My friend Erik recently launched a very nice site that makes it easy to find airport parking. They have organized info on parking lots for all major airports, and even have affiliate deals that save you money on parking if you reserve through them. How very useful!
He created the site using Drupal, which is pretty interesting because I think the site looks great. Anyway, the next time I’m looking for sfo parking I’ll be sure to use this new service.
Occassionally I run into programming brick-walls – problems I just can’t seem to solve. My usual approach is to knuckle down and just grind away at the problem until I figure it out. Programmers like challenges, and damned if we’re gonna quit in the face of something not working!
But for a long time I’ve also known that sometimes the best solution is just to step away from your desk, go home, and try again in the morning. I almost invariably find that I can come back in the morning and fix the problem in a matter of minutes, even if I spent hours on it yesterday.
Well recently I read a fantastic article in the New Yorker on the mechanics how insight works in the brain. Essentially the author argues that insights come from a type of processing in the brain that isn’t available to our conciousness. He gives a bunch of examples of how people arrive at insights into problems that seem to arrive out of nowhere. That is, they don’t come up with the answer through concious deliberation.
When I read this article I immediately thought of these tough problems I sometimes run into when programming. This explanation for insight possibly gives a clue as to why coming back to the problem later can be the best approach to solving a problem. It makes some intuitive sense. Basically our brains are collecting and organizing tons of information relevant to the problem we’re working on. However, our conciousness only has direct access to a small slice of this information. But when we go home and sleep on the problem, then our brain has time to organize all this information and create some links and pathways. Then when we come back in the morning we’re primed to achieve the insight to solve the problem.
The interesting question is, how long should we hammer away directly at solving the problem? You can’t just take off the afternoon whenever you hit some stumbling block. But it does I think give us a good excuse for dropping a vexing problem and saying “I’ll attack this again tomorrow after my brain has worked on the problem overnight!”
I’ve recently launched a little toy review site with good recommendations for toys for kids, especially younger sons (under 15). Check it out if you need to find a good toy.
I’m gonna buck the blogosphere trend of piling on to Jerry Yang for ditching the Microsoft deal. I think Yang deserves some credit for having the cojones to spurn Ballmer and Co. Sure it makes investors angry that they aren’t getting a quick 20% stock bump. And no doubt lots of those Yahoo managers complaining to the reporters behind then scenes are ticked because the options they had hoped to cash in on their way out the door aren’t worth an extra 10 bucks.
But in truth, everybody knew that a Microsoft takeover of Yahoo would be a complete disaster. First of all, most of these mega mergers fail miserably (does anyone use AOL anymore?). Second, whatever failings Yahoo has in understanding how to build their business on the internet, Microsoft is even worse. They really don’t get it. Investors love the notion of building ever-bigger corporate behemoths as a way to dominate a market. But everybody in the valley understands that this doesn’t work in technology. Google hasn’t come to dominate by buying up its competitors, it’s done so by building good products and rewarding good execution.
Jerry Yang is an engineer, not an MBA-type. I think he understands that selling to Microsoft would effectively kill Yahoo as a long-term player. So hats off to him, for being willing to buck Wallstreet, buck the board, buck the VP’s and suffer the lawsuits, in order to keep Yahoo alive. And I think everyone in Silicon Valley should be celebrating this guy for believing in more than short-term stock boosts to the stock price.