Category Archives: iHeavy Newsletter

Lessons from Locksmiths and the 99%

Just finished reading Dan Ariely’s new book The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty. What a great title for a book on cheating & lying.

Dishonesty is pretty easy to understand, isn’t it? We know when someone is being honest or not, and we ourselves are of course never dishonest? Or so we think.

Well your preexisting ideas about honesty are about to be turned upside down.
Ariely has an amazing storytelling ability that will leaving you scratching your head and saying – I hadn’t thought of that.

Conventional economics theory has it that people will be dishonest when there is low risk and it serves their economic interest. But it’s actually much much more complex.

He tells one story of how a cab driver lies about the fare in favor of himself, while at other times in favor of the passenger! Or for example the story of how soda & some cash are left in an office refrigerator. The sodas disappear, but the money remains.

Perhaps the most interesting discussion is that of law firms & billable hours. There is of course the question of what counts as a billable hour, and where the rounding happens. But what’s more accountability can and does become a measure of how much work gets done. So those who round down because they are more honest, may be perceived to be doing the least amount of work! Conflicts of interest indeed.

[quote]Sometimes conflicts of interest cloud our judgement and steer our thinking. In professions where we make recommendations and then also provide service based on those recommendations those may be difficult to eliminate. Consumers or businesses should make every effort to find service providers with the least conflicts.[/quote]

We’re a service provider ourselves. Wondering how we work? Take a peek at our Anatomy of a Performance Review to get insight.

Interestingly, based on the soda story among others, it turns out people are less likely to be dishonest when cash is involved. So he wonders, as we become more of a cashless society, it may be that our moral compass slips? Still hot on the heels of our housing financial crisis it does make one wonder.

Perhaps my favorite anecdote was one where told the story of locking himself out of his apartment. After very quickly picking the lock he was surprised. The locksmith explained that doors are very easy to pick and open for a professional. You wouldn’t need locks for the 1% of people who are honest. Nor would you need them for the 1% of people who are thieves, they can pick your lock easily. Locks are for the 98% of people who are mostly honest, but might be tempted to be dishonest if the conditions are right. What he was also saying was that 99% of people are not completely perfectly honest.

Great read and excellent food for thought.

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Anatomy of a Performance Review

A lot of firms come to us with a specific scalability problem. “Our user base is growing rapidly and the website is falling over!” Or they’re selling more widgets, “Our shopping cart is slowing down and we’re seeing users abandon their purchases”. These are real startup growing pains, so what to do?

We like to take a measured approach with these types of challenges, so we thought it would be helpful to run through a hypothetical scenario and see how we work.

Related: Why website speed is crucial to business

Having trouble with scalability? Check out our 5 things toxic to scalability piece.

1. Contract outline

First we talk on the phone, or meet face to face and discuss what’s happening. Do you have one page that’s problematic? Is the website slow during certain hours? Or are you seeing erratic behavior and can’t point to a single source?

From there we outline a course of action, based on:

o talking with team, devs & architects
o reviewing systems first hand
o identifying bottlenecks and trouble spots

This with this outline we’ll include an estimate of the number of work days it’ll take to complete. We’ll then send that back to you for review, exchange a deposit and set a start date.

2. Meet team & discuss architecture

Next we’ll meet the team and review the problems in more technical detail. If you’re in NYC we’ll probably make a stop into your offices and have a warm meet & greet. If you’re located further afield we can either meet over a skype call, or arrange for us to travel to your location for the start of the engagement.

3. Measure current throughput

In order to get a sense of the current state of the systems we’ll measure some system metrics. This could be load average or queries per second or other MySQL internal metrics. We’ll also look at some business metrics such as speed of an ecommerce checkout, or a speed test on a particularly slow page.

These metrics are designed to create a baseline of where things are before any changes are made.

[quote]Measuring both business and system metrics before and after changes, allow a rough ROI measurement to be done. This goes a long way towards justifying the expense of a performance review, current and future.[/quote]

4. Review systems, configurations & setups

Next we’ll jump on the various systems and review configurations. This includes webservers, caching servers and the database servers as necessary. We’ll review memory settings, important configurations, all the dials and switches.

