Caring Deeply About Aesthetic

During my time at Wake Forest, I naturally asked my friends why they decided to attend Wake Forest, often the answer was the following: “When I first visited campus, it felt and looked exactly what I imagined a college should be.” Wake Forest’s campus design is traditional in every sense of the word, with every detail down to the color of the bricks being deliberately designed. The result of Wake Forest’s deliberate effort is a strong sense of place and warm feelings elicited in prospective and current students. But there’s more: Wake’s deliberate design choices run deep beyond the surface. For example, their communications aesthetic is equally strong and aligned exactly with the school’s mission.

Wake’s primary san serif typeface is “Avenir”, which was a humanist font developed by the late Adrian Frutiger. While Frutiger developed Avenir in the late 1980’s he later recalled, “Working on it, I always had human nature in mind.” — The Wake Forest mission “Pro Humanitate” (for humanity) aligns exactly with the intellectual ideas behind the font.

Aesthetic doesn’t mean shiny, new, and without substance. Instead aesthetic embodies beauty; both in an object’s form and function. As I think about building products and organizations in the startup world in SF, I can’t help but admire the companies and people who care deeply about aesthetics. It matters.

One open source project with a mission of beautifying the world, Bootstrap, is an interesting one because it causes an externality. On the one hand, using bootstrap to develop software interfaces is fast, flexible, and usually more beautiful that what you can easily make on your own. On the flip side, Bootstrap is a signal of weakness, a signal to users that the product owners do not care very much about its design; they are willing to outsource aesthetic to a run-of-the-mill open source project. I am curious what other developers and designers think about Bootstrap given its popularity.

As I have been developing Concorde, I have invested considerable thought into its aesthetic. The logo is inspired from a t-shirt I bought in Mykonos. And the font family used on the site is again a work of Adrian Frutiger: “Neue Frutiger”. Since the Frutiger font family is often used on airport signs around the world, I thought that visitors to the site may see design similarities between an airport departures board and Concorde.

I firmly believe that the more intentionality and thoughtfulness a product designer places on aesthetic, the more positive feelings and better user experience the product provides.


06 2016

The Upcoming Eczema Gold Rush

One health issue I have dealt with all of my life is a skin condition known as eczema. To be clear, this skin condition is relatively minor in the grand scheme of health issues, however, it does affect millions of Americans and many millions more around the world. Specifically, eczema is an inflammatory skin reaction, similar to that of an allergy, and can flare up due to poor skin hydration, fragrances in soaps and shampoos, and excessive itching.

To deal with eczema, I’ve applied various recipes of special moisturizing creams and soaps throughout my life that have aimed to suppress inflammation and protect my immune system. Beyond the embarrassing aesthetic of irritated skin, the real danger of eczema is that an inflamed area of the skin is at risk of being infected by all of the bacteria that a city-living person experiences throughout their day. Once an infection begins, the immune system becomes seriously weakened as it fights chronic skin inflammation, in addition to a major infection.

So, with all of the aggravation that eczema causes, it has always been surprising to me that there have been few new treatments available beyond mostly steroidal moisturizing creams, which are not healthy for longterm use. Experimental treatments have been limited to light therapy, and not a single new molecular entity (NME) has been approved in the past 15 years. Not to worry, because this year two new NME’s are expected to receive FDA-approval:

Anacor’s cream, Crisaborole, and Regeneron’s drug, Dupilumab, are positioned to capture the market. It’s unclear yet which drug will receive approval first, and which drug will lead the market, however, Wall Street is already taking notice at multiple-billions of dollars in expected sales. The WSJ reported on eczema treatments again yesterday: New Eczema Treatments Could Be Available Soon (Hint: Pfizer, which announced it will acquire Anacor, and Regeneron, are both rated as strong growth stocks in the Biotech industry.)

Last Fall I visited with Dr. Guttman-Yassky in New York after I learned about her leading role on the Dupilumab clinical trial. While I did not end up applying for the trial, I am excited for the near future of new nonsteroidal eczema treatments that are healthy for longterm use.



