you’re in Australia and you can get to a Borders before this Friday, you can use this link to get 30% off any book, including a Popular Penguin. That means you can get one for $6.95! Better still, you can reuse this voucher every day this week and buy three or four for people you know.

Christmas doesn’t need to be expensive.

blog action day part two – use your local library

Today is Blog Action Day so I plan on providing some of the small things that contribute to reducing my impact on the environment.

I try to use my local library as much as a I possibly can. Using the library has many environmental, economic and social benefits:

  • Most suburbs/areas have a local library. This means you don’t need to travel very far to borrow books.
  • Libraries are free to use and therefore economical (I understand libraries are funded by council rates, but you do pay these whether or not you borrow from the library!)
  • Borrowing books is the ultimate form of recycling. I usually only read most books once so it makes sense to borrow them. Less books would need to be printed if more people borrowed books from libraries.
  • Libraries have a large variety of books across the various branches, much larger than a retail book store. You can easily find some old lost gems for loan that are well and truly no longer for sale.
  • Every time you read a really good book you can be happy to know that many other people before you have read that exact same book.
  • Libraries offer social clubs as well as an environment to enjoy without material or commercial solicitation.
  • Reading books makes you smarter and more of an interesting person.
  • Libraries offer more than just books: cds, dvds, magazines.

Library Book

The Long Tail of Threadless

I recently finished reading The Long Tail by Chris Anderson. To quote the back cover:

…Chris Anderson shows that the future of business does not lie in hits – the high volume end of the traditional demand curve – but in what used to be regarded as misses – the endlessly long tail of that same curve.

Whilst reading the book I immediately thought about the business model of Threadless.

Threadless is a community-centered online t-shirt store run by skinnyCorp of Chicago, Illinois since 2000.

This is my rough understanding of how Threadless works:

  • People submit ideas/designs for a t-shirt
  • Others then score these designs*
  • Some of the higher scored designs get made into t-shirts.** The designer gets US$2000 cash and some other cool stuff.
  • An initial limited batch (about 1500) of a t-shirt is made and is published as for sale
  • People buy t-shirts until they sell out. Real time stock levels are shown on the site.
  • People can vote for reprints of a particular sold out design.
  • Some designs are reprinted (sometimes slightly differently such as a different colour fabric).

I buy a lot of shirts from Threadless. The reasons I do so are such:

  • The number of designs available is larger and more varied than traditional clothes retailers near me.
  • The variety of designs available is larger than if I buy a single particular brand of t-shirt (because of the numerous contributors/designers).
  • When I vote on a design and I see that it is printed I feel like my wish has been met and I buy it.
  • I don’t have to vote on designs to buy designs. My participation is optional.
  • I am much less likely to see other people with the same t-shirt on as me when I walk down the street (in Australia at least). To me they are niche.
  • Threadless is known to have $10 sales where every t-shirt is US$10. This is when I ‘order up’.
  • If I take a photo of myself wearing my Threadless shirt I get US$1.50 credit towards buying another shirt. I can do this again for the next shirt, and the next, and the next…

When reading my book, my intial reaction was that Threadless are the Long Tail of t-shirts. I have since started to do some research and found that there are some people who don’t think they are. The book ends with some rules for successful Long Tail aggregators. To determine whether Threadless is Long Tail or not, I thought I would see how Threadless rates:

