My First Screen iPhone Apps as of November 2012

Jason iPhone 5 Home Screen 2012

I recently got an iPhone 5 and have gone on a new tear in exploring apps, downloading new ones and re-evaluating their priorities.

I’m always curious to see what constitutes other people’s first screen apps – this is where many mobile entrepreneurs dream of living – so I thought it might be worth examining mine.

I’ll give a run down of my home screen apps as of November 26, 2012.

Notable & Unique

These are the interesting apps that give you a sense of my personality – they’re tools that make my life work more efficiently and enjoyably.

  • Pennies – a really barebones budget tool. I tell it my monthly spending goal, and it gives me a simulated “gas tank” of money. As I record purchases, the needle drops, showing me exactly how much I have left for the month.
  • Runkeeper – I’ve talked before about how much I like Runkeeper, the iPhone/web app I use to track my running, and it definitely makes the first screen
  • Evernote – if you don’t already have a note system, I recommend Evernote. Syncs notes from desktop, web and mobile. I use it to draft blog posts, record new ideas and manage a lot of the info for my startup
  • Songza – my new favorite music app. I pay for Spotify Premium to hear the songs I know about but Songza is free and gives me playlists of music I haven’t heard of (including great electronic dance and instrumental music)
  • Pocket – a new favorite, great for waiting in line, sitting on the bus or when you’re bored and without signal
  • Instacast – while walking to work, I listen to my podcasts: BacktoWork, The WSJ Morning News, Systematic, Planet Money and Here’s The Thing
  • Quora – the social q&a site always has new fascinating answers to thought-provoking questions. A place to learn and sometimes get taken down a rabbit hole
  • Chrome - my cofounder convinced me to install Chrome as my default browser – unlimited tabs, address bar knows your favorites if you sync with desktop chrome, and tabs open in the background

Common

You probably have some of these on your home screen too – which just shows how ubiquitous some services are to our lives.

  • Facebook – for staying in touch with friends, though I really only check it when I have notifications
  • Twitter – for staying in touch with the world – specifically my world of technology, entrepreneurship and SF-flavored pop culture
  • Hacker News – interesting articles and discussions specifically geared towards entrepreneurs
  • Gmail/Mail – I like Mail because it’s faster for checking messages and composing. I use Gmail when I’m trying to search for a specific email or email someone who’s contact info isn’t on my phone, but in Gmail
  • Dropbox – I have most of my working files stored in Dropbox so it’s nice to be able to access them instantly via my phone
  • Google Authenticator – you use two-step authentication for Gmail and Facebook right? No? This is one of those security measure that is really worth taking.

Navigation

When you’re on the go, one of the most valuable things your phone can help you with is getting where you need to go. These apps help me arrive at the right place and on time.

  • Apple Maps – despite the criticism, I think the standard iOS 6 Maps app is doing well enough. The worst thing is it’s lack of transit directions
  • Routesy Free – super handy for the real-time MUNI and BART schedules when I already know which bus/BART train I want to take
  • Google Maps (web bookmark) – when I need transit directions to get somewhere new
  • CityMaps2Go – offline maps, useful when traveling abroad or navigating SF without signal
  • QuickMaps – drag to get Google Maps directions from where you are to key locations (home, work, etc)
  • Caltrain – necessary when planning trips down to Palo Alto from SF

Standard Issue

Sometimes you don’t need a custom app when the standard-issue app does just fine.

  • Settings – turning on Airplane Mode, fiddling with Wi-Fi & Brightness
  • App Store – finding apps I read about online, seeing what’s new/featured, updating apps
  • Calendar – checking what day of the week some future event lands on; most of my event input goes in iCal on my MacBookPro
  • Clock – setting my morning alarm and countdowns for or a work session or laundry reminder
  • Camera – loving the Panorama feature of the built-in app
  • Photos – mostly used to email a photo or screenshot I just took
  • Phone/Text – they don’t call it an iPhone for nothing

What I noticed: my most accessible apps are either communication services (email/phone/text), useful tools (evernote/camera/navigation), or content (instacast/pocket/HN). Facebook and Twitter are like a combination of all three.

What about you? What are your favorite homescreen apps? Let me know in the comments!

What Helps You Grow Stronger?

Photo credit: CrossFit Huntsville

I stumbled across a question on Quora that I found pretty interesting:

What helps you grow stronger? Physically, Emotionally, Mentally or even Spiritually: What makes you a stronger being?

I felt that while many of the answers were examples of things that build strength, (“Suffering”, “Silence”, “My mother”,) I wanted to contribute a more comprehensive way to think about building strength. Here’s my answer:

Growing Stronger

I would define strength as the ability to exert or resist force.

This ability has three components – maximum load, endurance and recovery. The more you can handle (or dish out), the longer you can handle it and the faster you recover is what makes you strong in any dimension.

Since the original definition of strong comes from physical strength, I think it makes a lot of sense to start by looking at how physical strength works and then drawing parallels to other versions of it, including emotional, mental or professional strength.