Along with this we’ll also review development and architecture. Are you using Java with Hibernate a popular ORM? Or perhaps CakePHP? Are you writing custom SQL code? Are developers up to speed with EXPLAIN and query profiling? For that matter is code in version control?

Just looking for a DBA? Check out our MySQL Hiring Guide.

5. Report on actionable advice & findings

Perhaps the most essential and useful part of an initial engagement is our overall findings and review report. We’ve found these are very valuable to firms as they speak to a lot of folks up and down the business hierarchy. They speak to management about high level architectural problems and structural or process related challenges. And they can speak well to developers and operations teams as they provide a third party birds eye view of day-to-day activities.

Take a look at a sample report we’ve prepared for Acme StartUp, Inc.

6. Discuss which steps to move on

From here we’ll meet again. In particular we’ll review the actionable advice. Some changes will be low cost, requiring no downtime, while others might require a downtime window. Further medium term changes might require refactoring some code and deploying. Typically the larger longer term architecture changes will also be outlined.

Based on time & costs, we’ll decide together which changes are a priority. Obviously we’ll want to move on low hanging fruit first, and move forward from there.

Want to learn more about us? Check out our testimonials and our about page.

7. Take action on agreed changes

Once we’ve decided which changes we’ll make, we’ll schedule downtime windows as needed and make the changes to systems. From there we’ll carefully observe everything for stability, and no adverse affects.

8. Measure throughput again

Based on the throughput measurements in #3 above, we’ll perform those same benchmarks again. We’ll check low level system metrics, along with higher level business & user based throughput. Both of these are important as they can provide different perspectives on changes made.

For example if the system metrics improve markedly, but the business or user metrics do not, we know are change had some affect on overall performance, but likely we did not identify the one which directly is causing the business slowdown.

9. Summarize findings & performance gain

In the most likely case they both improve markedly, and we can measure the improvements from our entire process of performance review.

This can be helpful and measuring overall return on investment for the engagement. ROI is obviously an important exercise as we want to know that the money is well spent.

10. Document solutions & recommendations

The last step is to document what we did and what we learned. This allows us to carry forward that knowledge and keep applying it to the development and operations process. This allows the business to continue adding value from the engagement even after it’s completed.

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Powerful punchy prose, big hit blog

Word Hero sounds familiar doesn’t it? I had bumped into the title here and there. I finally picked up a copy when I realized it was by the same author as my recent favorite Thank You For Arguing – Jay Heinrichs. Turns out his title inspiration was Guitar Hero, and therein lies the secret to success.

Get Viral

Timing is critical as we learned writing the book on Oracle and Open Source. But just as important is pithy, punchy prose.

Word Hero takes you through chapter by chapter introducing you lightly to the wisdom of the ancient Greeks, but more importantly explains exactly how to get to these phrases that have a life of their own.


o take great phrases & dissect them to see how they work
o illustrate great rhyming & verbing
o focus on the sound to make things lyrical
o puns, mad libs & the square root of rainbows

He quotes from great pop cultural stuff, and even a bit of Warren Buffet & Yogi Berra. By far my favorites though are his quotes from the popular TV show Glee:

[quote]You think that is hard? I’m passing a gallstone as we speak. That is hard![/quote]

If you’re a freelance blogger or sometime free agent, you should also take a look at Startup of You by Hoffman & Casnocha.

Practice your techniques

I definitely like the way Heinrichs breaks down techniques & offers illustrates exactly how to give it all a try yourself. I tried it myself a bit with this blog post. What do you think?

I also tried to put it to use in this review of Startup of You. I titled it Opportunity a day – career risk at bay. Kinda catchy I thought.

Definitely grab a copy of Word Hero, it’ll help you with your blogging, sending a memorable email, or putting together presentations that resonate.

Don’t forget to work on your Klout score!

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Opportunity a day – career risk at bay

Free Agent. Stress Test. Avoid Sameness

As the globalization juggernaut rolls on, it continues to create more Detroits. Skills and perspectives quickly become obsolete.

What to do in the face of such change?