05 2016

The Transfer of Wealth Versus the Creation of Wealth

Last month I wrote about some tips and tricks for making money with Amazon Associates. For example, by finding cheap traffic sources, any savvy internet marketer can make thousands of dollars each money by simply funneling traffic from one website to Amazon. That is the transfer of wealth. Specifically, transferring web traffic, eyeballs, from one website, to another website (Amazon) which is able to monetize those eyeballs much more effectively. A simple and nifty arbitrage trick. No new wealth created in the world, just wealth transferred from one place to another. This type of activity happens all of the time in finance, where investors shuffle their wealth from one investment to the next.

This month, I want to contrast last month’s blog post by making a note on the creation of wealth, an activity that I find much more interesting. For example, with my flight deals website, Concorde, I created a new website that (I hope) provides value to prospective travelers. I took a new idea in my head and I built something. Two weeks ago, after eight months of consistent part-time work, including over 700 code commits, I earned my first commission from the site. Exciting! $20. Not much for all of that work, you ask? Yes, but it’s worth it, because creating new wealth takes time. Every journey starts with a single step. It takes attention to detail, iteration, feedback, listening to the haters, and rebuilding. This type of work, creating wealth by building things, is much more appealing and inspiring to me. Come check out what I am building:


04 2016

Amazon Associates Arbitrage: Amazon’s Own Success May Be Hurting Themselves

If you’re reading this post, then you’re probably already aware of and their dominating marketshare in eCommerce. Amazon sells nearly anything you can think of that can be shipped, for the some of the lowest prices available anywhere. Some products, such as digital cables, net Amazon $5-10 per transaction. Other products, like snow shovels, are loss leading products (a net negative $20-30), where Amazon actually loses money but wins mindshare amongst their customer base in the long run. But one fact that may be less well known is that any tech-savvy user can earn money by promoting any product available for sale on the Amazon website. This program is known as the Amazon Associates program.

Members of Amazon Associates earn commission when they refer a user to Amazon who ends up buying something on the site within the next 24 hours. The commission structure depends on the product category, and scales with volume, which fairly rewards the associate as they grow their traffic. So, for associates big and small, for example, this means they can start earning extra income from a book that they are trying to promote, or larger networks can offer discounts to their users in exchange for simply purchasing their products via Or relatively obscure search engines such as DuckDuckGo can make a lot of money without implementing many traditional ads. While Amazon Associates undoubtedly helped Amazon grow its revenues and its traffic through the mid-2000’s, I am writing this post to provide a different perspective on how it might be losing them a lot of money in transactions where their margins are already thin.

Now, let’s step aside from the traditional small and big site Amazon Associates mentality. Instead let’s think about Amazon’s incentive structure more deeply from the perspective of “How much can I earn per click?”, regardless of where my traffic comes from? Let’s do some simple math with two assumptions: (1) the average order total on Amazon is $20 and (2) the average commission per order is $1.

Number of Clicks Conversion Rate Orders Comission Earnings Per Click
1000 1% 10 $10.00 $0.01
1000 2% 20 $20.00 $0.02
1000 3% 30 $30.00 $0.03
1000 4% 40 $40.00 $0.04
1000 5% 50 $50.00 $0.05

Now, if you were to take a random sample of 1,000 Americans, what percentage of them are likely to have ordered something from Amazon in the past 24 hours? In 2006, it may have been less than 1%, but since the introduction of Amazon Prime, that number is quickly on the rise, to a number likely over 2-3%. For certain segments of the population, such as upper middle class families and “techies”, this percentage is likely to be even higher around 5-6%, resulting in potential earnings of over $0.05 per click. The close reader may call my bluff here, but I assure you this data is not far off, considering around 15% of the American population is subscribed to Prime.

