Why I Use Instapaper (and not Evernote) For Reading Stuff Later

Reading Time

I’m not shy about my drooling love for Instapaper. If you’ve not heard of it, the one-sentence description: it lets you easily save web pages to read later, online or offline, and gets rid of all of the cruft (ads, navigation, etc.) and just shows you the text. It’s awesome.

“But”, you may have asked yourself, “why don’t you use Evernote for this function? It seems like such a logical choice given your loud affection for and dedication to Evernote! Guh!”

Unsurprisingly, I’m glad you asked.

Thing is, I get this question somewhat regularly via email from nice people who read this stuff I write, so I thought I’d spell it out for y’all. Y’all? Boom.

Essentially, it comes down to five big reasons why I use Instapaper for reading Internet stuff on [our favorite Internet devices]:

  1. Position — I’m not a super heady guy, but I do occasionally like to read really long articles published by various magazines like The New Yorker, The Economist and Vanity Fair. Sometimes I get partway through one such article and I won’t have the time to finish reading it in one sitting. With Instapaper, I can stop reading an article somewhere in the middle and the app will sync the position of where I stopped reading back to Le Cloud. So, the next time I pick up my iPhone or iPad and open a partly-read article, I’m jumped right back to where I left off. Spiffy.
  2. Singularity of Focus — Evernote serves myriad functions for me in terms of storing information: bank statements, my kids drawings, meeting notes, etc. Instapaper serves exactly one function and it’s wicked fast in doing so. When I want something to read something, I can fire up Instapaper and immediately have a big list of options. I could do the same with Evernote, but it would take more time since the data isn’t automatically synced and just finding it (even using a saved search) wouldn’t be as fast.
  3. Sharing and Archiving — I don’t often do it, but I can easily share articles I read in Instapaper with a couple of taps. Evernote offers some sharing capabilities, but not as many as Instapaper. As far as archiving, it’s kinda funny: all of the articles that I “like” (or “tap the little heart while reading”) are automatically saved to my Evernote account. With Instapaper, I just tap the little trash icon (which should probably be something less like “trash”, but that’s a niggle) and I can send it to the archive with one more tap. In Evernote, I’d almost certainly have to remove a tag (like “to read” or “read later”) to achieve the same effect of getting it off of my pending list.
  4. Easy Addition — If I want to save a page into Instapaper, it takes exactly one click of the “Read Later” bookmarklet in my browser (either on my Mac or iOS). Evernote would require more interaction: fire up the web clipper, select a notebook, add tags, click Save, etc. Instapaper also removes all of the cruft from around the article I want to read (ads, navigation, comments) so all I get is the text. Evernote can do the same via Evernote Clearly, but it’s still several more clicks/taps to get the job done. And let’s not forget the metric buttload of iOS apps that allow me to save stuff to Instapaper quickly and easily (like Tweetbot and many other iOS Twitter clients). These two, low-friction methods of adding stuff to Instapaper make it the easier choice for me.
  5. Offline Reading — On iOS (and other mobile operating systems), Evernote doesn’t automatically download all of your notes because it’s a good citizen that doesn’t want to chew up all of the storage space on your device. This is a good thing. Instapaper, on the other hand, always downloads all of the content that’s waiting for me. This means that I can fire up Instapaper on my iPhone or iPad before hopping on an airplane and I’ll have bunches of articles to read without needing an Internet connection. And because Instapaper’s data is fairly lightweight—it’s mostly text, after all—the amount of space occupied on my devices by Instapaper data is pretty stinkin’ little.

“But sir!”, you may be saying to yourself, “how could you speak ill of your beloved Evernote!? Let us burn thee as an heretic! Guh! GUUH!”

Don’t misunderstand me, folks.

I love Evernote. Obviously. My point here is not to disparage my beloved Evernote, but rather to highlight an app that, if you ask me, has solved a real problem for me in a most excellent fashion.

Could you do accomplish the same objective with Evernote? Absolutely. And I did use it for such a purpose, once upon a time. I just found Instapaper to be a superior solution to a specific problem I had.

If you read stuff on the Internet and haven’t tried Instapaper (for the Web, as well as both iOS and Android), I’d highly recommend doing so. I’m a fan and you probably will be, too.

