Sunday, March 05, 2017

Technology, antifragile businesses, and workflow

I have been enjoying Nassim Taleb's book 'Antifragile' in which I have learned (or better understood) how difficult to impossible it is to predict the future, especially events with a low probability. Taleb does convince that it is possible and desirable to rate personal habits, health issues, business, governments, etc. as to how fragile <--> robust <--> antifragile they are. Robust is good, antifragile is even better.

It is fragile, for example, to depend on the salary from one company to support your family while investing heavily in that company's stock. It is more robust having a side business to earn extra money and to broadly distribute long term investments. It is antifragile to own multiple businesses. Taleb argues, and I agree, that it is better to earn less but have safer more distributed income streams. Personally, I have three businesses: software development consulting, writing books, and I am a landlord for income properties. I am in the process of opening a fourth business, iOS and macOS apps for two very different use cases.

I read a lot, both books and long essay format things on the web. For years I have categorized and collected useful articles and snippets of text and relied on text search to find what I need later. Since most of my reading is done on my iPad Pro, I have changed the way I manage research materials: I use the iOS app Notability to quickly markup what I am reading with ideas for business, application ideas, etc. I then export what I am reading into one of a hierarchy of folders on Google Drive. I favor Google Drive over iCloud or DropBox because all PDFs on Google Drive are easily searchable. Using an Apple Pencil makes the Notability app more convenient. In any case, it is much more useful to capture my own thoughts along with research materials.

This setup replaces a custom 'Evernote like' system I wrote a few years ago that by using a Firefox plugin I wrote I could capture snippets of what I am reading on the web to a custom web app I wrote. It was a pain to maintain this system for my own use, and it was in no state to develop into a product. Relying on a commercial product and Google Drive for storage is much better.

I have drastically reduced the complexity of my working tools. I have shelved the multitude of Linux systems I have (it would embarrass me to admit how many I have), and now I just use an iPad Pro, a MacBook with and external Retina display, and I have a 60 GB RAM, 16 core VPS I can spin up and down as I need it. Almost all of my development work is now in Ruby (using RubyMine), Java (using IntelliJ), and Haskell (using Emacs and Intero). Having a much simpler work environment cuts my overhead. I have also simplified publishing to the web, favoring using Heroku, Google AppEngine, and serving static sites using Google cloud storage.