[quote]Small fires prevent the big burn[/quote]

So there’s your quick answer. Get the book if you want more!

Some related material: why is it so hard to find a mysql dba?.
Consulting 101 Guide – Finding Business :: Completing Engagements :: Growing business

Your Mentors

On this tour, a free agent needs mentors. Hoffman & Casnocha provide you with plenty from stories & lessons from some of the startup industry’s finest. Jack Dorsey, Mark Andreesen, Cheryl Sandberg, Rick Warren, Paul Graham, Jeff Bezos, Joi Ito and a few of their own running Paypal & Linkedin.

What you’ll love

Each chapter closes with concrete actionable advice. The authors carefully craft marching orders for you in the next day, next week and next month. Go ahead, give them a try.

[quote]Safe is the new risky – Phil Simon[/quote]

An executive summary of Startup of You

1. develop your strengths
- what do you find easy that others find difficult?
- diversify asset mix aka learn new skills

2. plan to be nimble
- pivot as you learn more
- always prepare a lifeboat contingency plan

3. work & develop your network
- hangout with those already on the road
- domain experts, people who know you & smart people

4. hustle for breakout opportunities

5. Embrace baby steps of risk
- bounds of unemployment – shocks that motivate
- adjust your strategy & pivot if need be

What’s next?

Had a taste and want more? If you’re a MySQL DBA we wrote an interview guide. Also check out our Oracle dba interview questions.

Want more? Check out our best of content compilation.

[quote]Only the paranoid survive. – Andy Grove[/quote]

Read this far? Grab our newsletter. We cover all sorts of great topics for free agents, consultants, and those who want to hire them.

Social Scoring with Klout, Kred & PeerIndex

Klout, Kred or PeerIndex… What’s with all these new social scoring sites? I wanted to know the answer, so I picked up a copy of Return on Influence.

Schaefer’s book is not intimidating, it’s a short 180 pages plus a short appendix with a primer on all things social media.

Upon first opening the book, I wanted to get right to the meaty topic first, so I flipped straight to chapter 10 – how to increase your Klout score. I mean that’s really what we want to know right?

It lists three steps:

1. build your network of relevant & related fans

2. build content, create, curate or conversation

3. find influencers and engage

Of course the devil’s in the details.

When I was first exposed to twitter, I would crosspost blog posts or newsletters, then sit back and wonder why no one was clicking on my links! Is it only valuable for brands to send out press releases and speak to loyal customers?

The answer takes time, with trial and error to get the hang of. How do you write punchy 140 tweets that grab people, and make them click? That’s a talent all by itself. Being on point can only get you so far if you can’t shake people up with those pithy one liners.

Mark Schaefer has done a laudable job introducing the world of social media with great page after page of good stories. What’s more the title itself is what grabbed me, flipped Return On Investment on it’s head to the more nebulous social media influence measured by scores like Klout.

Still all those chapters discussing Cialdini’s concepts of social proof and reciprocity are all fine and good, but I learned most of what I needed to know about the topic from the first page.

After big time interactive marketing exec Sam Fiorella learned about Klout the hard way, he set out to improve his score that sat around a lowly 45.

[quote]Fiorella went on a tweeting rampage to increase his Klout score by any means. He was determined that his experience at the ad agency interview would enver be repeated. He carefully studied and tried to reproduce the online behaviors of top-rated influencers. When he spoke at conferences, he made sure that every slide had a tweetable quote aimed at the Klout algorithm and asked attendees to tweet his name throughout the presentation. He engineered his online engagement to attract attention of high Klout influencers who could bend his score upward and filtered his followers by their levels of influence so that he knew which contacts to nurture to affect his score.[/quote]

And what was Fiorella able to push his score to? The Elite level of 70! Wow not bad at all. You might call it gaming the algorithm, or you could call it doing all the things that social media marketing and networking demand. I’d personally be happy to hit the 45 myself!

Marketing isn’t just for the big guys anymore, and as the ranks of freelancers and independent consultants swells, more and more will be looking to improve their influence and reach. Social scoring, like website page ranking is another one of those measures and one of growing importance.