Photo by CrazyUncleJoe

A Fellow Internet Citizen Needs Your Help

Many years ago, I was fired from a (seriously crappy) job. As I drove home from what was my office with my proverbial box of desk crap sitting on the seat next to me, I was scared. My wife and I were young and didn’t have much money and I assumed the worst: we’d be living in our car and showering in gas station bathrooms and our whole lives would be in the (figurative) toilet.

When I got home, my wife assured me that this wouldn’t be the case; we were surrounded by people who love us and we’d have help if we ever found ourselves in a position where we couldn’t help ourselves. We’d get back on our feet and everything would be fine. We wouldn’t die.

An Internet acquaintance of mine is currently living my nightmare. Through a series of unfortunate (ok, worse than that) circumstances, he’s literally on the street. He’s getting access to the Internet sporadically, but the guy is effectively homeless.

(You can read the story here)

I know that if that ever happened to me, I’d get help. Probably from many of you.

And now, I’m asking you to help him.

Yes, I realize that you probably don’t know him. Hell, I barely know him, but I can see the desperation in his words and after seeing pictures of him with his boy, I’d feel like a huge a-hole if I didn’t do what I could to help the guy out.

A buddy of his has set up a web page where you can donate money to help this guy get back on his feet. I’ve donated and you should, too. We’re talking about a man who needs a roof over his head and only wants to get back to his son. And, as a father, I can’t imagine what it’d be like to be separated from my kids. Seriously, I’m almost losing my shit just thinking about it.

Go here right now and give whatever you can.

Make your lunch at home for the next few days, skip the afternoon latte, whatever. If you’re reading this, you have a few bucks to spare. Give it and don’t make excuses because excuses are for jerkoffs.

This isn’t a faceless charity full of bureaucrats. You give money and he gets it, plain and simple.

I’ve done it. Your turn. This is important.


And please spread the word.

Instapaper, Ars Technica and Money Dollars

Last year when Ars Technica published the behemoth review of OS X Lion by John Siracusa, I wanted to read it on my iPad without having to visit 20-something different pages on the Ars site. So, I paid $5 for the Ars Premier membership (which, among other things, lets you download the Siracusa reviews as single PDFs). I downloaded the PDF of the review and promptly canceled my subscription. They got my $5 and I got to not be annoyed by the pagination on Ars’ site.

This year, it’s a little different. I use Instapaper for most of my longer-form article consumption and, as of recently, this service is able to figure out if an article has been spread across multiple pages. If it is, each page is captured and the article is rebuilt into a single document, suitable for viewing in the Instapaper app (or on the Web site).

I can’t help but think that Ars (and sites like Ars) must be a little miffed at Instapaper (and services like Instapaper). Naturally, the reason Ars spreads the article out over so many pages is so they can get 20-something ad impressions per reader of the article. Or, as described earlier, you can pay some dough and get a PDF without ads. Instapaper (and services like it) effectively sidestep both monetization efforts by offering the equivalent of the paid option for free.

I’m not singling out Instapaper here as there are many competing services that perform similar functions (though, to be fair, Instapaper created this class of application). I guess I just find it curious and wonder if sites like Ars are doing anything to impede services like Instapaper.

How to Use a TextExpander Snippet to Quickly Generate Amazon Affiliate Links

TextExpander is a wonderful, powerful utility for OS X and iOS. I’m not nearly the snippet maestro the other Brett is, but I use it and love it all the same.

Not long ago, a young Twitter pal named Nic asked me if I knew of TextExpander snippet for generating Amazon affiliate URLs. I didn’t, so I spent a few minutes making one.

First, I’ll cover how to use it. Then, how to works. After that, we’ll get into the caveats. Cool? Ok then.

How to create the snippet

Create a new snippet in TextExpander. At the top of the big text area where the snippet value will go, change the type to “Shell script”. Then copy and paste this code (you can copy easily by clicking “view raw” at the bottom of the box containing the code):


Next, change the value of affcode to whatever your affiliate code is (or, if you’re feeling particularly generous, you could leave mine in there!).

Assign the snippet a shortcut at the bottom of the window. I use ‘;;amzaff’, but whatever you want is fine. When you’re done, the snippet definition in TextExpander should look like this:

Assuming neither you nor I crapped the bed, we should be ready to successfully use this thing.