Now, where is the opportunity? The opportunity lies in being able to find quality traffic for less than $0.03 – $0.04 CPC elsewhere on the web, and then divert it directly to Amazon. Let me explain with a simple example:




Above is a Reddit Ad for Zimbabwean dollars, with my unique Amazon Associates link being the destination URL. You may be surprised to learn that you can buy foreign currency on Amazon. But it’s true! And an advertisement for money… who doesn’t want money? This ad is a recipe for a high click through rate. Take a look at the results from a campaign I ran earlier this month on Reddit, targeting people interested in technology and who live in the U.K.:

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 10.37.47 PM

$0.02 per click! Amazingly cheap clicks! Why? Reddit is a social site with low purchase intent. But in the context of Amazon, this is not very important, so long as enough of those clicks buy — anything — on Amazon in the next 24 hours. Out of habit in 2016, as mentioned above, at least 4-5% of these clicks are likely to purchase something from Amazon within the 24 hour cookie timeframe. The results? Check it out:

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 10.42.55 PM


170 items ordered, which is around a 3.5% conversion rate from the originating 4,800 clicks. Total earnings: about $175 USD. Net profit: $75. Not bad for less than ten minutes of work!

This is too good to be true, you must ask? Maybe. Reddit (in addition to Google and others) no longer allows affiliate ads on their ads platform, so it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to sell Amazon products on their platform again. But do you know of another place on the web where you can get clicks for under $0.05, and from people who buy things on Amazon? Give it a shot! Best of all, your conversion rate will only continue to increase along with Amazon’s overall success. You might be surprised to see your results.



03 2016

The Cartesian Product

This is the first technical post on this blog after seven years of writing.

Recently as I was thinking about how to automate flight search with my flight deals website, Concorde, I realized that I wanted to be able to input any two sets of airport pairs, and then find the cheapest flights between those two airports. For example, I wanted to be able to discover the cheapest flights between the New York-area airports and a dozen or so airports in the Caribbean. The two sets of airports look something like this:

originAirports = [(“EWR”),(“JFK”),(“LGA”)]

destinationAirports = [(“NAS”),(“SJU”),(“SXM”),(“STT”),(“GCM”), (“SDQ”),(“MBJ”),(“AUA”),(“CUR”),(“CUN”),(“PTP”),(“PLS”)]

In order to search flights between all of the possible pairs of airports given the two distinct sets, I need to generate a third set, a list of all possible airport pairs between the two sets. The strategy for accomplishing this task, the Cartesian product, is a topic that I had covered in my discrete mathematics class at Wake Forest. According to Wikipedia, this is how the Cartesian product works:

That is, for sets A and B, the Cartesian product A × B is the set of all ordered pairs(a, b) where a is an element of A and b is an element of B.

Wikipedia’s definition is a fancy way of saying that in order to generate a set of all possible airport pairs given two other sets of airports, I need to multiply the original sets together. Fortunately, Ruby (1.9+) has this functionality built-in with the “product” method:

airportPairs = originAirports.product(destinationAirports)

=> [[“EWR”, “NAS”], [“EWR”, “SJU”], [“EWR”, “SXM”], [“EWR”, “STT”], [“EWR”, “GCM”], [“EWR”, “SDQ”], [“EWR”, “MBJ”], [“EWR”, “AUA”], [“EWR”, “CUR”], [“EWR”, “CUN”], [“EWR”, “PTP”], [“EWR”, “PLS”], [“JFK”, “NAS”], [“JFK”, “SJU”], [“JFK”, “SXM”], [“JFK”, “STT”], [“JFK”, “GCM”], [“JFK”, “SDQ”], [“JFK”, “MBJ”], [“JFK”, “AUA”], [“JFK”, “CUR”], [“JFK”, “CUN”], [“JFK”, “PTP”], [“JFK”, “PLS”], [“LGA”, “NAS”], [“LGA”, “SJU”], [“LGA”, “SXM”], [“LGA”, “STT”], [“LGA”, “GCM”], [“LGA”, “SDQ”], [“LGA”, “MBJ”], [“LGA”, “AUA”], [“LGA”, “CUR”], [“LGA”, “CUN”], [“LGA”, “PTP”], [“LGA”, “PLS”]]

Or view the results as they would appear in the Terminal:

Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 4.19.46 PM

And that’s it! Just three commands in Terminal to generate a list of all possible airport combinations, the Cartesian Product, between a set of New York-area airports and popular Caribbean destinations.