If you read this far, you’ll definitely want to grab our newsletter!

And just for posterity we thought we’d include our Klout badge below. Follow us on twitter we don’t mind the attention!

One more thing… if you love the newsletter, check out our archives. They go back 7+ years!

Business lessons from brokering a half million dollar deal

I’ve had my Manhattan loft in the market for some six months now. After dropping the asking price a couple of times, buyers are finally circling, and I’m close to finalizing a deal.  In that time however, I’ve learned some big lessons.  Real Estate, is the epitome of cutthroat capitalism and as such has some very potent lessons to teach about business.

Understand Interests – Two Sides to Every Argument

Brokers have an interest – to make their fee;  buyers have an interest – to lower the selling price, sellers have an interest to get the highest selling price.  On the surface this may seem self evident.  But dig a little deeper and you’ll learn more. Brokers are somewhat aligned with buyer and seller, but like a cab driver preferring lots of short trips, their incentive is to do more deals. Fewer deals with higher margins would actually cost them. A 1%-2% higher selling price may be significant to your bottom line but meaningless to theirs.

[quote]Business Lesson 1 – Pay close attention to each party’s interests and you’ll understand the negotiating dynamic more clearly.[/quote]

In brokering, like war, no one plays fair

Each industry has it’s own ugly side. No one calls back. No one emails back. There are no pleasantries. In some businesses where credibility and reputation are built over time, people do care–little bit. But in brokering a large deal they don’t.  Silence means “Hey, thanks for going out of your way to give us an hour of your time even though we were late.  We don’t care.  We no longer need you & we’re not gonna respond.”  Got it, heard you loud and clear!

[quote]Business Lesson 2 – Be prepared for selfishness and deception. In some cases watch out for cheaters and even fraud.  Don’t let this color all your interactions, but be aware that some parties may not have the same scruples as you do and some may even break the law. [/quote]

Markets are bigger than you are

You may think your house or apartment has some intrinsic value, based on renovations or the time you’ve held it, or some other more personal metric. However the market is ultimately what sets the price of the asset. Market trends can swing wildly and irrationally so be prepared to “get real”, as they say in the business.

[quote]Business Lesson 3 – Market forces set the price of a good or service. The door swings both ways so when there is a greater supply be prepared for the price to go down, and when location, asset or skills are in great demand, be prepared for the price to go up.[/quote]

Buyers move on emotion; facts get you only so far

Salesmen tell stories. It’s their job to engage, stir passions, get people to move. Sometimes these yarns are taller than you or I might like, but if people knew exactly what they wanted, brokers wouldn’t exist. This occurs across the spectrum in sales.

[quote]Business Lesson 4 – Pay less attention to the facts and arguments a salesmen presents to you. Only the underlying interest of each party will tell a clear story of motivations. Weigh that along with the market appetite and you should have a good idea of the right price.[/quote]

Protect your interests and time

Over the months I’ve been on the market, I’ve had countless brokers try to sell me their services. An exclusive seller agreement is valuable to a broker as it allows them to control the process and control the fee distribution. One broker made an appointment to come by with their buyer over a holiday weekend. Following up at the appointed time, they explained that they were running late though frankly the broker sounded hung over. Upon arrival they brought no buyer. Seeing my irritation, they quickly fabricated a story about a phantom buyer and their specific requirements. After wasting a few hours of my time and breaking up my holiday weekend, I never heard from them again. Not fun.

[quote]Business Lesson 5 – Qualify your prospect before you grant them your time. There are many parties who can and will waste your time if you’re not careful. Be diligent about weeding them out before clearing your schedule for them.[/quote]

Pro Blogging with the Pros

I picked up a copy of the Problogger book and flipped to the Blog Promotion chapter.  In it they recommended – Create compilation pages.

I tried it

I crafted a new post, selected some of my blogs most popular material, organized it with nice punchy one line summaries, and after about 20 minutes posted it.  Hey what the heck, I’ll give it a try.

It Worked!

The page got tons of traffic, after I shared it around. It doubled my typical daily traffic & the bounce rate ended up being really low as almost half of the people who hit the page clicked something.  It wasn't only the traffic from this page, but people clicking on through to other content featured there. Simple advice, straightforward results.  This is what I'm looking for in a book on blogging.

