Author Archives: benhuh
I became a U.S. Citizen only a few months ago. It was a decade-long struggle that I finally won (I’ll leave those details for another day). But by the time I sent in my voter registration information, I was told it would be too late to vote in this year’s election. I had never voted in my life and I was deeply disappointed that I would have to wait two more years.
As I watched the news on Tuesday night, the results came streaming in. ‘Another election, another time on the sidelines,’ I thought. But something I never expected was going on. King County accepted postmarked ballots as long as it was stamped before midnight, November 2nd.
“It sucks that I can’t vote,” I said out loud.
“Your ballot was sitting on the table.” My wife said.
Wait, what? King County government was much more efficient than they themselves expected. I received a Voter’s Pamphlet a few weeks ago, but I set it aside without reading since I thought I wouldn’t be able to vote. My very smart wife (who is completely uninterested in politics) actually flipped through the pamphlet.
I got my PJ-wearing butt off the couch and hurried to the kitchen. The pamphlet was gone. Before I could say a word… “I put it in the recycling bin,” she added.
And there it was. The ballot. A chance to vote for the first time in my life, mixed in with shredded bills and old magazines. Democracy smelled of dog treats and overly-ripe apples. The clock read 11:03 pm. 57 minutes left in my chance to vote.
I filled in the form as quickly as I could, making sure I was voting for who and what I wanted. Licked, sealed, ready to go. Crap. No stamp. There was no time to dig around the house.
“Make sure you pick up extra stamps!” She said as I bolted out the door.
11:12 pm. 48 minutes left. As my Smart Car approached the Queen Anne post office, I got a call from Emily. She let me know that there was only one post office in the area that would be accepting ballots until midnight. And it was all the way down in SeaTac. She would serve as my dispatch and text the address while I was on my way.
I punched the gas and the Smart Car responded as if it was just a suggestion. The tiny, 1 liter, 70 horsepower engine took its sweet time pushing me to 60 MPH. The excitement and impending deadline pushed adrenaline through my body. My vote may not matter at this point, but I was going to do what I couldn’t for the last 32 years. I was almost sweating. But that just turned out to be the temperature set too high. I turned down the heat in the car.
During the drive down, I thought about how I would explain my impassioned driving to the police if I got pulled over. A white Smart Car flying down Highway 99 probably stands out like an alien spaceship in a Walmart parking lot.
‘Yes, officer. I was speeding. But please just write the ticket as quickly as you can. You see, I’ve waited 32 years to vote and I have just minutes left. In fact, could you consider giving me an escort?’
OK, maybe not. I mean, how fast can a 9-foot plastic car go?
The post office on 32nd Street was buzzing with activity and Democracy would throw up one more hurdle. A decrepit Camry was parked illegally in the handicapped spot, taking a space and half, and there were no other spots left. I gingerly squeezed the Cheezmobile into whatever opening was left by the crumbling Camry. I wanted this badly.
Stamped? Check. Return address? Check. Sealed? Check.
But before I handed the ballot over to be postmarked, I paused to savor this hard-earned moment and asked the mailman to take a picture. It was 11:37 pm. 23 minutes to the end of Election Day 2010.
P.S. And I got the extra stamps just like my wife wanted. America, and the Huh family, slept well that night.
After struggling to find a watch that was inexpensive and interesting, I asked the Twitterverse for suggestions. One idea jumped out: wear the new multi-touch iPod nano as a watch.
Doing a little search reveals that this idea isn’t exactly original, but since I have never met anyone else wearing an Apple watch, it met the interesting part of my criteria. And at $149, it would be cheaper than many watches. So I picked up a silver 8gb model, paired it with a $10 watch replacement strap and voilà! I now wear the painfully geekiest watch of all time.
I have now worn the watch for about a week, and here are my observations from experience.
- It actually looks pretty good. Several strangers commented that my watch was beautiful, without even realizing that It was a nano. It’s about the size of an oversized men’s watch, so it does look awkward on women’s wrists.
- No need to plug your headphone into the iPhone in your pocket. Having the iPod attached to the wrist, where it is far more accessible makes using the iPod features that much easier. Also, I’ve broken at least one iPhone headphone jack by sitting awkwardly on the phone.
- I was afraid that the nano would not hold securely enough to the wrist strap. But so far, no problems.
- The nano contains a pedometer, a stopwatch, photo album, and a radio (with time-shifting functionality). Pretty cool for a watch.