  • Rule 1: Move inventory way in… or way out. I don’t know exactly how many shirts threadless have in store at one time but many t-shirts seem to sell out quickly. They apparently only do 1500 of one design. Also, t-shirts are not instantly re-printed, so inventory definitely is a factor. PASS
  • Rule 2: Let customers do the work. There really is no question about this one. Threadless uses crowdsourcing. PASS
  • Rule 3: One distribution method doesn’t fit all. Originally, Threadless only had one distribution method: online ordering and delivery. Things have changed recently though. Tradtional retailers can now apply to be a vendor (although there is no guarantee of success). Threadless itself is opening its first own retail store next month in Chicago. Threadless obviously are thinking that one distribution method doesn’t fit all, even though they may have thought this in the past.*** PASS
  • Rule 4: One price doesn’t fit all. Although a majority of t’s cost the same amount ($15 for mens), Threadless has recently been introducing different priced products (see Rule 5). For example, Threadless Select T’s use premium fabric and printing and cost US$25. And occasionally there are sales where all standard t’s are US$10, but stock seems to disappear really quickly as the price appeals to different people. One price certainly doesn’t fit all. PASS
  • Rule 5: One product doesn’t fit all. Threadless has many t-shirt designs for sale, and the range is continually changing. They have also recently introduced additional lines including long sleeve, hoodies, kids, ‘select’ and slogan t-shirts. PASS
  • Rule 6: Share Information. Information about the store is shared in numerous ways: blogs, RSS feeds, email newsletters, comments, recommendations, the Street Team…. PASS
  • Rule 7: Think “and” not “or”. This is where Threadless isn’t necessarily Long Tail. They do not allow every design ever submitted to be made into a t-shirt. They do limit the size of batches of shirts. They do not automatically re-print popular designs. There is no abundance. Some people even go as far as to say Threadless “cuts its own tail” to create “artificial scarcity”. FAIL
  • Rule 8: Trust the market to do your job. As designs are voted before they are printed, Threadless reduces the risk of printing a crap t-shirt, and doesn’t have to ‘guess’ what will sell. I think this rule could be renamed to ‘Trust the community to do your job’. PASS
  • Rule 9: Understand the power of free. I don’t think it is realistic for Threadless to give away T’s as Yahoo! gives away (advertisement sponsored) free email. None of the t-shirts have Threadless advertising on them.**** People often ask me where I get my T’s from because of this. Threadless instead have the Street Team where you can get US$1.50 credit for submitting a photo of yourself wearing a Threadless t-shirt and US$3 credit for referring a friend to buy a t. These credits soon add up to a free t-shirt. PASS

So that’s 8 Passes, and 1 Fail.

The single Fail is a significant point though. Threadless isn’t about abundance, but the Long Tail definitely is.

One way Threadless could adjust to meet this rule would be to have zero inventory and print any submitted design, on demand, on your choice of fabric. I very much doubt that Threadless would be what it is today if it did it this way.

Threadless VS

So I’m not any closer to answering my question of whether Threadless is Long Tail or not. But maybe it doesn’t matter. I ♥ the t’s, I ♥ the site and I ♥ the community. Maybe that is all that matters.

I heart Threadless

Further Information

* Some designs don’t make it through to scoring, mostly because they violate copyright, format rules etc.
** Not necessarily the highest scored
*** I love this quote, but maybe things have changed as now Threadless has ‘vendors’ and it’s now opening its own retail store next month.

“We turned down Urban Outfitters, because if we put our shirts there, then we’d just be one more cool shirt on a rack of other cool shirts. There would be no story and no community. Then our work becomes just cloth and ink, and that’s not why we did it.” – the guys from skinnyCorp – SXSW 2006

**** Except this one, but that doesn’t really count.

the paradox of choice

I recently borrowed and read ‘The Paradox of Choice’ by Barry Schwartz. In some ways I was anxious in reading about ‘choice’ in a modern world and its associated problems. The author was justified, to a certain extent, by providing ways to eliminate these problems to oneself. As a result of reading this book I am intent to embrace and appreciate ‘satisficing’. This is about not being a ‘maximiser’ and accepting choices that are ‘good enough’ as opposed to the ‘absolute best’.

The one statement in the book that stood out to me was actually about hapiness:

“What seems to be the most important factor in providing happiness is close social relations. People who are married, who have good friends, and who are close to their families are happier than those who are not.”…”Being connected to others seems to be much more important to subjective well-being than being rich.” (p.107)

Paradox of Choice Cover