How to use the snippet

Copy the URL of an Amazon product page to your clipboard. It doesn’t matter if it already has an affiliate code in the URL. Then, issue your shortcut where you’d normally type a URL (browser, email, whatever). If everything goes as planned, the shortcut should be replaced by a nicely formatted Amazon product page URL that contains your affiliate code.

For example, copy this URL to your clipboard:


In your browser’s address bar, delete everything and type your shortcut. It should spit out something like this:


How this thing actually works

Note: this section will cover nerdy stuff. Skip to “Caveat Expandor” if you don’t care about nerdy stuff.

This script, at a high level, does the following:

  1. Grabs whatever is currently in the system clipboard and assigns it to the variable rawurl.
  2. All of the query string parameters are removed from the URL (the ampersand and everything after it, in other words). If there are none, it works as expected.
  3. Feeds rawurl to Python’s urlparse library function. If an exception is raised, the original value of rawurl is sent to standard output (STDOUT) and appears wherever the user invoked the snippet.
  4. Assuming the urlparse stuff works, it then checks the domain of the URL to make sure it’s an Amazon URL. If it’s not, then rawurl is returned (just like in the previous step).
  5. If it passes that test, then the URL is rebuilt and the user’s affiliate code is appended.
  6. The new URL is written to standard output where TextExpander regains control and plugs it in wherever the user invoked the snippet.

Caveat Expandor

This is a very basic implementation. If I were a real programmer and had more than twenty minutes to bang on this, I’d write something a good deal more robust that checked for valid Amazon domains or maybe requested the affiliate URL using Amazon’s API. But I’m not, so I didn’t.

And, as with any random hunk of code you find on the web, I make no guarantees as to the servicability of this little hack. This works for me and for Nic (I asked), so that’s good enough for me. If it eats your kitten or something, I’m afraid I can’t do much to help you.

That said, I hope you find this useful. If you do, give me a shout on Twitter and let me know. Oh, and go buy TextExpander because it’s awesome.

Yet Another Incredibly Smart Monetization Strategy that Twitter can Totally Have for Free

Currently, Twitter makes money by shoving “Promoted Tweets” into user’s streams, ostensibly using an algorithm to segment the users into those who might be interested in a particular toot and those who might not (though, this system seems ham-fisted at best). They also have a hashtag sponsorship thingie. I’m not sure what these things cost or if Twitter is creeping toward profitability as a result, but both are a smidge annoying.

I think I have a better way: Paid Accounts.

I’m certainly not the first schmo to come up with such an idea, but see if you think this isn’t stupid.

Some tiny amount of money per month—let’s say $2—would give you the ability to do the following:

  • Retweet more than twice per day.
  • Mute followers, hashtags or clients for a definite or indefinite period of time (just like Tweetbot does today).
  • See any user’s follower/following counts.
  • View, search and export your entire tweet archive (going back to the beginning).
  • Access to the API and Search-based RSS feeds.

An explanation of the thought process behind each of these:

The Retweet Thing

This feature should be used sparingly and it’s not. Some folks go buckwild crazy with this and, most of the time, it’s annoying. Everybody gets two free retweets per day, but you should have to pay more to get any more than that.


Muting users is lame because it’s effectively the same as no longer following them, but we all follow a certain number of people because if we didn’t, we’d hear about it and it would become a thing. Muting in Tweetbot gets the job done, though.

Muting annoying clients (like Tweet Old Posts and Paper.li) is one of my favorite things about Tweetbot. Ditto for hashtags. I may love you like a brother, but I’m not interested in hearing every clever quip you hear uttered at the conference you’re attending.

People would use the crap out of this if Twitter offered it. And, I think, many users would pony up a couple bucks a month such a capability.

Follower/Following Counts

These little numbers are the metrics by which users judge one another. If you have lots of followers and follow few people, you’re good at Twitter or something. There are plenty of great Twitter users who fail this test, sadly. Offering access to this information as part of a premium Twitter account would go a long way toward leveling the playing field a bit (and putting some cheddar in Twitter’s pocket).