- The multi-touch navigation is very intuitive and makes one-handed use efficient. If you are a lefty, wearing it on the right wrist will help.
- There are two choices of watch faces: the white dial and the black dial.
- Its not waterproof, or scratch resistant. In fact, we probably take the waterproofedness of our watches for granted when we wash our hands or walk in the rain. I don’t know how much moisture or splashing the nano can take. I’m not in a hurry to find out.
- Since it’s clipped on, the nano sticks out about 1/2 an inch above the wrist. Which makes it highly prone to scraping against something. It also gets snagged often when I’m trying to put on a jacket or a shirt.
- In order to see the time, you have to press a button to wake the display. It’s a necessary throwback to old school digital watches, circa 1960s. But when the display is off, the all-black face does look nice.
- While the battery life has been exceptional, it’s not going to last 2 years without a recharge. I now have yet another device I have to plug in at night. If I don’t use the iPod features, the nano will last 3 to 5 days without a charge. I have yet to need to recharge in less than 24 hours despite all the demos I have given.
- A wire that runs from your wrist to your ears feels quite strange. Give it enough slack or you could yank the earphones out while making some hand gestures.
- While the nano is using the iPod features, the nano will automatically show you the iPod screen when awaken (even when the iPod is paused). It takes at least two swipes to see the time on the home screen. It’s not intuitive to know how to make the nano display the clock app on wake. PRO-TIP: To “close” the iPod app, the playlist must end. In other words, pick a single song to play and skip to the end.
- I’d love to be able to buy apps made for the nano. Digital watch face? Voice recorder? Tamagochi?
- Bluetooth. Less wires sticking out of my wrist, the better. I am not Spiderman. Also, how about an app that allows me to see who is calling on my iPhone on my nano watch? Bluetooth would be a requirement for that.
- Search by gesture. Instead of scrolling through hugh lists of song names, I’d like to be able to write the letter on the surface to input words into a search field.
- I’d gladly pay for a wristwatch case for the nano that would remove the clip and make it a little less likely to scratch.
I may still be more interested in the nano watch’s novelty than it’s practicality, but I would absolutely recommend this idea. And I’ll be counting the minutes until Apple adds nano apps to the app store.
From an iPad (Sry 4 teh typoz)
CEO & Founder
It’s about 7pm on September 10, 2010. I’m sitting on a hard steel chair at another mega-airport looking for ways to kill some time and charge the laptop. Last night, I spent my 50th night in a hotel room this year.
Two hours ago, in a series of coordinated hand foot movements I took the entire contents of an Apple store, a dozen chargers and cables including a folding power strip, clothes for almost every occasion, and countless other items past security in two, neatly packed TSA-approved bags. And I didn’t even have to take out my toiletries or my laptop. It was like a scene from Up In The Air — complete with the disdain for all those civilians with the Dora the Explorer bags holding up everyone else.
Before the end of the year, I’ll have spent almost three solid months on the road. And the road has taught me many lessons. I’ll list 5 practical ones here.:
Lesson #5: Memorize this sequence of taps like you memorized Control-S: Wallet, phone, laptop bag, carry-on, boarding pass.
Just before I check out of my hotel room, I tap each of these: W-P-L-C-B. Just before the cab leaves me behind: WPLCB. This helps me to never forget the vitally important things I need at every checkpoint. It’s like saving the game at a save point. Remember: Wild Pelicans Like Canned Beans.
Lesson #4: Before starting a routine, confirm that it is, in fact, routine.
I spend 95% of my time renting from the same rental car company. The remain 5%, I just mistakenly assume that it’s the same company. It’s really hard to get an Avis bus to pick you up from the Hertz rental center — especially if you’re running late to an important meeting. Routine is the enemy if the routine doesn’t contain safety checks.
Lesson #3: Book once, check the timezone twice.
If I accept a meeting request for 10am in SF while I’m in Chicago with my calendar timezone set to Eastern time, did it get added correctly? Today, I showed up to a meeting at a TV studio 3 hours/timezones early. Yesterday, I accidentally made it on-time to a bus because a meeting was cancelled, saving me from being an hour embarrassingly late because I forgot Indy is in Eastern, while Chicago is in Central. Whew!
Lesson #2: Take the pill you intended to take.
Clearly separate pills if they look remotely similar to each other and take them one at a time. Not many frequent travelers talk about this, but I usually carry a small pharmacy’s worth of pills. A couple of types of allergy pills, sleeping pills, zinc, vitamin C and various cold-fighting remedies, etc. I don’t use a pill-box. I put them in ziplock bags since they take up less space and when pills bounce around in a hard container, they tend to crack and powderize. As you can imagine, mixing up the sleeping pill with the allergy pill can wreck havoc on anyone’s schedule.