You'll find it is full of this type actionable advice. That's why it's so valuable.

  • interlink within your posts – this is huge!
  • highlight related posts
  • quote important points as excerpts
  • ask questions and invite comments

There are other great chapters on Social Media to get your posts going viral, and of course the ever important monetization topic is covered nicely.

Go pickup a copy of this book.  It’s worth much more than the cover price for sure!

Why the Android ecosystem is broken

Six months ago I got this crazy idea. Why not leave the mothership? Give up on iPhone and try Android. This is what being tech-agnostic is about, I thought––not being wedded to a single platform. Besides, the iPhone’s digital keypad just wasn’t working for me.

I got a monthly Boost Mobile plan, which uses Sprint. Service was stellar and I mean really good. I could call anywhere and always had a signal, even inside all these pre-war buildings you find in downtown Manhattan. How is this possible I thought? Service is one thing, but thats where the fun ends. A few months into Android hyperspace and I find myself grappling with a system that just doesn’t seem to understand what users want.

Shock and Awe

On Android – first Samsung Transform Ultra then Sidekick 4G I found the app store was like wild, wild west. Buggy apps sat along well tested ones, and only a very discerning eye and mobile guru might know the difference. Syncing was absolutely horrible. The whole platform assumes you want to sync up with Google accounts. I went with Missing Sync from Mark/Space. My addressbook started getting corrupted, duplicate records appeared, syncs would fail halfway through.

What’s more there were tons of started services I didn’t even use like Smart Navigation, Group Texting, and so on. These services seemed to run in the background, hog & bleed memory, and slow down my phone til it started crashing. I actually had to download an app called Easy Task Killer. Apparently a very popular app on the Android phones, I wonder why?

Later on I found out that T-mobile was no longer supporting the Sidekick. No wonder it was so buggy. I can’t believe they’d ship something like this.

My full list of beefs:

  • corrupted data
  • slow to non-functional syncing
  • dangerous apps
  • sharing of private data
  • ineffective calendaring
  • no support for addressbook groups
  • apps not remembering context & position
  • no good email app
  • weaker less feature rich apps
  • kludgy interface



I’ve long since quelled my desire for a physical keyboard. I was struggling with every other thing I would do with the device. Sometimes I’d just give up.

I really wanted to get along with my Android phone but my experience with it only gave me an insight into three crucial areas where it falls short.

  1. An Iron Fist
  2. People complain about Apple’s iron fist in app store approval. You can’t have it both ways. Android completely lacks discipline and users suffer hugely because of it. That weakens the platform.

  3. A manageable set of devices
  4. Developers building for Android must test on a huge spectrum of hardware. Smaller shops are likely to choose a few of the biggest ones only. Phones with a smaller user base likely have a lot of bugs just in the Android version they run. All this bodes badly as users just see buggy software, they don’t know why or how. This perception further weakens the platform.

  5. Affordable development

Building apps costs businesses money. Businesses must balance the costs of building features, test, debug, troubleshoot & release. That’s cheaper on the iphone because you have one device that is much more mature. This has a pile on affect as it strengthens the platform, users spend more on their devices, more users pile onto the iphone platform, so more money can be made building an iphone apps.  On Android higher costs, lower margins further weakens the platform.

A new love for Apple

This whole experience has brought me back to the iPhone 4S, and I have a whole new love and appreciation for the platform and the device.

  • calendar reminders make me more productive
  • data is always right, and where I need it
  • I don’t fumble with menus – I’m faster & less frustrated
  • cross-platform apps are more feature rich on the iphone
  • complex features are hidden in plain view – superb interface
  • pulse, hootsuite, yelp, notes & calendar are all integrated & productive



I also learned that sometimes less is more… much more!

Tyranny of a Google vote

Image by Hajo de Reijger, politicallyillustrated.com

For the past year I’ve been seeing headline blogs analyzing the effect of Google’s last algorithm update, dubbed the Panda. There was much talk of unfair relegation from the first page of Google search results, and general indignance by the SEO community.