All of the Tweets

As I type this (and as far as I know), Twitter search only goes back in time about a week or so. If you use the API, you can access the most recent 3200 tweets in your personal archive. By charging folks money, they could (I’m assuming) build out their infrastructure such that paid users could pull down a complete archive of their lunch- and poop-related updates.

API Access

You know how when you say “iPad” on Twitter, many times you’ll immediately receive a reply from somebody who wants you to click their link to maybe just maybe win a free iPad? All that stuff is done by crawling the RSS feeds for a specific search term or by using Twitter’s API. I have a feeling that if using these features cost the user something (anything, really), you’d notice a precipitous dip in the annoying spammy business.

In Conclusion

Most serious Twitter users would be happy to pay a couple of bucks a month for such features, I think. I know I would. A system like this one would give “power users” a bit more “power” and weed out some of the nefarious characters at the same time.

Do you think this is dumb? Not dumb? Use Twitter to let me know.

Launch Center Pro: An Adoption Strategy For Those Having Trouble Adopting It

Launch Center Pro: An Adoption Strategy For Those Having Trouble Adopting It

Launch Center Pro launched amid a good deal of buzz, I think. Lots of tech sites were talking about it shortly before its release and, as an efficiency wonk, I couldn't help but get a little excited.

I bought it the day it was released. I opened it up, played with it for awhile, got the basics down. I even moved it into the Dock area of my iPhone to help encourage adoption.

But, from that day until today, it sat there. I'd open it once in awhile, but only to ponder it and imagine what I could do with it and, more importantly, whether it would speed up the performance of common tasks on my device. Then I'd close it.

Why Launch Center Pro is Difficult to Adopt

Ignoring the dozens of apps I have installed, my daily iPhone usage is comprised mostly of a small number of things:

  • Reading email
  • Listening to audio (music, podcasts and audio books)
  • Reading and posting to Twitter
  • Adding (and occasionally checking off) tasks in OmniFocus
  • Reading from and saving information to Evernote
  • Text messaging and the occasional phone call
  • Reading stuff using Instapaper and the Kindle app
  • Checking my site stats and the day's ebook sales (Clicky is my analytics tool of choice)

Sure, there are other odds and ends, but that's at least 80% of what my iPhone does for me.

Given the regularity with which I perform these actions, it's no surprise that the specific finger movements required to do each one are burned almost indelibly in my muscle memory. In other words, if I decide to check my email, my thumb is already descending on the icon before it's fully drawn on the screen after unlocking the device. Totally not joking.

This is why an app like Launch Center Pro is difficult to adopt. I have to fundamentally change how I use my iPhone. But, between the stories I've heard from people who are loving the app and my own desire to speed things up, I've decided to give it a solid try.

The Launch Center Pro Acid Test

What follows is, as best I can figure, the ideal way to really put Launch Center Pro front and center in the hopes of shoehorning it into my iPhone workflow. I'm not sure how this will shake out, but I think it's worth a try.

Here's my current home screen, modified to all but demand that I use Launch Center Pro (it's in the dock next to the Camera app):


Pretty barren.

After carefully looking at each app I use that Launch Center Pro supports (it's not all of them, if you're wondering), I took each of those apps and moved them to secondary screens. The only exception is the Calendar app, which I really only launch when an appointment alarm sounds. Everything else is an app I use somewhat regularly that Launch Center Pro doesn't currently work with. And the Camera app stays in the Dock because I don't want to go hunting for it when my kids are doing something cute or I see a three-legged coyote or whatever.

Launch Center Pro's raison d'être is quickly performing actions, not just launching apps. Some example actions would be calling or emailing a specific person, jumping to a specific part of an app, etc. My next step then was to add shortcuts for all of the now-absent home screen apps as well as any common actions. Below is the result (or, at least, the first iteration of the result).


A Tour of My Launch Center Pro Configuration

When I fire up Launch Center Pro, this is what appears:

From this screen, I can perform most of my “regular” iPhone actions. The bottom right corner is left empty (for now) because that's typically where my right thumb is hovering, so I won't have to worry about it obscuring anything (more on this in a second). Oh, and Dropbox is there because I frequently launch it to kick off the automatic photo upload thingie it does.

The bottom half of the screen contains “action groups”. If I press and hold “Audio”, for example, the screen turns to this:


I consume lots of audio on my iPhone, so having quick access to these apps is important to me.