If you think all of this is overkill, or I have some kind of obsessive compulsive behavior, just wait until you show up at wrong rental car center looking dazed and confused because you took the sleeping pill (instead of the vitamin C) on the plane by accident. And then you realize that you’re missing your wallet because you left it in the bathroom back at the airport. Why? because you rushed there to pee since the flight you though was just an hour was actually a 2-hour flight (timezone change) and by the time you woke up (sleeping pill) and realized you had to go, the flight attendants wouldn’t let you. (This, uh, happened to someone I know.)
And the final lesson?
Be polite and exercise a little courtesy. Share the arm rest and power outlet. Let others get on or off the plane before you. Don’t tell the kid in sneakers and a t-shirt to move out of the First Class line. He’s probably me. And I’ve got more miles than you.
This was an email I sent to one of our sites, The Daily What:
Hi TDWers, I’m Ben Huh, and I run the Cheezburger Network (which includes The Daily What, if you were too Prop 19’d to notice). I have made this offer privately to a few people associated with Reddit, and I’ll say it publicly now:
I believe that Reddit is one of the best communities I have seen on the Internet. I also believe that Reddit would benefit from more resources and less corporate interference. We can offer all of the above. And we’d love to buy Reddit and all those pesky troublesome users that we love so much.
Condé, we’ll be waiting for a call.
Here’s a list of thoughts that haunt me. From talking to dozens of founders and CEOs, I know that this isn’t uncommon. Some of these thoughts are totally irrational. Some of them, totally sound. Most of them add very little value to my work.
- Being blind-sided by a competitive threat, whether it’s an actual competitor, or market change.
- Having a competitor out-execute us.
- Market change that will dry up revenues quicker than we can change our model.
- Hitting an invisible ceiling on growth, where our method just stops having any impact.
- Missing the signs of employee apathy
- Saying something really stupid in public
- Taking our community granted (by myself or by the team)
- Not planning or testing enough for a change.
- Planning for too long and taking too long to change.
- Being stuck in a paradox of contradictions
Well, that’s not the full list. But I didn’t want to put you to sleep — which I probably need.
The toughest competition I’ve ever had to deal with was The Joneses. I had never met them, but I always knew that they had the newer car, bigger house, and even their dog could do more tricks than my dog. No matter what I did, they were always getting ahead of me.
During a recession, it’s necessary, if not fashionable, to be frugal. Eventually, the boom will be back, and those Joneses will be flaunting their new found wealth at your doorstep again. Often, I get questions about how I managed to get out of $40,000 in debt after the first dot com bust. The getting out of debt part had not much to do with the bust, but more to do with the bubble.
This is how I dealt with the temptation to spend at the height of the bubble.
1) I hung out at the mall for fun.
I know that sounds crazy counter-intuitive, but I went straight to the lion’s den. I walked, walked and walked, and bought virtually nothing. Sure, the temptation was crazy strong, but after a while, I got used to it and a sort of numbness came over the desire to buy. Even now, more than 5 years later, the mall seems filled with overpriced things I don’t really need.
2) Used is a beautiful four-letter word.
I do have a weakness for cars — those beautiful, shiny, fun beasts of consumerism. Solution: I became good friends with Craigslist. There are remarkable treasures to be found in the For Sale By Owner Used car market. But then again, there are plenty of overpriced and oversized and overly loaded cars there as well. In 2004, I swallowed my own objections and purchased a sedan with 80,000 miles for $8,000. It was outdated, had scratch marks on the bumper and in a color we never imagined owning. But it was safe, reliable and actually quite comfortable. I was always a “new car” guy, but that used car showed me the virtues of buying less than I “needed”. I haven’t bought a new car since — or paid more than $15,000 for a car (while the average new car now costs $28,400). We still buy used whenever we can and sell our stuff on the used market whenever we can.
3) I ignored raises.
Sure, I got them, but I didn’t let it change my life. In other words, I didn’t grow into my salary. Of all of the things that I did, this little tactic was absolutely the most powerful force. When I was making $35,000 a year, I used to be able to save (or pay down the debt) to the tune of about $2,500 a year. I felt fortunate enough to be able to do that. It meant not buying the new car or that new gadget, while everyone else seemed to do so. But when my income grew to $40,000, that meant I almost tripled the amount of money I saved. In other words, I could get out of debt in 1/3 the time (or grow my savings 3 times faster). As I paid off my debts, we felt our spending power increase even though we were not actually spending any more money — purely because we had less credit card or car payments to make.