Defining Physical Strength

What contributes to a person’s strength?

Of course your muscle are a primary factor – specifically the cross-sectional area of the muscles recruited. [1] The more fibers you activate, the more force you can produce. It makes sense that the bigger your muscles are, the more cross sectional area you have to recruit from.

But there’s also a neurological component – understanding how to best activate your muscles to fire both a higher percentage of your total fibers, and also the intensity of your recruitment affects the total force you can exert.

This is most surprisingly shown via mental training – where people who imagine doing ankle exercises for several weeks can produce more force in a before and after trial that was significantly higher than people who did no training, and close to people who did actual physical training. [2]

Finally you have to consider the wider environment in which the act of strength takes place. If you are well rested, hydrated and have done a solid active warmup, you are going to be a lot stronger than if you just woke up from a late night of drinking and partying.

How Strength Is Built

So how do you actually strengthen muscles?

You progressively overload muscles with increasingly more challenging exercises in volume, intensity, frequency or time, then allow the body to rest and recover, while making sure to feed it enough protein and other nutrients. [3]

Biologically, progressive overload causes tiny tears in your muscle fibers, which your body reacts to by healing with new tissue growth along with neurological reinforcement of recruiting those fibers. You don’t get strong by lifting the same weight over and over again. You have to do more, push yourself harder and constantly struggle and strain to continue seeing new strength gains.

Of course, if you try to squat 2x your body weight with no strength training of any kind, you may hurt yourself. That’s going to set you back and reduce your strength. You want to overload without injury. The key is understanding your limits and pushing hard without going too hard.

Finally, you have to do a range of exercises to strengthen different muscle groups and different types of motion. A gymnast has more explosive power but less endurance compared to a marathoner; a shot-putter will have stronger upper bodies while speed skaters will have stronger lower bodies, etc. They are all strong in different ways.

Understanding Other Dimensions of Strength

Now that we understand how strength works in the physical dimension, we can draw parallels to understand how we get stronger in other dimensions:

Mental

  • Challenge yourself with progressively more difficult exercises.
  • Force yourself to solve problems that are outside your comfort zone. Once you’ve mastered algebra, move to trigonometry and then calculus.
  • Allow yourself adequate time to rest – people who nap after lessons learn faster than those who stay awake. [4]
  • Remember that like the different types of physical strength (upper body, lower body, explosive, endurance) there are also multiple types of mental strength (verbal, quantitative, strategic, interpersonal, etc)

Emotional

  • It seems weird to force emotional challenges upon yourself, but I do think the way you react to emotional struggles that you encounter would determine whether you grow stronger from them.
  • Avoiding, ignoring or reactively dealing with emotional problems would likely result in little to no growth in strength.
  • Leaning into difficulties, embracing the struggle and finding ways to handle the situation maturely and with grace and dignity is more likely to result in greater emotional strength.

Spiritual

  • I’m personally not very spiritual, but I would imagine the analogy holds.
  • Feed yourself with the learnings from scripture, self-reflection and spiritual teachers.
  • Embrace the challenges you face along your spiritual journey
  • Constantly seek to deepen your spiritual practices of prayer, meditation, right thinking and loving kindness.

The Professional Dimension

Finally, I want to point out a dimension that wasn’t mentioned in the question – the professional dimension.

The more skill, experience and network you have, the stronger you’ll be professionally. You’ll be able to weather shocks like losing your job, and also use your strength to get projects you want, earn promotions, etc.

The progressive overload works here too: I remember listening to a talk by Drew Houston where he explained that when he started Dropbox, he was totally unprepared to run a billon dollar business. But he didn’t have to. First he just had to build a prototype, find a cofounder, get distribution, etc.

As he mastered each challenge he faced, he got better – and was faced with a bigger challenge to overcome. 5 grueling years later, he’s grown into incredibly strong business leader.

Footnotes

[1] “Peak force production is related to the physiological cross sectional area (PCSA), which estimates the sum of the cross sectional area of all the fibers.” Muscle Physiology – Introduction to Muscle
[2] “Differences in raw torque production after training in the 2 practice groups resulted in significant percentages of improvement for the physical practice group (25.28%) and the mental practice group (17.13%), but not for the control group (−1.77%).” Can Mental Practice Increase Ankle Dorsiflexor Torque?
[3] “In order to achieve more strength as opposed to maintaining the current strength capacity, the muscles (see skeletal muscles) need to be overloaded which stimulates the natural, adaptive processes of the body which develops to cope with the new demands placed on it.” Progressive overload
[4] “Those who remained awake throughout the day became worse at learning. In contrast, those who napped did markedly better and actually improved in their capacity to learn.” http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100221110338.htm

Take Advantage

Michael Phelps Olympics 2008

Michael Phelps recognized and took his advantages. Shouldn’t you?

At Startup School 2012, Jessica Livingston, a partner at Y Combinator, gave a talk on the challenges that founders face. It’s worth reading for anyone interested in or knows someone interested in early stage startups – you can find the full text here.

