Knowledge Arbitrage

13 Sep 2013

The Netherlands is 3-5 years behind in technology production, meaning most technology workers here are unaware of tools and techniques their American counterparts take for granted. Technologists here are so behind, they are even out of date with how they bitch about technology here.

People here have been complaining about the same things for so long, and making the same bad conclusions, it's become a party line. This was recently, depressingly summed up in the Amsterdam Startup Manifesto, which would be an eerily visionary prediction of Appsterdam if it had been published 3 years ago.

Indeed, while it described Appsterdam in great detail, it didn't mention Appsterdam at all, until they later tacked on something as if Appsterdam throws a few events here and there, when in fact they host over half the technology meetups in the city, with an event on average every other day.

This unintentionally demonstrates the biggest thing holding Amsterdam back—that its people spend time writing manifestos bemoaning the lack of things that exist, rather than contributing to those things, or making their own better versions of those things.

Nobody is going to make you a technology hub against your will, and the way to become a technology hub is not by whining about not being a technology hub, but by producing technology. Shut up and ship, and the money will follow, whether you stay here or move to California.

Or this idea that Amsterdam will never be the next Silicon Valley because Berlin is cheaper and grungier, as if Silicon Valley is a city, instead of a lot of different cities. This would be like San Franciscans saying they couldn't be a tech hub because they are not as cheap or grungy as San Jose.

Nobody outside of Amsterdam thinks Berlin is a technology hub. Americans look genuinely confused when I mention that idea, and people from Berlin call Appsterdam to ask why they're not attracting more Americans. (Answer: no English language immigration procedure or entrepreneurial treaty.)

Germans come to the Netherlands to learn App Making from the Big Nerd Ranch, and Americans eschew training in Atlanta to get it here, because they love any excuse to come to Europe in general and Amsterdam in particular. I can't remember the last time I had a Dutch student there.

The Netherlands beats the US on all the issues Americans worry most about, such as healthcare and education, and more and more Americans are coming to Amsterdam for working vacations, or leveraging the knowledge gap to jumpstart their careers.

If you have a few years experience in any aspect of technology production, you can rule in any position from the C-level on down in any startup here, and when you go back, the experience of living and working abroad will put you 10 years ahead of your peers.

I just came back from the 360iDev conference in Denver, the first—and many say the best—iOS conference in the world, where 300 of the world's top App Makers gathered to share their pasts and plan their futures. You know what city they mentioned more than any other? Not London. Not San Francisco. Not Dublin. Not Berlin.

Amsterdam, where someone at every table was saying, "You have to go, and I have to go back." Amsterdam, home of CocoaPods, Sofa, and the New Lemurs. Amsterdam, the city that makes any job offer interesting. People here might not know what they have, but the people they envy do.

Two years ago, almost none of this was true. Appsterdam and the people who have followed its lead are chiefly responsible for this change. The University of Amsterdam measured it. The government knows it. Top down ecosystem designs just can't beat a true grassroots movement by passionate individuals.

If you've been here so long that you can't see how much the tech scene is blowing up, drop the lazy, outdated tropes, and come over to A Lab, the center of innovation in the heart of Europe's real technology landscape, which stretches from London to Berlin, from Amsterdam to Athens.


07 Aug 2013

The New Lemurs are in the rapid prototyping phase of a new open source project, so we've been leveraging CocoaPods to suck in all the great frameworks on GitHub. This brings back a flood of knowledge about creating and utilizing 3rd party frameworks. To that end, I've put up my rules for creating frameworks.

What is an app?

24 Jun 2013

In a recent seminar with some Danish journalists (starting at about 5:00), I used the metaphor of the app as a cup of coffee, an ambassador of your business whose production encompasses a wide range of possible efforts. I also gave an extended technical definition of the word "app" (at around 14:45) that I found tidy enough to transcribe for you here.

An app is software that transforms its hardware to provide a complete and productized experience.

So let's go into that.

An app is software, which is to say, an app is not a physical product. An app is the instructions that describe a physical product.

Software is not about ones and zeros. Software is about configurability. It's about, you've already invested in something, and now you're just going to find new uses for that thing, an application of that thing, or an "app," if you will.

That software transforms, right? It transforms it hardware, that physical device.

