The Best Thing I Read This Week

From Paul Graham’s essay, How to Do What You Love:

“Prestige is especially dangerous to the ambitious. If you want to make ambitious people waste their time on errands, the way to do it is to bait the hook with prestige. That’s the recipe for getting people to give talks, write forewords, serve on committees, be department heads, and so on. It might be a good rule simply to avoid any prestigious task. If it didn’t suck, they wouldn’t have had to make it prestigious.”

My Signature StrengthsFinder Themes

The Gallup Organization’s Clifton StrengthsFinder is a 180 question, web-based survey designed to identify your top five themes. The themes and the research upon which they are based are discussed in Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton’s book, “Now, Discover Your Strengths.

The book’s basic theme is that you can accomplish more in life by doing activities that engage your strengths, rather than trying to improve the areas in which you’re simply not talented.

I found the results far more interesting and useful than the results of the personality tests I’ve taken. The results of the StrengthsFinder test aren’t about your personality, rather, they describe your areas of talent. Ultimately, this maps to the fundamental types of activities that get you engaged and excited. It’s a nice tool for thinking about the careers in which you can be truly exceptional.

In case you’re interested, these were my top five themes:

Competition — People strong in the Competition theme measure their progress against the performance of others. They strive to win first place and revel in contests.

Futuristic — People strong in the Futuristic theme are inspired by the future and what could be. They inspire others with their visions of the future.

Command — People strong in the Command theme have presence. They can take control of a situation and make decisions.

Individualization — People strong in the Individualization theme are intrigued with the unique qualities of each person. They have a gift for figuring out how people who are different can work together productively.

Activator — People strong in the Activator theme can make things happen by turning thoughts into action. They are often impatient.

More information is available at Gallup’s StrengthsFinder Center.

San Francisco Traffic Schools

Earlier this summer, I got a speeding ticket in Marin County and elected to take traffic school. The court gave me 60 days to complete the schooling. Of course, I waited until today (57 days) to look at the letter they sent me. It read:


Actually, the entire letter was written in capital letters, but that’s a gripe for another post.

Great. Apparently Marin county isn’t aware of this thing called the Internet. So, I searched Google for a list of approved traffic schools for California. Of the 25 schools that operate in San Francisco, a paltry 5 of them had websites and only two offered online booking. One of numbers even connected me to an advertisement for a phone chat line instead of a traffic school (brilliant scam, by the way). Of course, you wouldn’t know this from the information provided by the DMV. They just give you a phone number and the (often ridiculous) names of the schools.

Of the two that offered booking online, only one offered a class within the timeframe that I needed. It made me happy that this school also had a simple, easy to understand website that didn’t require me to enter a credit card or any information that I thought was unnecessary to be able to make the reservation. (See my choice at the end of this post.)

So, in case you’re unlucky enough to get a ticket in one of the few counties in California that doesn’t accept certificates from internet traffic schools, here’s what I found when I called the traffic schools in San Francisco:

Great Comedians Traffic School
You can sell them your email address for $3 (they email a coupon to you)
No information about class times on the web

Pizza 4U – Great Comedians
No website

Improv, The Comedy Club Presents
Save $3 on all CA classroom registrations when you pre-pay by credit card. Promo code: CACLASS
Class times are available on the web

ASAP Traffic School
No Website

Fun N Cheap Traffic School
No Website

National Traffic Safety Institute
No information about class times on the web

Great Classes on Sat/Sun/Days/Eve
Announced the school as Pizza 4U when they answered
No website

Pacific Seminar Traffic Safety, Inc.
No website

Gay Community Traffic School
No website

Comedy School
No website

Lettuce Amuse U Comedy Traffic School
No website

The Smart Choice Traffic School
The number is an advertisement for a “talk line” (like a telephone chat room, I guess)

Great Traffic Safety Classes
No website

Cheap School
No answer (apparently, they’re that cheap!)

Comedy For Less Traffic School
No website

Academia De Trafico en Espanol
No website, but the operator did speak a little english, which was nice

SF Bay Driving & Traffic School
Spoke to Josh who was helpful

Sunset Traffic Academy
No website

A-Safe Way Driving School, Inc.
Nice, simple wbesite…and you can signup online!

