This New DNA Test Will Eat 23andme’s Lunch


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Yes, the website totally reeks of trying to sell work-out products. Look below the surface. This new “MuscleGenes” test shows the future of genetic testing — a narrow focus on solving a problem.  See how the underlying business of DNA sequencing is changing? I’m not even an athlete and this sounds way more valuable to me than the nebulous “DNA test” from 23andme.


“LEGO Analogy Sucks”

hmm. According to a report by the Wilson Center on “Communicating Synthetic Biology”, the term “Legos” had a negative effect when applied to synthetic biology.

I use this analogy all the time. Seems to work well, but surprised their study says different. Maybe participants simply checked negative because they were irritated because the term is actually LEGO? I would know but I only skimmed the rest of the study.

Read the full study here

Figure 7: Focus group participants illustrate which words they find negative (red), positive (blue) or neutral (light blue and pink) when applied to synthetic biology


Space Mirror


As I hiked along today, I thought of a space mirror. I was thinking, wouldn’t it be cool to be able to see dinosaurs as they roamed the Earth?

Well, the light is out there, somewhere in our universe! As in, the light that once reflected off of dinosaurs as they trudged the planet is still traveling through space at the speed of light. If we could somehow look at that light, we would glimpse back in time. Today, if you were a million light years away, looking at Earth, you would see what was going a million years ago. Imagine discovering a mirror in space. It reflects light back at Earth. When you look at it, you see back in time! You could setup a museum around this. Come in and see what the dinosaurs are up to! And how different life on Earth looks. Come back tomorrow and see what happens. Reality TV: “Earth 65,000,000 BC”. The trick would be finding an already existing space mirror. Perhaps if light traveled so close to something really gravitational, like a nest of quasars or a set of black holes, it could be bent 360 degrees, all the way back to Earth.

What would you look at if you had a space mirror?


Twilio Customer Support – What was the cake I ate at your office last night?

Here’s a fun one. Last night at 9:23 PM I wrote Twilio customer support the following:

Mystery Solved! I just checked my email at 10 am this morning. Here’s the answer, plus  a PHOTO of the original cake. (When I saw it, there was just a small slice left with the Salesforce logo on it.)






Huge props to Twilio Support!

My two cents, on top of being totally overjoyed. I think there’s more too this than “wow, Twilio has great customer service! How cool”. If I never wrote Twilio this weird email about cake, they never would have had the opportunity to try to do something amazing. Something about my visit to Twilio made me feel like “This is a crazy question to ask. But I think it’ll work out”.

How do you encourage people to give you the opportunity to do amazing things?

This is tricky. If every question to Twilio support was about normal, predicable, rational software support questions, like how to reset passwords and how to get software working, it would be hard to amaze customers. Great, fast response time to resetting my password. Yawn. How could a company like Twilio set themselves up for amazing interactions with others? (post comments with ideas!)

Here’s 2 quick ideas

1. Host a Meetup in your office: Twilio did. It was on Python and Music. They had everyone sign in, and we got to use their main meeting hall to learn about how to digitally analyze music using Python. There were free bottles of wine and beer. That’s cool, and you’re bringing in so many people who never otherwise would have visited your office. For the record, I have no idea what it is that Twilio does.

2. Make support easy to find: Their support line was easy to find, and I didn’t need an “account” to send a message. If I had needed an account, I would have abandoned my cake-search. To get there, I clicked “Help” on their homepage, and then “Talk to support” (great, understandable name for a support link!). Some web services I use have fast, excellent service, but every time I have a hard time finding it on their site.

Thanks, Twilio!

(By the way, I think a great way to encourage people to drink wine at an event is to open all the bottles. When I’m at events and I see a corked bottle of wine I think 1. e-gad, that’s going to take work to open 2. I’m only going to have a glass, maybe I’ll skip it so they can save the unopened bottle for their next event. Twilio had several bottles of open wine :)


On Always Being Ready

Screen Shot 2014-09-23 at 8.50.33 AMLife on the John Muir Trail is simple. I am always ready. Every tool I have is strapped to my back. Yes, better tools exist — a hundred miles walk away, as good to me as if they were buried under Whitney mountain. Therefore, right here, I am as ready as possible. Like a SWAT team.
I am also dressed my best. Every day. I am dressed my best for today in the same way that Daniel Craig is dressed his best to receive a Emmy or Pulitzer or whatever it is that actors win. I am dressed my best because I have selected the best option for the event. That is, I have only one set of clothes. Sure, I am covered in dust, and my shirt infused with it, but a full wash takes a day for everything to dry in the sun*. So for today, I am dressed my best.
I’m ready. This is what having a minimal set of equipment is about. If you ask me “are you ready to go?”, I am. I’m as ready as I’m going to be.
There’s something powerful there.
I’m ready. And I’m dressed my best.
*(Going naked was the only other option. And I suddenly just realized, maybe naked hiking is simply continuing to pull on this thread. Maybe “dressing my best” is wearing nothing at all)
** (By this same idea, I am also dressed my worst.)