“Communicate” reveals these choices:

I communicate with my wife electronically very regularly, so she gets her own “call” and “text” actions. Along with actions for texting a couple of other folks, the last two actions are shortcuts to the New Message view in the Messages app and a list of contacts from which I can choose somebody to call.

Now, then. “Social”:

Aside from the “New Tweet” option, which opens Tweetbot and plants me in the tweet composition view, the rest of these simply launch the apps. (And, yes, I'm now using Facebook again, but in a very specific and limited capacity).



Unsurprisingly, these are the apps I use to read things. iBooks is really only there because it fit and was easy; I almost never read things in iBooks on my iPhone.

Lastly, “Capture”:

Capturing new ideas, etc. is the name of the game on this screen. OmniFocus for tasks and projects, Drafts for textual stuff (like blog post ideas or Twitter jokes that are still incubating).

Yeah, all of that is pretty straightforward. All of my regular iPhone use cases are spoken for. Now let's talk about the specific reasons why I did it this way.

Guiding Principles

The “Obscured by Thumb” Issue

As we dig into this, it's important to point out that the action groups (“Social”, etc.) defined in Launch Center Pro are only accessible if you press and hold their icons. In other words, if I want to launch Tweetbot, I need to press my thumb on “Social”, drag it onto Tweetbot and release. If I lift my thumb off of the screen while it's still on “Social”, then I'm back at the main screen.

If you look at the groups I've defined above, you'll probably notice that, when activated using my right thumb, the area that's obscured by my thumb/hand is empty. This is quite intentional. I've placed all of the actions within a group such that they'll all be visible when I'm holding down that group's icon.

The Dollop of Friction

My configuration is, albeit somewhat crudely, optimized for doing stuff instead of farting around. Managing email, adding tasks to OmniFocus, jotting something down in Drafts and opening Evernote: these are all at the top level. Twitter, Instapaper and the rest are buried because I want to be faced with the prospect of doing something and actively decide not to in favor of something else.

I'm hoping this little bit of friction will train my brain to be less lazy. I'll admit it's a theory whose effectiveness will be proven or disproven over time, but at least I started off on the right foot or something.

Stinking Badges

This is probably my favorite benefit of all. When an app is displayed in Launch Center Pro, I'm incapable of seeing any unread badges. Normally, I'm a fan of these badges because I'm a bit of a glutton for inputs (which isn't good, frankly), but I'm hoping this new way of doing things will break me of that little fetish. Again, time will tell. But when I launch Launch Center Pro, my eyes aren't immediately drawn to a little red bubble telling me to tap there.

Parting Thoughts

If you're reading this and you're already a Launch Center Pro badass, then my setup will probably look fairly primitive. I haven't ventured into the world of custom URLs, default field values, scheduled actions or any of the other voodoo this app can do. Said badasses will probably argue that these advanced features are where Launch Center Pro really shines. Stipulated.

This is me crawling before I attempt to walk. I know me and I know that if I spend oodles of time making super specialized actions, then I'd call that fiddling. If this setup sticks and I stay with it, then we can talk about how the app can make my breakfast and such. But not before.


How I Got a Kindle eBook Autographed by the Author

How I Got a Kindle eBook Autographed by the Author


As I mentioned recently, The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. And, as it happens, Josh was in Portland for the World Domination Summit. I met him at the opening party and he’s a hell of a cool customer.

Aside from befriending the handsome Josh, our introduction also gave me an opportunity to employ a cool trick I cribbed from Evernote CEO and fellow college dropout, Phil Libin: I asked Josh to “autograph” my electronic (Kindle) version of his book. He kindly obliged.

How the hell did I manage such magic? Glad you asked.

To perform this little trick, you’ll need:

  • An iPad with the Kindle app installed (or iBooks, if that’s your huckleberry).
  • The author’s book downloaded to the app.
  • Skitch installed on your iPad (it’s free).
  • The author to be physically present, ideally of his or her own free will.

