Living on an food stamp budget

Tomorrow I start living on a food stamp budget. I’m participating in the San Francisco Food Bank hunger challenge to understand what it would be like to live such a tight budget and highlight the Food Bank’s important role in helping out hungry families.

In order to qualify for food stamps, the gross annual income of a family of four cannot exceed $28,665. As the economy continues on it’s weak path more and more people are struggling to make ends meet. Programs get their funding cut, or lose funding entirely. More and more families dip below the poverty line. It’s painful and sad and I often want to do what I can to help.

So here I am, trying to live on $4.72 a day. I’ll be detailing daily my adventures here on my tumbler.

thoughts on guiding a user through a multistep experience

Yesterday I wanted to make some BBQ sauce. I remembered I had a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated that I wanted to try, so I spent 30 minutes looking for the right magazine. No luck. I then went online, where I *think* I found the recipe, but ALAS, it was behind a login wall. No worries, they say they have a 14 day free trial. I enter my email address.

Surprise! There is another step. I could go on about how much I dislike pretty much everything about this form, but I’ll let that one slide for now.

Am I done yet? Nope! Now it wants a credit card. Sorry, but my wallet is 2 stories down and I’m just fed up.*

Guiding people through a multistep task is tricky. How do you give them enough information about where they are in a process without scaring them away? Amazon does a solid job of guiding you through the purchase process with these little graphics. At any time you can see where you’ve been and where you’re going.

The iphone, due to it’s constrained size, often needs the wizard-style process to complete tasks. Instagram is an excellent example.

Foodspotting is fantastic as well, though it deviates from Instragram in it’s first screen. When you hit ‘spot’ you are immediately presented with 3 options.

Instagram assumes you want to snap a photo, and then deviate if you want to pick a photo from a library. There are 3 steps for both applications if you “pick a photo from a library”, but Instagram has only 2 steps if you use the camera. That’s a 33% saving! If you always want to chose a photo from a library in Instagram, you are no worse off. An improvement for them both would be to remember what you did the last time you use the app and automatically guide you into that path.

In thinking about these things, I came up with some guidelines for myself:

  • Remove noise (axe any non-essential fields, defer or hide optional fields until they’re required in some other process).
  • Point out the path you want them to walk, and give an alternate route if necessary.
  • Try not to present them with a fork with equally weighted options.**
  • Show them how far the have to go.

With these in mind, I looked at the administration panel for the SnappyTV facebook application. To set up the app, the user simply has to pick a channel, pick a show and then submit, in that specific order. I initially started simply with a long list of shows with radio buttons, but it was way too much information to present. Adding a search field on top would only make it worse – the user would expect a vast array of shows available, when we only support around 30. Turning the information into a hierarchy seemed the best way to go. Using the wizard approach, I initially decided to hide the successive steps until they completed the current step.

This prevented them from trying to click the show before a channel was selected. However, the page seemed bare and unhelpful and the user didn’t know how many steps there were.

A horizontal progress bar like that of Amazon’s was overkill for dropdown selections. I also didn’t like the cognitive work of matching a horizontal step list with the vertically placed steps.

So instead of hiding them, I show the step count with a little helpful text. Generally, I don’t like disabled links/buttons because if you can’t do anything with it, it usually is better off hidden. In this case though, greying out the steps helped the user see all the steps at once. It’s like being able to read a recipe before cooking the dish.

Just keep making beautiful better things, and those copy machines don’t stand a chance

I recently saw this post from an artist complaining that Urban Outfitters stole her design. I am a huge supporter of local and independent designers. I love de-constructed, re-constructed, up-cycled, original, vintage fashion, though I feel the whole thing was blown way out of proportion, including UO removing the necklaces from their site*.

This reminded me of many tech companies with items that are first-to-market, but ultimately get superseded by another company’s similar but better product (Microsoft’s surface -> iPad, Sony Walkman -> ipod, Atari -> Nintendo). The cycle of development is even faster in the fashion industry than it is in tech. In tech, ideas are cheap and the devil’s in the execution. In mid-range fashion, the opposite is true. Cheap labor makes for cheap (and fast) execution**. Ultimately, though it’s the entity that moves forward that stays ahead.

Companies can take an idea and make it cheaper, or better or both. Ever wonder why those Luis Vuitton bags have their LV symbol ALL OVER their $1000+ bags? It’s because you technically can’t copyright a specific bag design, but you can copyright a logo. This doesn’t stop all those cheap chinese companies from replicating the design and using an ‘LT’ logo instead. This happens to EVERY high-end fashion label. Ruffles on the runway eventually turn into ruffles at Urban Outfitters. This quote from The Devil Wears Prada sums it up perfectly.

But what you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise. It’s not lapis. It’s actually cerulean. And you’re also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves Saint Laurent… wasn’t it who showed cerulean military jackets? I think we need a jacket here. And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. And then it, uh, filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin.

Check out these videos for more examples of ‘stealing’

I feel badly for this girl, but she could have something that Urban Outfitters doesn’t – speed and creativity. If she constantly comes out with new designs, it doesn’t matter so much who’s trying to copy her. She could even become (*gasp!*) a trendsetter.

‘Stealing’ designs is definitely a bad thing to do, and speaks volumes to the stealer’s inability to innovate. It’s great to point it out and shame/embarrass them. It’s even better just to come out with a superior product and stay ahead of the curve.