As with any subject in which I only have cursory knowledge I didn’t think much of it. I thought that as long as I didn’t engage in link-buying and whatever is known as “black hat” tactics, the search engines would be fair. What I didn’t realise with Google was how subjective it has become in ranking websites. I was particularly tripped up in the area of duplicate content.

Some of my articles are syndicated to DZone.com, a hub for tech bloggers. They’d approached me about a year ago asking if I’d like them to carry our content. It seemed like a good way to gain visibility so I agreed.

Recently, I ran a Google search on the actual content that was syndicated and found the following results:

Title Dzone rank iheavy rank
Zero Downtime – What is it? #21 (not in first 5 pages)
Deploying MySQL on EC2 #1 (not in first 5 pages)
Cloud Computing Use Cases #5 (not in first 5 pages)

Now DZone.com’s pagerank is a 6 while iheavy.com is a 3. Google’s algorithm is probably weighing the pagerank of Dzone higher, and serving up those results at the expense of the original. It could be that the algorithms can’t determine which is original but Google’s bots know full well when content is published, so it knows the iheavy.com content was created before.

More likely it cannot supersede the ranking algorithm. It is one based on popularity.

What’s Original Content?

All of this raises the question of the value of original content. In this case we’ve given this site permission to carry our content, not knowing whether that would be good or bad for us. Nevertheless, it does seem to go against common sense, and perhaps what Internet users intuition might tell them, that they were not clicking through to the original creator of some content.

Can Google’s Algorithm Discern Original Work? Is there an incentive to do so?

The update brings up interesting questions about Google’s ranking algorithm. In a world where the popularity indicator is given the highest weight, will we find what we are looking for? In my case, I write articles related to my area of expertise, which is on web architecture, scalability and general tech consulting matters. Of course I want people to find my site when they’re looking for solutions to problems relevant to them. Yet in Google’s calculations, popularity trumps provenance.

Many bigger sites are experiencing the same thing and at an even larger scale. According to SEO Moz, Panda is forcing a change onto the role of SEOs, turning them into that of web strategists. While traditional SEO methods of optimizing for keywords, and putting out quality content still count, design and user experience, shareability, likeability; what’s known as “signals” that could predict the site’s popularity, are influencing the overall results of your site.

As an independent business owner with limited resources my time off hours is invested in writing better articles that appeal to people searching for MySQL or scalability consulting and less about putting in the bells and whistles to raise site popularity. But if that’s what Google favors then I’ll probably have to rethink my approach.

As much as I can squeeze out of a busy schedule, there’s not a high chance that this website can surpass a giant such as Dzone in popularity.

The Internet is meant to be a place where the pint-sized can have a fair chance at making an impression. With the way search algorithms have evolved, things are looking more like a reality TV talent contest where skill alone without good looks and a nice smile are just not enough to win the popular vote.

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Habits. We all have them. The good ones we celebrate, but the bad ones we struggle with. Duhigg’s book may introduce some ideas to those of us less familiar with behavioral sciences but it fails to effectively teach us how to form good habits and break the bad ones.

Filled with pages of stories from successful brands such as Pepsodent which Duhigg credits for turning the brushing of teeth into a daily routine; and perhaps more tenuous ones about leaders such as Paul O’ Neill, the CEO of Alcoa who purportedly turned around the fortunes of an ailing organisation by changing its safety practices.

From cue, routine to reward we must first identify the habit, then in a way that parallels the success of Alcoholic Anonymous, you replace the routine, keeping the cue and reward. In discussing the success of AA and others, he brings up the importance of belief in long term success of habit change. He references William James’ famous quote “Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create that fact”.

Still, I couldn’t help thinking that for the average business manager it lacked actionable advice of the kind you might find in a Jim Collins Good to Great or Chip Conley’s Peak. These books also have excellent story telling, but break things down in a very specific set of steps and attributes that an organization or individual can apply today.

Duhigg’s writing is easy to read and that’s probably the book’s greatest strength. Yet with most of it grounded more in interesting anecdotes than credible research, the examples unfortunately give for more entertaining reading than any deep insight.