And, the steps to complete the trick:

  • Open the book in question using your preferred reading application.
  • Turn back to the title page or cover image at the beginning of the book.
  • Take a screen shot of your iPad screen (press the Home and Sleep/Wake buttons at the same time to do this). This image will now live in the Photos app.
  • Open Skitch for iPad and load up the screenshot you just took.
  • Select the Pen tool in Skitch, make sure the line size is right and the line color will contrast well with the color of the image.
  • Hand your iPad to the author of the book and ask him/her to autograph the image using their finger (or a stylus, if you have one).
  • Publish image to Twitter or Facebook if you want, but make sure you save it somewhere.
  • Bonus Step: Save the signed image to Evernote.

The result, if you’re lucky enough to encounter Josh Kaufman and have the proper equipment, will look a great deal like this:


Or perhaps you’re lucky enough to encounter the unstoppably handsome Chris Guillebeau (author of The $100 Startup) while holding the same equipment:

Maybe not quite as cool as being able to yank a signed volume off of your spiffy bookshelf, but I’ll take it.

Why is this particularly cool? The world of writing and publishing is welcoming a whole host of people who are doing it themselves. If you spend a portion of your time interacting with like-minded folks at conferences (like WDS), it would seem you’ll have a good chance of running into authors you like (“published” or not).

And it doesn’t have to stop with books, actually. Meet a blogger who you love that hasn’t yet written a book? Repeat the above steps with a snapshot of the front page of their blog. Pretty badass, right?

Photo by Fairfax Library Foundation

Why Master Yoda is Full of Crap

For decades, oodles of people have cited a certain quip given by Master Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back, which reads:

Do or do not. There is no ‘try’.

This is an incredibly idiotic statement.

Inspirational musings like this one are what make people feel bad for failing because, if you ask Ol’ Yoda, they just didn’t decide to succeed.

The Proper Use of Inspiration

Inspiration is great. I’m a big believer in it, frankly, because I know what it is (and, more importantly, what it’s not).

I have a photo of my little boy nestled comfortably below my computer screen at my desk. While I enjoy my work most days, sometimes I need to be reminded of why I’m doing this (or, more correctly, for whom am I doing this). I look at his handsome face and I remember that, if I want to give him all the opportunity and comfort I can, I have to bust my ass to make that happen. Nothing less will do.

What I don’t do is sit at my desk and just hope real hard that my love for my family is going to somehow magically do my work for me. I have to try to produce the best work I’m capable of producing. Sometimes I get there, and sometimes I fall short.

Inspiration can get your ass back to the half-cord of pine in the backyard, but it won’t type chop the logs for you. You need something bigger; a larger goal and a sense of purpose in what you’re doing.

Inspiration is the match stick, not the firewood.

Tweet this

How To Be Inspired (Then, Get Back to Work)

People who buy my thing on how to use Evernote will sometimes send me nice emails about how much they liked it, etc. Those messages are really great and I try to save them (in Evernote, naturally) when they arrive. Occasionally, I’ll peek at them when I’m feeling like a blithering idiot who couldn’t write his way out of a wet paper sack. And it does help.

The trick is harnessing that tiny little burst of joy into actually making something; trying to build my little business into something that will accomplish what I want it to: give my family security and comfort and be an example of what hard work can produce.

Now, it’s Your Turn

Don’t rely on inspiration for anything other than inspiring you to do. Make it the match that starts the fire and know that it will burn out quickly.

The cliché of the Motivational Poster featuring a rowing team or an astronaut is all fine and good if you notice it as you walk back to your desk to make something awesome. Let’s all do that.

And forget that bullcrap Master Yoda is pouring because it’s poison.

Photo by Rhubarble

Your Summer Reading List: 8 Books I’ve Loved This Year


It’s been a few weeks since I decided to wholly abandon reading RSS feeds and focus more heavily on books and hand-picked articles to read.

In short, it’s going phenomenally well. But that’s a story for another blog post.

Today, I want to share a bit about what I’ve been reading recently, using both my Kindle and the Audible app on my iPhone.

It’s been such a pleasure, you guys. Nothing against blog posts or whatever, but coming from somebody who has written something that at least approximates a real book, I can (to some extent) empathize with the authors of these works. Taking a big idea and turning it into a big, complete collection of thoughts and words and ideas is a massive undertaking. I think this appreciation makes consuming these books all the more enjoyable. If you ask me, anybody who can go through the toil of actually producing a book deserves some measure of respect.

Anyway, enough gushing.