* In fact, I remember seeing California necklaces with a jewel at San Francisco at least 3 years ago in several local shops. State necklaces exactly like this artist’s; more state necklaces, and more. Another example of ‘copying’ fashion I love is when Lady Gaga supposedly copies her bubble dress from Chalayan. Sorry, but the bubble dress is a classic staple from burlesque. The only reason why this story got so much attention is that the internet creams itself over underdog stories and itches to avenge oppression from ‘the man’ (and because nobody like Urban Outfitters. It’s just hipster clothing for the masses, and we consider ourselves superior).

** I’m qualifying mid-range fashion because couture & high-end fashion is technically difficult execution that requires a huge deal of skill, is often handmade, and is incredibly refined in many subtle ways, just like cars. Actually, every industry is rife with copying the innovators.

SnappyTV – share live clips of tv instantly

I’ve been working on a new company cofounded with friends, SnappyTV. We give you the ability to share clips of television in near-real time from when it airs. Here’s a thoughtful piece from our CEO about our business and the tv-web space.

So today has been a very good day.

One of our video clips from the French Open was featured on the Yahoo home page (eeeep! bouncy bouncy) and …… THE SERVERS DIDN’T DIE! We have somewhere around 1000 views a minute and our entire site was purring. I assure you, this is an impressive feat of pure scaling awesomeness.

Here’s the clip that was featured and the corresponding story.

I’m surprised it got so many hits, considering it has nothing to do with pandas or boobies, although it is a tennis player (Sabine Lisick) crying in pain, so I guess it’s got that going for it.

A revelation on the fundamental difference between developers & business

Ya Internet

The coding style of keeping it DRY (don’t repeat yourself) is the exact opposite of what business people do (repeat, repeat, repeat until someone hears you). A good developer builds bits to be reusable, leaving repetitive tasks for automated tools like test suites. A good business person will continually send the same person an email until he gets a response, increasing daily frequency if necessary.

This explains why geeks are so bad at dating! Yes, you CAN send her multiple okcupid messages, nerds. It explains why developers have trouble being heard in mixed (dev+biz) meetings, and why devs don’t like meetings to start with. Many meetings are about topics previously discussed but have yet to reach a decision.

Geeks primarily use repetition for non-human or indirect human interactions (games) in which they have some control over the outcome. Perhaps business people are just insane1.

I’ve been rolling and squishing this thought in my brain and I feel it explains a lot of behavioral differences, though I could be completely off-base here. I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

1. “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” – Einstein

Food adventures

One of my favorite aspects of travel is experiencing the culture through food. When I was younger I refused to eat “weird” things (although when I was tiny I ate whatever my parents gave me, including Baulet). This restaurant next to the Molino Stucky Hilton presented us with this mixed appetizer dish.


Here’s a video of us trying that little baby squid.

It didn’t taste bad – it was not too chewy and fishy with some parsley flavor. The brains we polenta-textured. I have trouble eating organs, so I ate a few more legs and gave it to Tod.

Lindsey wouldn’t eat the crayfish because it reminded her of her pet crayfish as a kid. It was a little sweet and pretty much tasted like raw shrimp from a sushi place.

Tod, who is not in the video, ate everything without batting an eye. I hope to get there some day.

Bloop bloop


I’m currently in Venice, Italy. My Italian has come back to me, although I’ve been mixing masculine/feminine nouns and using the wrong endings. I studied Italian for 2 years and lived here for 8 months so it’s frustrating to hear myself mess up. I had almost forgotten how beautiful the language sounds. It’s very musical.

The mid-afternoons are unbearably hot and crowded so I’ve been hiding in my room during the siesta. I saw a woman faint on the water bus today. It’s definitely important to stay hydrated and eat salty snacks.


I finally uploaded a video from February when I went to Tahoe for Ed’s birthday. I wish I could roll around in that snow for 5 minutes.

I made this video for a new company I’ve been working with called They do tv & movie recommendations and they have a free iphone app. I’ve been playing with it and it’s pretty cool. It was really fun coming up with which tv shows & movies to spoof. Some of them are more recognizable than others. Can you guess them all?

It took an hour to gather all the props and get my hair like this, and I only shot about 10 seconds of footage. Video is tough!

Spoof tv for

You should definitely try out their service and check out their web site here. It’s still in private beta, so use invite code bee.karen to get access. Let me know what you think!

bacon bacon bacon yummy!

BaconCamp was a huge success and we raised about $1500 for the San Francisco Food Bank. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera at home. I’m ashamed – I didn’t take a single photo at BaconCamp. Good thing there are other more organized folks to step in:

beautiful folks enjoying porky products by gelaskins photo by rockbandit

The winningest super yummy bacon bloody mary by dennis. photo by Asylum (click for their article)

Pork abounded. We celebrated, we ate, we drank and we fundraised for a truly great cause and we documented the pig out of it.


And Mark made a video.

BaconNews on youtube

In case you missed the winners, I’ve posted them here

Thanks for coming out and helping, and for those who missed it, you support our cause every time you think of bacon.

And a super duper special thanks to our kickass sponsors:

  • Bacon Hot Sauce
  • Digital Dads
  • Dennis Mueller
  • GelaSkins
  • Stickergiant
  • Boccalone