Rosy Driving And Traffic School
No answer – went to voice mail

Days, Evenings, Weekends D.E.W.
No website – the operator, Megan, was nice

Nu Tech Driving & Traffic School
No answer – went to voice mail

Les Driving & Traffic School
No answer – went to voice mail

Speed Traffic School
No answer – no voice mail (rang for a couple minutes)

New Chinatown Traffic School
No answer – went to voice mail

The school I chose: A-Safe Way Driving and Traffic School

In addition to the nice things I mentioned above, it cracked me up that they list the instructor as “the “legendary” Mr. Lee.” I imagine this guy will be as into driving safety and my high-school driver’s ed instructor, Mr. Hanley, which should make for an entertaining afternoon. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Update: Mr. Lee was quite the character. I have a feeling that most of the stories he told were fabricated, but they were all entertaining. I found myself laughing at the ridiculousness of them quite often.

It’s also worth noting that Mr. Lee is quite religious. His personal philosophy is what I can only describe as a blend of Catholicism and Buddhism. If you have a problem with people relating everything back to the “word of god,” then A-Safe Way Driving and Traffic School may not be for you.

I am a Bright, which means I don’t believe in god, but I didn’t have a problem with Mr. Lee’s style. He actually had an easy way about himself and I came away with a renewed appreciation for the things in life that really matter: friends, family, health, etc.

I wouldn’t call it the perfect traffic school for everyone, but it was good enough to recommend.

If you found this post helpful. Please post a comment!

Moving Hosts

Another chapter in the life of this site…

I’m moving hosts on the evening of Monday, July 26, 2005. Expect it to take a couple days for the dns changes to propagate. Once I get everything moved over, you can expect updates more often. Yay! Hopefully you’ll be interested in reading about the crazy things I’ve been thinking about lately.

See you on the other side!

How To Duck Cell Phone Taxes

File this under “Ethically Questionable Life Hacks.” 🙂

In a nutshell, Scott Woolley’s article in Forbes, “How To Duck Cell Phone Taxes,” says that you can avoid some taxes on your mobile by changing your billing address to an area such as Nevada, which has the lowest cell phone taxes in the country.

I always wonder if companies, such as Verizon, consider ethics when designing policies like this. In this case, at least, it seems that if they had, they could have designed a policy that their customers wouldn’t be incented to circumvent.

Actually, perhaps ethics is the wrong consideration here? I guess I’m actually talking about customer motivation. Either way, you’d think that companies would try to design their (billing, usage, etc.) policies in such a way that their customers would actually WANT to follow them. That’s how you build customer loyalty, right? Congruence between the company’s and the customer’s philosophies?

Of course, the design of this particular policy is constrained by the relevant tax laws, but an obvious work-around would have been to design the customer interaction so that it prevented the ethically questionable behavior.

Goodbye Jef

Jef Raskin passed away last weekend. He was my friend and mentor.

I met Jef back in 2001, after a talk he gave at Stanford (video of the talk). I asked him to sign my copy of The Humane Interface and then we chatted about some of the things in the book.

Since then, we’ve worked together under what is now known as The Raskin Center for Humane Interfaces. (Jef protested about us using his name, but we insisted.)

It makes me sad to think we’ll never talk again, but I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished so far. Soon, we’ll be able to share the first piece of our humane computing environment with the world. It’s called Archy.

It’ll be exciting to see how people react. We’re working hard to help people understand that Archy is only one piece of the puzzle. I think the real fun will come when we integrate Archy with the other parts of our system, specifically the zooming environment. It’s going to be really, really sexy.

Luckily, Jef left us with a wonderfully idealistic and well articulated vision—one that will serve our organization for many years to come. I just hope our work will live up to being the memorial that I think he deserves.

Brad Lauster (dot com) back online

Well, I promised you I’d be back in 2004 and here I am. Welcome back!

The main reason I took the site down last year, was that I got tired of dealing with comment spam. But now I have a snazzy new copy of Movable Type 3, with lots of handy features for combatting spam, so all is well in blog land.

This design is almost all my own doing, save some css I stole from Doug Bowman (which I need to remember to make a comment about in my style sheet). Let me know if anything looks weird. I don’t actually own a Windows machine anymore, so who knows what this thing looks like in Internet Explorer?

I’ll be cleaning up the design over the next few weeks, but I wanted to get the old stuff back up first. I’m looking forward to collecting my thoughts again. I hope you’ll continue to read!

Beginning anew

Dear friends,
In a few days, I’ll be archiving everything on brad lauster (dot com) and removing it from the web.

I want to thank you for being a part of my journey. Without you and without this site, I am certain I’d be a completely different person.

Beginning next year, I’ll launch a new site focused solely on my exploration of the nature of experience.

It’s my hope that this new focus will be unique when compared to the current design and user experience writing on the web, while at the same time remaining significantly relevant to your work, as to remain above the fray of purely academic chatter.

I hope you’ll join me when I return in 2004. Thanks again, for everything. Cheers!