From the list of books I’ve read so far this year, I’ve compiled for you a summer reading list containing some of my favorites. I can’t confidently say you’ll appreciate all of them as much as I have, but if any of them interest you, I’d highly recommend giving them a try.

And now, in no particular order…

(Oh, and I should point out that I listened to a few of these as audio books, but I’m still going to use words like “read” below because, frankly, I like annoying the pedants.)

Brett’s Summer Reading List for You Make Happy Brain

  • Platform by Michael Hyatt — For those of us who have some weird thing inside us that we really feel like the world—or, at least, certain parts of it—would do well to hear, this is a step-wise guide to building the platform from which you’ll deliver your message. It’s a nice mixture of tactics and attitudes from a guy who has the status and the credentials to speak intelligently on the topic. And it’s a hell of a good read.
  • Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (audio) — Given the decidedly mixed reaction to this book from the tech community, I was hesitant to give it the 20-some-odd hours it would take to complete. I’m glad I did. This book will not only give you a pretty thorough tour of the history of Apple, NeXT and Pixar, but also an intimate glimpse into what Steve Jobs was like as a person and how his commitment to great art manifested itself as a combination of earth-rattling innovation and absolutely despicable treatment of others. I don’t necessarily believe that the former absolves him of the latter, but I do feel like I understand the guy a good bit more than I did.
  • My Life in Advertising by Claude Hopkins — As somebody who has a little Internet business, I’ve been trying to learn a bit more about the fundamentals of business, advertising, marketing and sales (sorry if that makes you nauseous or whatever). This book is the “professional autobiography” of a guy who, near as I can tell, took the Western understanding of advertising and freaking reinvented it. Lots of marketing people I know cite this author (and this work, in particular) as required reading for anybody who cares to learn about the topic. It was fascinating and will certainly be one I’ll reread at least once.
  • What it is Like to Go to War by Karl Marlantes (audio) — I’ll admit it here: I find a great deal of allure and mystery in stories of war, the military, etc. Whatever, it’s a thing I do. I’ve read a couple other memoirs this year by military guys who simply recounted their experiences in training, combat and life before and after. This book, in rather stark contrast, explores the emotional aspects of what it’s like to actually be a combatant who kills others in battle and watches his friends die there. You’ll probably feel a bit drained after reading it, but it made for a hell of an interesting read.
  • Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield — Let me begin by saying that I would drink this author’s bathwater if I could. I’ve read several of books, including the seminal The War of Art (if you haven’t read it, there are few books that I’d recommend more highly). Turning Pro is, in essence, the practical application of the concepts described in The War of Art. The “professional” approach to work, creativity and one’s craft is, I think, a pretty revolutionary idea in an age where “passion” (forgive me) and the like are worshipped as the only pure motivation for doing great things. I tore through this book while on vacation recently and it absolutely delivered. For a guy who feels there might just be a bit too much inspiration floating around these days, this is one of those books that had me clamoring to take my shit to the next level. If I had to pick a favorite book in this list, this would be it.
  • The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau — Written by my good friend, this is the instruction manual for folks looking to make a real run at starting their own business. Combining oodles of anecdotes of people who have turned lemons into lemonade and fleeting moments of inspiration into full-time careers, this is a must-read for anybody who thinks starting something on their own is too hard or simply out of reach. A great read that will make you realize that, just maybe, you can actually do something awesome for far less money than you think. The trade-off, of course, is that it takes work. (Full disclosure: I’m profiled in this book. You should still read it, though, as I can guarantee that you won’t see any pictures of my scary, unshaven countenance. I wasn’t compensated for my participation other than receiving a few courtesy copies of the hardcover. And I paid for the Kindle version.)
  • The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman — I didn’t finish college. In fact, you could make a compelling argument that I didn’t really begin, either. I’m not particularly interested in spending a frickton of time and money earning a graduate degree from a business school, but I’m interested in learning about business and related topics. This book is touted by many, including the author, as a good drop-in replacement for such an expensive educational pursuit. In a nut, it breaks down dozens and dozens of business concepts into manageable, concise overviews that build on one another. Topics like finance, marketing and systemization of business processes are clearly explained enough that even a big dumb animal like myself can understand. If you’re interested in understanding business, this one is worth your time and cheddar.
  • The Education of Millionaires by Michael Ellsberg (audio) — For my generation, attending college after High School was, and still is, the default route for most kids. Historically, it was held that going to college will help ensure that you get a good job and make enough money to have a boat or something. This book takes a balanced look at the value of education as it relates to “success” in life. While it doesn’t absolutely vilify higher education, it does prompt the reader to weigh the cost and benefit of such an education. I’m a big fan of this approach. As I said, I didn’t go to college and don’t really intend on ever earning a degree because I’ve managed to build a life for my family and I that doesn’t require it. I think that many people could also find this to be true if they consider what they want their life to look like instead of simply accepting conventional wisdom. (Side note: if possible, skip the audio version of this book and read it instead; the narration of the text in Audible’s version is pretty awful)