I hope this was helpful!

Related resources:



02 2016

Making My Own Luck

When I was 15 years old I worked as an intern at an New York-based Internet marketing company, MediaTrust, who happened to be one of the fastest growing private companies in America during the summer of 2009 (Inc. magazine ranked them #9). And I loved it. From taking the train into New York City every day, to becoming introduced to Shake Shack, and daily trips to Jamba Juice with my great friend Herwig, I learned a lot by even just walking the streets. This was the summer when “I Gotta Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas was at the top of the Billboard charts, and I know that Herwig and I truly felt like lucky guys.

During my exit interview with one of the leaders at MediaTrust, Trip, exposed me to two thoughts which have influenced my behavior ever since:

  • Don’t rely on luck. Make luck happen for yourself.
  • Communicate better. Many of life’s problems are rooted in communication failures.


Those two pieces of advice have stuck with me because this conversation was one of the first moments when I realized that my destiny is up to me to determine.

I never had great grades in school, so I didn’t often feel that I could control the destiny of getting into a great college. But when it came to making things on the Internet and selling them, I knew I could make my own luck by reading online and then performing experiments with the knowledge that I had gained. And so that’s what I did, and that’s where I excelled.

When I learned about Y Combinator and Paul Graham during that same summer from my co-workers at MediaTrust, I became inspired to find a repetitive problem in my life, and mechanize a solution with technology. I learned that I could make my own luck with the right preparation and the right opportunity. But perhaps equally important, I learned that thought leaders in technology companies and startups, such as Paul Graham, are great communicators.

Paul Graham’s essays gained the loyal readership of programmers and other hackers, who provided the seed for what became Reddit and then Hacker News. Likewise with Peter Thiel, his book, Zero to One, is now one of the best selling business books of all time. Their clarity of thought is the product of years of thinking deliberately on how to distill their experience and intuition into words. It’s something I admire very much about them and seek to emulate in all of my communications.

Looking back on my experiences since 2009, it’s clear to me that many of my “lucky” successes were developed by a combination of me vigorously pursuing a specific goal, in addition to clear and succinct communication that helped to relay my story. From writing to the Thiel Foundation about how I wanted to change the world, to my application essay at Wake Forest, to writing about “bacn” on the Glider blog and having that picked up by BBC News, my great strides have relentless execution and strong communication at their core.

I’ve spent much of the last six months working on the first part of this equation, making my own luck: writing code, drawing user interface designs, and purely executing. I am building a flight deals application: Concorde. I believe the last six months has been one of the most creative periods in my life. But I know that my dedication to writing has lacked focus during this time. Over the coming months, I am aiming to share more about my specific decisions for why and how I am building Concorde, because I’ve gotta feeling that my success depends on it.

Ciao and arrivederci.


01 2016

Is Postmates driving the next wave of credit card fraud?

I recently signed up to be a Postmates courier in order to make a few extra dollars on weekends, and to gain a better understanding of how the on-demand economy operates. The on-boarding process was simple and easy: a background check, 30-minute demo at Postmates HQ, and finally activation on their courier app.

One particular Saturday a few weeks ago, I logged on to the Postmates courier app and I accepted orders as they were typically dispatched: two coffees from Sightglass, a burrito from Chipotle, a bottle of Advil from Walgreens. Then an unusual order popped up: a Samsung Galaxy Tablet. Woo! I accepted the order right away and proceeded to the Metreon Target to pick one up. I was excited to see this order, because as the Postmates community manager noted during his demo, orders for high-priced electronics typically correlate to higher tips.

I arrived at the Metreon Target and purchased the ~$300.00 Galaxy Tablet with ease: As a new courier for Postmates, I did not yet have a dedicated “Pex” card (a corporate debit card used for making purchases) with my name on it. But the store clerk had no issue. I identified myself as a Postmate and she processed the transaction.