The alternative is pretty typical of the pains associated with the boom and bust. As people’s income grows, we end up spending it. That means we establish new spending patterns and establish a “new normal”. When the hard times come, we must cut back, resulting in painful changes to behavior and lifestyle.
To this day, my wife and I firmly believe in Living Small. Living Small (capital L, capital S) means not just spending less than you earn, but resisting the urge to spend more just as your income grows. Instead, find a sustainable spending level and stick with it. This is what allowed us to handle sizable drops in our income.
I know during a recession, it seems like you’ll never be able to save money, but when the day comes when you can start to do so, remember how to Live Small. It’ll help you to Live Large later.
As soon as I took on the job of CEO for the world’s weirdest cat site in 2007, the focus hasn’t been about growth — in fact, I’d go as far as saying focusing on growth can have the opposite effect of what’s desired. The focus of my job has been on reinvention.
Let’s take a look at my “career” at the Cheezburger Network:
- Sep. 2007: That idiot who quit his job to run a cat picture site. (Staff count: Approx. 1)
- Jan. 2008: That idiot who quit his job to run some photo sites. (Staff count: Approx. 3)
- Jan. 2009: That idiot who quit his job to run a time-waster network. (Staff count: Approx. 15)
- Jan. 2010: That idiot who quit his job to run a… what the hell are they trying to do over there? (Staff count: Approx. 35)
Every quarter, we embark on a project or come across an opportunity that would fundamentally alter who we are. If you would have told me in 2008 that we’d be running 40+ sites and be one of the largest networks on the Web, I would have not believed you. In fact, I am on the record saying that we could never really see ourselves beyond the 25-sites mark at Gnomedex 2008.
Yet, here we are. WTF?
I believe our ability to grow has to do with two things:
1) Having no false expectations about who we are (we’re here to make you happy for a few minutes, nothing more) and,
2) Having no holy 3-year plan. (Few thought we’d be anything, so it was easy to be something).
That meant we could relentlessly chase what our users wanted each and every month — our own visions be damned. Every year, we look back on the last, and we’ve reinvented ourselves as a different company. Perhaps to the outside world, we haven’t changed much (which I see as a huge positive), after all, we still post the same number of lolcats to I Can Has Cheezburger? each day, but the dramatic internal change is easy to recognize in the office.
That constant drive to reinvent means it starts with me. Every quarter, I look back at the last and my “job” has totally changed. Last quarter, I was hell-bent on finding the Cheezburger way to do recruiting and hiring. This quarter, I want to create a lasting Cheezburger culture within the company. The only thing that’s common from quarter to quarter, from “job” to “job” is that I’ve never done it before. It’s scary as hell. But I really don’t have anything to lose. I can always get a new job.
Italy’s courts convicted 3 Google execs in absentia for a video posted by a user using their service showing bullies beating up an autistic boy. Thanks to the video, the bullies were caught and justice was served. However, Italy’s criminal justice system also prosecuted Google who hosted the video until the investigators asked them to take it down.
The term Banana Republic is a pejorative term originally used to refer to a country that is politically unstable, dependent on limited agriculture (e.g. bananas), and ruled by a small, self-elected, wealthy, and corrupt clique. (via Wikipedia)
I’d like to introduce the term Ostrich Republic to describe countries like Italy who bury their heads in the sand* when faced with freedom of information. The more we restrict access to information, the more we are likely to stay ignorant.
The prosecution of an Internet host for posting evidence of a crime has a deep chilling effect on the people of Italy. Some have argued that Google should monitor all content posted to its sites and make sure that material like this doesn’t get posted and that it’s just a matter of money that Google doesn’t’ want to spend.
Well, they’re absolutely right. Google could spend lots of money and screen all content that comes in, but freedom of expression should not only be available for those with the funds. This ruling affects everyone, including individual bloggers, universities, non-profits. Will they have the resources to screen every user comment? Or will this ruling just shut down public discourse on Italian websites for the fear of possible liability?
Unfortunately, Italy is not the only Ostrich Republic to apply the laws of the last century to a new world. The fundamental belief in the freedom of expression on the Internet assumes that the user, and therefore society, is made better by it and that we do not need to be protected from information.
(* I know that that’s a myth about ostriches. But work with me here.)