Anyway, I hope you’ll check out some of these. They’re all quite good.

I’d love to hear about a book you’ve recently loved. Ping me on Twitter and let me know, won’t you?

(Yet Another Italicized Note Thing: The book links above are affiliate links. If that makes your tummy hurt, just Google for the titles and use those links when buying.)

Image credit: druclimb

Does your ebay auction have serious potential? Here’s how to crap all over it.

A little over a week ago, I decided to unload a bunch of dusty books from my office bookshelf and sell them on eBay. I hadn’t picked them up in years (other than when I moved them from our previous home) and I was hoping to put together some additional funds for future technology purchases.

Long story short, I lost my freaking shirt on these sales because I was careless and I feel like a damn fool.

N.B., let me make it clear that I’m nowhere close to an experienced seller on eBay. I sold a few dozen 7" records about a million years ago and I’ve done my share of buying on the site, but that’s really it. I was, and remain, a big dumbass when it comes to eBay.

The Overarching Theme

In retrospect, I actually have a pretty good idea why things panned out the way they did.

Before listing my wares, I did some spot-checking to see what some of the items generally went for. A few were going for $20 or $30, others as high as $50! After learning this, I (incorrectly) assumed the following:

As long as the product is in good or great shape, the market for the product will be enough to drive a fair price. Most of my stuff was in very salable condition, so the sheer fact that somebody was selling it would be enough to bring the scavengers out of the virtual woodwork. Now, PAY ME!

Probably one of the dumbest things I’ve ever thought. And I’ve thought some dumb shit in my life, folks.

Anatomy of a Mistake

When I started, I hauled all 30-something books on to my back patio and grabbed my iPad. Turns out, the eBay app for iPad will scan the barcode of a book and pre-populate almost all of the details: title, cover image, author and other publication information. From there, I would need to add a description, fill in the categories for the item and set a starting price.

So, for just about every item I listed, I added:

  • Almost nothing for the description; if there was any damage or wear, I indicated as much. That’s it.
  • A starting price of $0.99.
  • An auction period of seven days (across the board).
  • No reserve price.

(I can already hear all of you experienced eBay people crinkling your faces. Trust me, I’ve learned my lesson.)

Lessons and Caveats

A non-moron would have done a bit more to “pitch” each product in the description. He also may have set a higher starting price. Then he probably would have gone back to college and learned how to not be such a frickin’ dunce.

I don’t think it I’m entirely to blame for this, though.

Possible mitigating factors include:

  • My low seller rating. I don’t have any negative feedback or whatever, but I haven’t sold hardly anything, so that may have roused suspicion on the part of the buyers.
  • The market for the product may have drastically changed in the week since Mr. $50 listed his product and I listed mine.

Ok, fine, that last one is stupid. Stipulated.

The Big Takeaway

I’m hardly in a position to give advice (other than to stay in school), but here’s how I’m going meekly approach my next foray into moving unwanted crap on eBay:

First, look around at what others are doing when selling similar products. If they pay the extra couple of bucks for the bold headline or something, I’ll consider it. In other words, try to learn from people who know what the hell they’re doing.

Second, I’ll probably Google for somebody who is really good at selling things on eBay and follow their advice. Hell, even if they’re full of crap they’d have to be astonishingly full of crap to not outperform my dumb ass.

These auctions should have collectively netted me at least $300, according to my estimates based on existing auctions. As it stands right now, I’m barely going to make enough to cover the shipping.

So, maybe try not to crap all over your eBay auctions as badly as I did.