I was on my way with the Galaxy within just a few minutes of entering Target, and I headed just a few blocks north towards the customer’s address on Geary St, near Union Sq. Then the situation started to get fishy…


The customer called me to make sure I was able to pick up the Galaxy Tablet. I assured him I had just picked up the Galaxy and I would be arriving within a few minutes. He said, “Ok, good, but I’m not at the address. But I’ll be nearby. Call me when you are nearby.”, with a screechy and nervous sounding voice.

Minutes later, I was passing through Union Sq, and I called the customer to let him know I was nearby. He answered, and immediately notified me to meet at the South-West corner of Union Sq, at Geary and Powell. I became more suspicious, knowing that my prior Postmate deliveries required delivery at an exact address listed in the app. However, eager to complete the delivery, I continued to the corner of Geary and Powell, and I waited.

After a few minutes of waiting, I called again to notify the customer that I was at his desired meeting place. He answered and let me know that he was right nearby, and will be arriving wearing a green jacket. All of the sudden I realize that I am on one of the most densely populated pedestrian walkways in San Francisco. Thus, a meeting in a highly public place is probably for the purpose of anonymizing the transfer of goods. This was a dangerous situation.

A minute later, a scrappy man in a dirty green jacket walks up to me (as I’m holding the Target bag), and I transfer the bag with the Galaxy inside. That’s it. I reported the sketchy circumstances of the transaction in the Postmates order feedback, but I haven’t heard anything since.

Below are some photos of the customer walking to his (presumably homeless) buddies who were sitting on the sidewalk at Mason and Geary St. He approaches them, gives a high-five, and then walks away, and disappears into the Jack in the Box, and a $50 tip appears in my Postmates app.

What do you think? Have you heard of any similar scenarios?









12 2015

The Attention Credit Card

I’m six months into the “real-world” and I’m just at the beginning of my perpetual “last semester”. The last semester has no pre-determined endpoint, and if I’m not careful, it can lead to a deadly “default setting” in life, as David Foster Wallace puts it. Wallace is right, the day-in and day-out grind, which involves primarily “boredom, routine, and petty frustration” comprises a large chunk of adult American life.

I believe escaping from a mind numbing default setting involves arranging for a multitude of inputs in one’s routine experience, from exercise, to socialization, and being a participant of the local community. However, amidst all of the inputs, I’ve found one primarily anecdotal experience to be true: most humans have about four hours of concentration each day. Let’s call this four hour capacity the attention credit card.

My day starts soon after the sunrise, often around 7:30AM, with an immediate check of my emails, the New York Stock Exchange, and headline news, all from my bed. No intense concentration required. Next, already into my routine, I walk over to the gym in my building for a quick 10-15 minute run most mornings, followed by push ups and a short ab workout. By 8:00AM, I hope, my endorphins are just starting to turn on, as I plan for my first hour of concentration. From 8:00AM – 9:00AM I’m working on my side projects. Whether I’m working on reducing dependencies in a database schema, debugging a Javascript error, or researching stock picks, I typically burn my most energetic hour of attention towards the most creative and risky projects that I can undertake.

Next I bike 15 minutes into SoMa to visit the office where I work. I spend my first minutes there eating breakfast, catching up with office mates (socialization), and then I’m back into the zone. I’ve got another two hours of attention credit to burn thanks to a tasty breakfast and a good night’s sleep. Tackling work-problems head-on, whether it be an analysis of paid advertising campaigns and developing new creatives in response, or a small change to a webpage, my attention credit whittles away down to just one hour remaining after lunchtime.

By mid-afternoon, with lunch calories kicking-in, my last hour of concentration is my best shot at completing my tasks of the day on time and with attention to detail. Beyond 5:00PM, my attention credit is maxed out, and my brain is beginning to search for more energy.