When you have an iPad, and you're using the iBooks app, you're not using an app. You're reading a book. You're holding a book.

And if you want to switch over to GarageBand and start playing on the piano, you've turned the book into a piano. You have transformed that flat piece of glass.

This is something that people always wonder about, this dichotomy in, for example, Apple's design. They say, "Why is it? The iPad, the iPhone, such a minimalist piece of art, but the software so colorful, and so rich, and so synthetic."

And that's the whole point. The hardware is meant to fade away and let the software take over what that device is to the user.

That's what we mean when we say, software that transforms the hardware. But it's not just that you're transforming hardware. That's a demo.

An app is a complete and productized experience. It is complete, which is to say, the app does not leave you hanging. The app is what you need to have the experience you're meant to be having.

And it's a product. It is something finite and measurable that you can buy, that you can transmit, that can be created by artisans and sold to customers.

Therefore an app is software that transforms its hardware to provide a complete and productized experience.

Tips for WWDC / AltWWDC

28 May 2013

WWDC has been part of my life for over a decade now. It started as something I'd watch from afar, when my only career goal was to get there. When I finally made it in 2005, I met my mentor and put my career on the fast track. A couple of years later, my team won an Apple Design Award, and a couple of years after that, I actually got to help put on the show.

For the past couple of years, I've helped the Appsterdam Foundation build the conference around the conference, serving the growing number of ticketless showcializers, and leading this community exercise in providing solutions, instead of merely complaining. Inevitably, I've developed some top tips for new and returning attendees to our annual homecoming.

Be prepared. You can certainly just show up and see what happens, but like most things in life, you'll do a lot better if you take it seriously and start getting ready before you go. Pick some parties you want to attend and get on the RSVP lists. Think about what you want to accomplish, what you have to share with the community, and what you hope to bring home.

Carry cheap cigarettes. That has been my number one tip for years. A lot of the conference is actually spent standing on the sidewalk holding conversations with people you won't get to meet any other time. In a city like San Francisco, you're competing for their attention with a parade of panhandlers, and the fastest, cheapest way to keep them moving and get back to your conversations is to offer them a cigarette.

Bring your A game. This is your biggest and best chance to meet colleagues, future teammates, and media gatekeepers. Here, more than ever, you need to be hustling. Don't come empty handed. Be prepared to exchange business cards. If you hurry, you can still order some from MOO and get 10% off. Also, if you have an app, you should bring 2"x2" icon stickers to trade. Don't have any? There's still time to order those too. Go to StickerMule and get $10 off.

Go with the flow. Get it together now, because once you get there, it's up to fate. WWDC should always be a life-changing experience, but if you show up with a checklist, or try to recreate the same experience year after year, you're going to end up disappointed, and the conference will start to feel like it has passed you by. It's nice to see old friends, but come just as prepared to make new ones. Don't try to shape the experience; let the experience shape you.

New Lemurs Press Page

16 May 2013

After my post about our press release and all the help we got from awesome people, folks wanted to know more about the press page, so here are some diagrams I made in the spirit of Chris Phin.


There are two important ideas that went into our press page. The first is that journalists want basic, no-nonsense information, stripped of marketing fluff. They want to know as much about our product as possible in as little time as they have, so we give them the good stuff, right up front.

They want promo codes. We try to make getting them as painless as possible. Then the basic links: where we are on the various networks, and our press kit, which has all the important stuff on the page zipped up and waiting, so you can download that and be off the site in 30 seconds. We try to provide the site and its content in every language we are localized in, and make that immediately obvious.

Since our press release is concise enough to demo, we include the whole thing, right above the fold, right next to the basic information that should accompany any press release: what the product is, and how people can get in touch with us. Oh yeah, and high-resolution logos and screenshots. Making high quality assets available makes it easy to cover us, which brings me to the other second important idea.


Journalists are just as lazy as I am. The easier we make it for them to do their jobs, the more they are going to love us. We tell them lots of clever things to notice about the game in our heavily illustrated reviewer's guide. We want them to know everything they need to know after 20 minutes with our product.

Hell, we even prerecord that 20 minutes with extended format Let's Play videos. You can play them full-screen on your iPad and it's like playing the game without using your hands.