In the discussion of the talk on Hacker News, there was a rather spiteful comment that suggested Jessica’s success with her book Founders at Work, which helped establish her expertise in startups, was due in large part to her personal relationship to Paul Graham (then a successful entrepreneur featured in the book who eventually became her husband)

The comment was false, rude and was down voted to oblivion as it should have been, but there’s a dangerous suggestion contained in it that I want to address.

The World is Not Fair

Most people believe in the “just world” hypothesis, meaning that people get what they deserve and smart, hardworking and capable people are rewarded for their efforts. In the United States, and especially in technology, this is often the case. While this is a good belief to hold, it can also lead to sniping and cries of “not fair” when people see others move ahead of them for reasons that might feel “non meritocratic”.

The fact is that resources and talent are NOT equally distributed. People born into middle class families in the United States have a incredible social, educational and financial advantage over people born into impoverished families in Sub-Saharan Africa and have way more upwards mobility to boot.

Where you are born and what family you are born to are two factors that have nothing to do with merit, and everything to do with luck. And yet it makes such a big difference. Remember that the next time you complain about someone’s “unfair” advantage.

So what should you do instead of complaining?

Develop and Leverage Your Advantages

No matter who you are, you posses certain qualities and have access to certain resources that make you better positioned to succeed in certain fields than other people. Maybe you have a knack for a good turn of phrase. Maybe your father is well connected in an industry you’re interested in. Maybe you find that people you just met tend to trust you. Maybe you are willing to concentrate for hours to solve complex problems.

These strengths are your competitive advantage. Should you ignore them in the name of “fairness” and only pursue activities where you are more evenly matched against other people? It’d be foolhardy to ignore these advantages.

Instead, you should leverage the hell out of them.

Successful People Win Because They Leverage Their Advantages

  • Michael Phelps’s lanky body and double jointed ankles made him a record-breaking gold medal winning Olympic swimmer. But trust me, that body would have made him terrible gymnast.
  • JK Rowling’s introverted nature and whimsical creativity would have made her a poor candidate for Secretary of State. Similarly, Hillary Clinton probably would have had far less impact on society as a children’s author.
  • Warren Buffett is one of the wealthiest people on the planet and yet he admits he’s part of the “lucky sperm club” and that his analytical abilities would be worth nothing if he was dropped in the middle of Africa.

Know Thyself

This is why I think self-knowledge is so important. Understanding and leveraging your strengths/weaknesses and the resources you have at your disposal allows you to maximize your own effectiveness and impact.

Note: leveraging your advantages does not mean being unethical. I am by no means advocating lying, stealing and cheating – playing by the rules is the only way to go. But I’d bet good money that you’re not fully leveraging the advantages you do have at your disposal.

Paul Graham boils being a good founder down to two words: relentlessly resourceful. There is no doubt that people who are relentlessly resourceful make the most out of every advantage they have.

So don’t waste any time complaining about other people’s accomplishments, and focus on creating your own.

Book Notes: Smart Choices – a Practical Guide to Making Better Life Decisions

Smart Choices a practical guide to making better life decisions cover

Note: this is an extensive set of book notes, clocking in at 1800 words. It’s a more weighty and dense post but (I think) worth the ~9 minutes to read it.

I recently read and finished taking notes on a book called: Smart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better Life Decisions (4.5 stars, 63 reviews on Amazon, affiliate link)

Making good decisions and executing well on those decisions are basically the only things that matter in life. I recently shared my book notes on Good Strategy / Bad Strategy, which explains how organizations can develop better strategies. This book is similar but focuses on how individuals can make better decisions, especially for the important aspects of their personal life. The approach is simple and the examples are relatable: buying a house, changing careers, planning an event, etc

Starting Out

The Acronym to Remember

The authors coined this somewhat helpful acronym: PrOACT, which stands for Problem, Objectives, Alternatives, Consequences, Tradeoffs.

The Biggest Mistake

The most common (and most easily avoided) mistake people make when deciding things is that they just don’t think about it. They just go with the gut. For smaller decisions, this isn’t always a big deal, but for bigger decisions, just taking a few minutes or a few hours to carefully think through a decision can make a big difference, especially given how bad our brains sometimes are at making decisions.

Problem Definition 

It’s useful to start off by asking yourself what problem you are trying to solve exactly. Their example is of a family that’s out growing their current home. One problem definition might be “What new house should we move to?” but perhaps a better one is “How can we find a home that fits our family’s needs?” which includes the possibility of renovating the current home.

Thinking about problem definitions is a fuzzy thing but a few other tips include:

  • ask what trigger caused you to consider the problem in the first place
  • question the constraints contained in your problem statement
  • recognize what other decisions hinge on this one
  • develop a workable scope for your problem definition

Digging Deeper

Objectives

Objectives are what really matter to you in your decision. Before you look at your options, you should first think about what success looks like. What would constitute a best case scenario for your decision? For example, if you’re choosing a new office, your list of objectives might be minimal commute time, low cost, lots of space and fully staffed administrative services.

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