Posted in: JMT |

I saw a surgery on Sutter Street

The patient was the street. Bricks. And mortar. And wierd concrete panels. I walked down Sutter street and it was all opened up. A lone worker with a jackhammer was grinding away, like a dental assistant carving away at suburban plaque.

I have high expectations for infrastructure, and I’m usually startled to see the reality. If I tore back the black peel of the street, in my mind I would have expected smooth concrete, fiber optics, and even a grey stainless steel skeleton. Instead, here were stacks of bricks, with asphalt on top. It looked like a hot wheels track I built as a kid. You know where you put the track up on a cardboard box, and draped the other end over a shoe to even it out.

I am always interested to see what’s underneath. Ever taken a close look at a cell phone tower? Or how electricity gets into your apartment building? The wiring looks like Hamburger meat being pushed out of a grinder more than a single, beautiful cable.


Marketing – Food Delivery

3 near-identical ads. 2 un-interesting, 1 surprisingly compelling. Just change a bit of wording and formatting. Read on to find out what makes these ads curiously different.

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IMG_8594.JPG is a food delivery “startup”. They’ve plastered Montgomery Station with about 20 advertisements, to encourage people to try their service.

Ad #1 – Delivery by Caviar

“Love Great Food?”

Yes but who doesn’t? This is like online dating profiles where your “match” likes “hanging out, eating great food, and traveling!”. Next. Oh and the primary headline is “Delivered by Caviar”, and the domain is the biggest thing on the poster. Blowing up the name of the business is a telltale that this ad is a dud.

Ad #2 – Ike’s Place

Name of a Restaurant! The Name of a Restaurant!

The Name of a Restaurant isn’t a headline. It says nothing. It’s like going into a crowd and saying “John!” loudly over and over again. No one cares. (Maybe if the Restaurant was well known, like “McDonalds”, this would work?). Ike’s Place Delivered would have been better.

Ad #3 – Ike’s Delivered

I liked this ad the most. It made me realize what TryCaviar was really about.

I had a vegan meatball sandwich from Ike’s 6 months ago. Memorable and amazing. They only make delicious sandwiches. The issue with Ike’s is the hour long wait. You stand in line for an hour to get one of their sandwiches. It’s *that* good. I’m excited about going again and “Ike’s Delivered” caught my eye. – “I can sit at home and watch Buffy Vampire Slayer, and get Ike’s put into my mouth. WIN.”

Size matters?

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I found the shortest ad to be the most effective. It’s not that more words is bad. It’s that with the bigger format ads, the designer added in a bunch of weak copy. With the ad on the pole, they had to trim it down to the bare minimum, and in the process they accidentally (?) came up with a great ad. I would take that ad, identify 10 other restaurants that meet the same criteria as Ikes, and put those variants on the walls of Montgomery station.

Other restaurants – Little Star

I love Little Star Pizza. There’s a set of Caviar ads in Montgomery Station featuring Little Star Pizza (swap out “Ikes” for “Little Star”, you get the point). But getting Little Star delivered is less appealing to me. Little Star is a destination, I can hang out there and have a party, and even though the pizza takes awhile, it’s a fun event. I can get delivery by calling up the restaurant, too. Ike’s really resonated with this idea of food delivery, but Little Star didn’t.

Other restaurants – Cha Cha Cha

I’d never heard of the 6 or so other restaurants before. These ads carry no value to me. I don’t care they exist, and don’t need them delivered.


As an advertiser, these ads don’t enable you to figure out which posters were effective! Simply putting a 3 digit code after the URL would be great. I guess you could look at inbound traffic where the visitor typed in the URL, but that’s tough. I checked out Caviar’s website, and Ike’s was the 3rd restaurant I clicked, even though that was the ad that got me interested. If they’re going to pursue this line of advertising, they should use more tracking to figure out what restaurants resonate with their “iconic food” campaign.

#3 is Best

I liked ad #3 a lot more than #1 and #2, and much more than any of the other restaurants featured in the campaign. I thought it was interesting that of all 20 posters in the campaign, only 1 spoke to to me. But is #3 a good ad? I’d say it works great for Ike’s restaurant. Are there other restaurants with the same criteria where sounds appealing?

Ike’s = insanely delicious food + long wait times + lame location + no delivery + I have heard of it

Maybe Ike’s is the only place that fits this campaign well. (Papalote’s Burritos and Tartine may good candidates for me.) But this is a pretty narrow criteria to say “X Delivered” and have it be meaningful. Overall, the message of this advertising campaign might be too narrow to bet the whole business on. But for me & Ikes, it works great. I’ll be ordering Ike’s lunch this week and watching Buffy, and in true food delivery fashion, I won’t be wearing pants.