I figure, I was a journalist, and I like to jump to the bottom of the page, so we made it a bit of a mini-site, with minimal gimmicks, and minimal chrome. The way I see it, by the time you get down to the press page, all we can do is let the product speak for itself.

Launch Thanks

16 May 2013

We're about a week into our ongoing soft relaunch of Lemurs Chemistry: Water, and we've finally gotten to the point where people are starting to notice. There were quite some murmurs yesterday about our press page, which I appreciate, and while I could easily point to my experience as a journalism major for providing some kind of savvy, the reality is, I can hardly take credit for it.

First and foremost, all we really did was our best implementation of what Chris Phin asked all App Makers to do in his talk at NSConference 5. Our "perfect press release," was literally just a point for point copy of the ideal press release from his talk, which I hope nobody will mind me sharing here.

Chris Phin's Press Release Format

Our press page is just the stuff he asked us to make available, like a bunch of full resolution screenshots, and a short trailer, together with the extended "Let's Play" videos that we put up as a way for people to experience the game without having to buy it first. In particular, I didn't even know what a reviewer's guide was before his talk, and ours ended up turning out really nicely.

A lot of credit for that, and for the press release, goes to my brother, Hernan Pelassini. He started working on the press release when we were still writing code, and he harped on the reviewer's guide and the Phin format from the very beginning, even going so far as to send me a copy of the video to make sure I watched it before writing the final draft.

Despite being quite hard at work half a world away, and even after I messed up the time zones and called him at 5:30 in the morning, he proofed the release and the reviewer's guide, and made crucial changes. We rarely get past the last 80% of polish without guidance from the outside, and on a deadline, availability is everything. Hernan is always there when you need him. That's why we all love him.

Speaking of people who are always there for you, there are a couple of folks I almost never mention because they're so close to me, they've become part of me, and talking about them feels like talking about myself. Klaas Speller and Judy Chen are two people who always make sure I keep going, who reign me in when I need reigning in, who give me criticism when I need criticism, who offer support when I need support.

These are shining examples of a class of people I have been blessed to have cultivated relationships with in my life. The credits page of the game is a tribute to that. My whole career has been a tribute to that. Where I have been tough, and shown grit, it has been to chew and swallow the big problems I bite off for myself, but where I have succeeded, or even exceeded, it has been thanks to people like these.

The Hard Tour

02 Apr 2013

The days are getting longer and warmer, the new version of Lemurs Chemistry is almost complete, and it's time to start touring again. I thought I was going to be talking about monads this year, but things have gotten so hard in our industry lately, I'm going to talk about that instead. I'm not doing a lot of speaking this year, so these are some of few chances to see me on stage.

Appsterdam Birthday Bash April 20 in Amsterdam

The City of Amsterdam's famous canals are 400 years old this year, and we are two! It's hard to believe it's been two years since we started the Appsterdam movement. It's going to be amazing to look back at how far we've come, and how the organization and its goals have evolved. It's also an important time to look at what Appsterdam means to us, and where we need it go in the future.

There are a limited number of tickets available for the low, low price of €15. The Appsterdam Foundation has been planning a really nice evening, and given how many folks are coming from all over to attend, the networking opportunities should be as good as the show itself. Don't miss it!

GOTO Chicago April 23 in Chicago

Missing GOTO considered harmful! The GOTO conference and its counter-clockwise cousin, YOW!, are the biggest and best general technology conferences in the world, run by some of the most genuinely nice, community-centered organizers I have ever met. Here I'll be giving a keynote about the App Universe After the Big Bang, where I'll talk about the state of our rapidly shifting industry.

You can save $150 off the cost of admission with the discount code LEE150. I was born outside Chicago, and launched my speaking career at the C4 conference in Chicago. I could not be more thrilled to be returning to the Windy City—especially now that it's home to one of the most active Appsterdam embassies.

360 Intersect April 28 in Seattle

Over the past few years, conference talks have been getting less and less technical, a trend that conference organizers around the world have collectively decided to put a stop to this year. Always looking to fill voids, John and Nicole Wilker of the excellent 360 conferences have decided to try a non-technical technical conference. I think it's a great idea, and am giving it my full support.

