Archive | books

How to Outsource

I shipped a short book on kindle and paperback about outsourcing – how to find people, work with them, divide things up, communicate and so on. This is based on spending years with UpWork, oDesk, elance and other tools. Quite a few people asked me to summarize the best way to use these tools and so I wrote it all up. From the amazon page:

People like you would like to outsource work to those around the globe who can do it faster, better or cheaper than you can.

This book gets you started quickly and teaches you how to think about the work, how to find the right people and how to hire them using tools like UpWork, 99Designs, CrowdSpring and Mechanical Turk.

Along the way you’ll learn best practices and tips so you don’t waste time and money outsourcing the wrong things to the wrong people.

Open Encyclopedias


Airline encyclopedia from yesteryear

iOS Simulator Screen Shot Sep 2, 2015, 3.36.41 PM

Airliner article on an iPhone 6

If you go and play with Microsoft Encarta from 20 years ago you’ll discover a ton of fun functionality that doesn’t exist in it’s successor Wikipedia. Games, quizzes, tours and more.

Today’s encyclopedia experience is pretty poor compared to the books I’d immerse myself in as a kid. I used to love trawling through books full of detailed content and serendipity.

The ’90s CD-ROM encyclopedias had tons of features but lacked in content. Today that is reversed. Thanks to wikipedia there is tons of content but very few features by comparison.

So I’ve built something to try and see what a topic-specific encyclopedia would look like today on a modern interface. To try and take what Encarta looked like in terms of features and marry it with open content and design elements from those paper encyclopedias. The result can be downloaded for iPad & iPhone today (Android and Windows coming if iOS works out).

Why airliners? I used to love reading through books full of them. But I could just as well go build an encyclopedia of cats, trains or planets. The point is that it is not the whole of wikipedia. It’s curated and specific to some topic.


Boeing 747 article on an iPad

The encyclopedia includes badges which are granted upon reading certain sets of articles. For example, if you read about Concorde and the TU-144 (the two supersonic commercial airliners) then you get the supersonic badge, and so on.

The content works better the larger the screen (e.g. an iPad) but goes all the way down to an iPhone 4S. You’ll notice there are things beyond wikipedia – for example the title images are also open content and add some color to the page.

The encyclopedia is entirely offline so you can use it for a car trip or plane ride. It’s hard to convey the depth – but there are hundreds of articles in there which means hours of reading and exploring. A portion of the profits of course will go to wikipedia.

Basically, the whole thing is designed for what I would want if I was 7 or 14 again and had plenty of free time and an iPad instead of a dead tree to page through. Maybe nobody will be interested, I don’t know. If you’d like to see something different (a feature, a different encyclopedia) then click here.



The Book of Reddit

The Book of OSM is going really well. So much so that I’m thinking about what’s next.

I love reddit. I’m thinking that a book of interviews with the people who make reddit live would be super interesting and fun. I’m imagining 25-35 interviews across a range of subreddits and interests. Why those subreddits exist, what makes them tick, who the people are and so on.

You can sign up at to keep in the loop.

I’m building a book cover right now over on crowdspring. You can vote on the book covers. Have a look and let me know what you think about the idea and the best cover design.

The Book of OpenStreetMap Kickstarter


I’ve launched a kickstarter for The Book of OSM. From the kickstarter:

I’ve been noodling a long time about how to structure and write a book about OSM. I never wanted to write a book about how to use the project, there are many now available of those in any case. I’m more interested in the stories and the people. How the project got going, the twists and turns, the ‘ah-ha’ moments and so on.

The blocker for me was figuring out how to give a voice to the community. I may have started the project but without thousands of other people it wouldn’t be where it is today. A friend showed me a book of interviews with designers and that solved the problem. So to give that voice, why not interview a number of key people?

What will be in the book

The book will be split roughly as 25% history (which may be in interview form) and 75% interviews with key people through the projects history, with those numbers subject to some change.

  • Your name, as a type of producer (see rewards)
  • The story of the project, from the early days to today
  • Discussion of why some technical decisions were made (usually for a non-technical reason)
  • What things that worked, what things that didn’t
  • Interviews with 15-25 key project members, including a favorite map for each of them and where possible, a picture of them

What won’t be in the book

Anything that will easily obsolete or get out of date won’t be in the book. That means:

  • How to map things and use the software today
  • How to use the website today
  • Deep technical, licensing or tagging discussions (as much fun as those things are)

Sadly it also isn’t physically possible to list every single project contributor.

What might be in the book

A number of companies have been involved in OSM over the years, and their contributions have been both interesting and extremely interesting. I need feedback to figure out how to tell those stories in an unbiased and open way, which just might not be possible.

Is Sugar Toxic?

You know how public health has centered around low-fat diets for the last thirty years? It turns out there’s no actual evidence to suggest that’s a good thing. The move to carbohydrates has actually made the problem (heart disease et. al.) worse.

Apparently, fructose (part of sucrose) is metabolized similarly to alcohol, and causes all kinds of problems for you. Enough problems that you shouldn’t touch it, but it’s in everything. A neat way to think about a can of coke is that it’s the same as a can of beer, just without the buzz. It’s that damaging.

There’s a great NYT article over here by Gary Taubes, who you can listen to in podcast form on EconTalk over here. Gary wrote Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It.

For the full, terrifying, experience, here’s a video for you. It’s 90 minutes long but the whole thing is worth your time.

Instant: The Story of Polaroid

Cover of Instant

Cover of Instant

It’s appropriate that a lot of love went in to this book since it’s about a suite of products that were so dearly loved by a few million people. I’ve been looking for a good history of Polaroid and of Land, it’s (co-)founder for some time. There is a biography I couldn’t get in to but Instant knocks the ball out of the park.

Beautiful pictures complement the text throughout the book

Beautiful pictures complement the text throughout the book

It’s a quick read and it’s pretty high level but it gives some idea of the depth of the product. It’s probably the best book I’ve read in 2012.

Product design highlights from 30-40 years ago

Product design highlights from 30-40 years ago

The product design captured within the pages is quite something; specifically look at the top-right picture in the above pages. It could easily be the packaging for an Apple product, only a few decades early. Indeed throughout the book parallels between Apple and Polaroid are frequent enough that you trip over one every other page. Live music at showcase events. The slow product reveal. The focus on simplicity. The manic founder working long hours.

There is some high-level detail of the photographic systems and processes themselves. Enough for you to smack your forehead at the thought of the insane amount of engineering that went in to instant photography. I had no idea, for example, that the milky-white color of Polaroids when they were spat out of a camera is actually there to protect the development process from ambient light. It’s an entirely separate chemical process from the picture development itself designed to last long enough for the photo to develop in darkness.

In the end all this analog technology was superseded but that was only a piece of the puzzle of Polaroids fall. Large other chunks include ejecting the founder and an Apple-esque set of disasters managed by the bureaucrats that followed. Polaroid lives on over at the impossible project and elsewhere as the book concludes.

So, well worth a read.

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