I mention the attention credit card because as of recent months, I’ve found myself coming up with interesting ideas for research and writing, but left with little willpower to execute on them and type away at the keyboard. For example, today I am writing this piece around 9:00PM PST, at the end of long day in my default setting, which drained my best concentration before dinner time into the infamous “busy trap“. I am writing less because when I pretend that my attention credit card is limitless, I lack the will power to write anything at all.

It’s up to me to remind myself that time spent during early mornings and weekends on writing is well worth the effort as well. I have to choose to write, and more specifically choose to concentrate on writing well. Here’s to more reflection and writing over the next six months.


11 2015

Horror Vacui

Recently at Skynet HQ I was recommended the book Universal Principles of Design (Revised and Updated) by William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, and Jill Butler. As someone who has much to learn about aesthetic and the tested heuristics for which to think about building things, I gained a lot from reading this book. I liked it so much that I bought five extra copies and sent them to a few friends.

One reason I like the book so much is that you can read just a few pages at a time and learn something new every time you open the book. This is made possible through an intuitive layout: pages on the left-side introduce 1 of 125 design principles through clear and concise text, and on the right-side a real-world example displays the given design principle in action. The book’s explanation of Horror Vacui is one of my favorites.

Horror vacui— a Latin expression meaning “fear of emptiness”—regards the desire to fill empty spaces with information or objects. In style it is the opposite of minimalism. Though the term has varied meanings across different disciplines dating back to Aristotle, today it is principally used to describe a style of art and design that leaves no empty space.

I enjoyed learning about Horror Vacui so much because this feeling describes the thoughts I’ve had myself when building websites in high school and my first product, Glider. Likewise, young entrepreneurs who come to me for feedback on their early prototypes often try to cram an excessive number of things into their space constraints. This feeling, Horror Vacui, is rooted in the value perception that more visible things is actually more valuable. However, as the book points out, this is a false perception; it is a feeling that often occurs due to a person’s lack of affluence, or a lack of education in aesthetics training.

It may be that the inverse relationship is actually between the affluence of a society and the perceived value associated with horror vacui— that is, for those accustomed to having more, less is more, and for those accustomed to having less, more is more.

If your goal is to create a design that has associations of high perceived value, the book suggests, “favor minimalism for affluent and well-educated audiences and horror vacui for poorer and less-educated audiences, and vice versa”. Easy examples include the minimalist high-end shops of San Francisco’s Union Square, which stand in stark contrast to the over-filled display windows of the shops in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Ironically it is often the stuffy Chinatown shops that are selling faux versions of the products that for sale in the minimal Union Square shops. I wonder how a minimalist store in Chinatown would be perceived?

Here’s the full contents on Horror Vacui:

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 2.59.18 PM


Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 2.56.17 PM
































10 2015

Why so few solar panels in San Francisco?

2015-09-01 19.44.48

This photo captures a beautiful view overlooking the Marina neighborhood of San Francisco. While this view does much justice to the beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge and the surrounding Bay Area, I am writing this blog post for another reason: the utter lack of solar panels.

In a city that sees sunlight on an average of 260 days each year, it’s surprising to see that very little of that sun is being converted into energy! And especially for a city which prides itself on being exceptionally progressive and forward thinking, San Francisco leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to sustainable energy production.

My relatively small and rural hometown of Montgomery, New Jersey likely has more solar panels than many neighborhoods in San Francisco. I think the development of solar panels (or lack-there-of) comes down to two issues, (1) public policy and (2) the economics of the installation.

New Jersey has some of the best government subsidies for solar installations despite having far less open land for large installations, and receiving far less sun than more southern states. For example, by exempting installations from any related tax burdens (sales and property tax), and offering significant rebates, New Jersey is well on its way towards meeting the Renewable Portfolio Standard, a regulation requiring 22.5% of New Jersey’s energy production to come from renewable sources by 2021.

After a preliminary visual inspection, it appears that San Francisco stands to contrast the great progress made in New Jersey and elsewhere in California. I am curious, why is this so? Is the strong residential rental market leaving property owners with little to worry about? Why are there so few solar panels in San Francisco?


10 2015