Here you can get 20% off the ticket price with the discount code BMF. I'm going to be giving a very intimate keynote called Insane and Back Again, where I talk about some of the crazy things I've experienced in these past few years of travel. These are the stories I'm not comfortable blogging about, but speaking at 360 has always felt like talking to a roomful of friends, and I can think of no better place to give this special, one-time-only talk.

MobiDevDay May 4 in Detroit

When I first started Appsterdam, Andy Ihnatko asked me why I didn't start it in Detroit. Somehow, that opened up a soft spot in me that remains undiminished even after what happened the last time I was there. I'm pleased to finally deliver something for the Motor City by participating in MobiDevDay, joining what promises to be an amazing array of speakers.

I'm giving a talk called Engineering is Hard, where I'll be talking about the things we go through in order to deliver our products, pay our rent, and make the world a better place. In the vein of the title, which you might recognize this as a saying I've borrowed from a friend, I'll be sharing a lot of great advice I've collected from engineers around the world on making a living in these crazy times.

AltWWDC June ? in San Francisco

WWDC tickets went so fast last year, our ears popped, and just like that, the whole idea of WWDC changed forever. What used to be a chance to get the latest news from Apple has turned into a kind of homecoming. This has become the poster child for a conference where the conference doesn't matter. It's really just the one week we all decide to be in California, as much for each other as Apple.

With the number of ticketless "showcializers" set to outnumber the number of actual attendees, and IndieDevLab merging with Appsterdam, AltWWDC 2013 promises to be the best unofficial side conference ever to side conference a conference. Whether you have a ticket or not, AltWWDC is your place to sit down, plug in, and get some wifi, lunch, and maybe even some knowledge.

Back to Microsoft

01 Apr 2013

You might find this hard to believe, but I used to be a huge Microsoft fanboy. I left the platform in the mid '90s, when the Chicago betas coming across my desk began displaying a disturbing Apple-ization that sent running to UNIX. It's taken nearly 20 years, but Microsoft is finally doing their own thing again. It's time for me to head home.

Yes, I spent over a decade on Apple's platforms. What can I say? I've always been a fan of the underdog. Not just for the innate satisfaction of it, either. I really do prefer the culture of openness and eagerness that teams in a disadvantaged position engender. For a long time, Apple was like that, but they're hardly the underdogs now.

My friends in Redmond have hooked me up with a Surface and a Lumia running Windows Phone 8, as well as Parallels and Visual Studio. I simply could not be happier with the attention we've gotten. With the long-time focus on education that Microsoft is well known for, I'm eager to get Lemurs Chemistry in front of some students.

Me, holding an actual Surface.

Not to diss on Apple. I wish them all the best, not that they need it. They're doing amazing work, and I suspect they will continue as the market leader in mobile for a long time. If I've learned anything from being on their platforms, it's that one company doesn't have to lose for another company to win.

After all, I don't do what I do to drive adoption of a platform, but to make the world a better place. It would be the height of narcissism to think I could even make a dent on my own. Truly, whether you love Apple, Microsoft, Google, or some crazy platform I've never even heard of, we are all in this together.

Brent Simmons

26 Mar 2013

One of the most important lessons from my apprenticeship did not come from my mentor, but from my fellow apprentice, who talked me into coming out of my shell and meeting the community of Seattle Xcoders. I met a lot of important people, not the least of whom was software legend Brent Simmons.

This would soon become vital, when things started to get tense between my mentor and me. Brent told me stories of his own apprenticeship, and the tension that grew between him and his mentor. He explained it as an inevitable phase, indicative of growth, a sign it was time to move on.

We often call him the godfather of indie software development, but in truth he more closely embodies the Japanese word, "sensei," which is translated as both "teacher" and "doctor," but literally means "born before."

Just as your doctor is able to give peace of mind by assuring you what you're experiencing is normal, just as a teacher is able to draw from their superior knowledge and experience, so too has Brent set the tone and led the way for a generation of App Makers.

I can honestly say I would not be where I am today if it weren't for Brent Simmons, and I think several other people would say the same thing. On the occasion of his birthday—it's hard to believe it's been 5 years since B4[0]—I thought I would share some things I've learned reflecting on Brent Simmons.

The first time in my life I ever missed a flight was to Las Vegas, for Brent's big 40th birthday bash. I mixed up a.m. and p.m., which is very much unlike me, the former airline employee. I was flying back and forth between Seattle and San Jose because I'd just come on as co-founder of Tapulous.

I have always prided myself on an attention to detail and a willingness to push myself. Here, without even trying, Brent gave me a permanent reminder that pushing yourself too hard will lead you to make mistakes.

Brent is a hardcore dude, but he knows when enough is enough. Since his 40th, he's lost a lot of weight and gotten into really good shape. It's no secret nerds in our community have been getting in shape lately, and while some of that is attributable to Steve's early demise, I think it precedes that.

I know for me, seeing Brent get into shape was a real kick in the pants. If he's not immortal, nor immune to the laws of nature, who the hell are we?

I've noticed something else about Brent. He'll disappear. He'll decide he's had enough, and would like to get some sleep, and will just disappear. If you happen to be standing next to him, he might say goodbye, but otherwise, he'll just be gone.

I, on the other hand, always make the rounds and say goodbye to people. I stress about other people's feelings. A lot. Brent doesn't, and yet we all love him. I think there's a lesson in that. Something about being genuine and useful and spending your energy on things that matter.

You can draw boundaries, and take care of yourself, and people will still respect you. That is what I learned from Brent Simmons.


20 Mar 2013

I'm a very lucky man, and one of the things that makes me so lucky are my friends. These are the nicest, most talented people I've met in my life, and many of them have skills that have made them vital contributors to my success over the years—not only in making my products and building my brands, but in getting my message out there (for what it's worth). For example, a bunch of them have started great podcasts with unbelievable guest lists, which they have generously allowed me to be part of.

My friend Saul Mora has assembled one of the finest collections of interviews in our industry with his NSBrief podcast. Seriously, look at his archive—it's like a who's who of NSCoders, and he's had me on not once, but twice.

What's cool about NSBrief is that the audience is just as illustrious as the guest list. Both times I've been on the show, I've ended up getting amazing, life-changing feedback from its audience. Most recently, I talked about trying to blend consulting with making our own apps, and ended up basically having the implementation details of that handed to me after the show.

Short version: we're setting thresholds for when our consulting flag goes up or down. If we drop below 3 months burn, we have to accept consulting until we get back up to 12 months burn. Since we don't have capacity for business development, we're doing all our contracting through Big Nerd Ranch Europe. (So if you'd like to hire us, contact Marcel and Bolot!)

My friend Dave Wiskus and I were recently able to celebrate our strange relationship on his show, Unprofessional. Because Dave is the protege of my protege, I am always busting his balls. He wanted to do a show themed around being offensive, so I spent the whole show pretending to hate the show (which I actually love) and ripping on Dave (who I actually love).

It's a beautiful piece of performance art. At one point I even insulted Dave while the call was muted, an act so dickish it calls to mind the old Dutch expression, to wipe one's ass on the door. I had a really good time. Given how successful the show has been, it should come as no surprise that Dave (and everybody's best friend, Lex Friedman) are not only genuinely great people, but incredibly good sports.

Finally, although the episode is not up yet, I had the great pleasure of being interviewed by my old pal Guy English and Rene Ritchie on their show, Debug. I was so excited when they started this show, because of Guy's skill as a conversationalist. Really, of all the many things to envy him for, that's the one I envy the most.

Maybe it's my internal journalism major, but I always pay attention to people's interview styles. Saul sets up the guests and lets them talk. Dave and Lex relate to their guests by sharing their own anecdotes. Guy and Rene ask probing follow-up questions to encourage their guests to dive deep in exploring their topics.

I know the key to great conversations is asking great follow-up questions, but that's easier said that done. I've always admired Guy for this, and I listen to their show as much for the interviews as for a case study on how to talk to people.

That's what makes me respect my friends so damned much—they have so much to teach me, just by doing the things I can't.

If you have comments, email or open a issue on GitHub.

Mike Lee is a product engineer in the Netherlands.

Mike is making games at the New Lemurs and is the mayor of Appsterdam

Follow @bmf on Twitter and, and @eldragonrojo on GitHub.

If you have comments, email or open a issue on GitHub.