Archive for April, 2007

girls’ names and math scores

April 30, 2007

A recent study concludes that giving a girl a feminine name (eg. Elizabeth) makes her less likely to do well at math and science. The idea is that other people’s expectations of her will be influenced by the name, and they will in turn influence the girl. Makes sense.

Perhaps someday I will have a daughter. School will be fun for her. “Class, this is the new student, Smarty Handsoff.”

– aaron


Does good design really matter?

April 27, 2007

Because it’s so hard to measure the business value of good design, it naturally gets less attention from managers. It’s easier to watch things like visitors to a website, sales per day, rent and other costs.

Recently we got a chance to see how much it matters when we rolled out a redesign for our Freedback service. Here are some of the changes we made:

  • Reduced the number of steps required to create a form from four to three.

  • Removed list of forms on the left to reduce visual clutter.

  • Added breadcrumb navigation so it’s easier to see where you are.

  • Users now create forms first, then decide what happens when they’re submitted.

(Hold your mouse over the image to toggle
between the new and old versions)

Digg users:
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Click here to load the original page.



To be honest, when we rolled out the new software we hoped to get lots of emails thanking us for the new interface.  Didn’t happen.  We did get a few phone calls, mostly from people reporting bugs, and by the way did we change something?

After squashing a few bugs all was well with the world.  We never did get much customer reaction, so we watched our graphs to see if we could see any change in how people used the software.

Number of forms created


Thoughts and Conclusions

  • When things are easy to use, people use them more.
  • We didn’t see a dramatic increase in revenue from new users who had never seen the older version, but older accounts coming up for renewal were more likely to upgrade.  This agrees with previous experience from other system upgrades; existing users like to see software improving.
  • Hopefully this will translate into more links, reviews and word of mouth traffic, but that’s harder to correlate to this change because it takes time.


My wife knows much more than I do about graphing data (she’s an astronomer), and was nice enough to plot a graph using the raw data that better showed the results we were seeing.

This graph is showing daily Freedback revenue before and after the change (note the y-axis doesn’t start at zero).

  • The green dots are days.
  • The black line is a four-week moving average.
  • The 13% represents the difference between one month before and after the change. It held true for six weeks before and after as well.
  • Our weekly revenue cycle (lowest on weekends) results in a lot of scatter.

I hope this data is useful to other entrepreneurs wondering if they should invest in design, questions or comments welcome. I’ll keep posting graphs and results from tests we’re running – if you’re interested you can subscribe to our feed.

Programmed to be Happy – what a relief!

April 12, 2007

This is officially my first blog post… My involvement in the blogosphere has long been encouraged by Aaron but I’ve never felt like I had the time or the interest in connecting with people through the internet. That’s why I pay a bunch of money for unlimited long-distance. And, certainly parenthood isn’t making MORE free time for me to blog. So, why now? Well, it is precisely because of the fact that I’ve become so busy, that I’ve needed to find new ways to connect. And all this busy-ness is due to some fascinating life changes and experiences that make me even more interested in communicating with people about these topics, especially with those are in similar roles. And for me, these roles include women in science, budding astronomers, educators, working mothers, guilty mothers (or are those two the same?), first-time mothers, wives of husbands of first-time mothers, etc. Plus, I have posts swirling around in my head about a few less-important of my societal roles such as jaywalker, tax-payer, patient of the American health-care system, Canadian living in the USA, frequent flyer, resenter of the ’self-help’ industry, lover of Netflix & Craigslist, hedonist, and so on…

I envision my blog posts to be places to discuss these topics with my friends (and anyone else who wants to visit) when we can’t make that Sunday afternoon phone-date like the good old days.

(Please ignore the poor spelling and grammar as i’m just going to freely type. Plus, aaron edits enough of my writing already so I won’t bother him with this.)

So, let’s get started… (and I promise the posts won’t all be about motherhood.)

Aaron and I watched a seminar online last night entitled “The (Misguided) Pursuit of Happiness” by Dan Gilbert which can be found here . It’s 21 minutes long and is entertaining and worth watching, though the point is made early on: Synthetic Happiness vs Natural Happiness, is one more valuable than the other? No!

There are wide-spread implications for what Dr. Gilbert is saying here but I’m particularly interested in reviewing this concept in the context of motherhood, and even further focusing on motherhood when working outside the home and when working inside the home. Which makes us happier? [Now a selfless mother might say it’s not about our happiness but about what is best for the children. Perhaps. But as Aaron likes to say, “When Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!”]

According to Gilbert, the two options will make us equally happy because within a relatively short period of time, we will just simply be happy with whichever decision we made. Why? Because we are programmed to make lemonade from lemons while convincing ourselves that we were destined to drink this lemonade, and that we’ve never really wanted the ice tea in the first place. And furthermore, those that choose the ice tea don’t know what they’re missing!

Of my female friends with babies, most of those in Canada have chosen to take their full 1-year maternity leave, and then return to work. A few have decided to stay home full time, and some have even started kick-ass businesses while being at home (e.g. Alison’s sexy nursing bras – ). For those of us in the U.S. where the term “maternity leave” has yet to evolve from a 6-week, unpaid recovery, we’re all back at work pretty fast leaving our babies with sitters and pumping breast milk at every opportunity.

So, after seeing this seminar on Happiness and trying to objectively assess your choices, would you consider your current state as natural or synthesized happiness? Are you truly happy with your decision to work at home or at the office?

[It’s likely that all the new-mother hormones will skew the results, but it’s still worth thinking about. If you have a comment, please include it by clicking on the comment link below.]

– Evgenya


April 10, 2007

choice, happiness and self-delusion

micro-lending: buying cows and changing lives

April 5, 2007

On the way to the coffee shop today, instead of listening to a podcast I turned on the radio and heard an interview with the founder of  They’re one of several micro-lending organizations making it easy to lend money to entrepreneurs in developing nations. 

Instead of being a gift, loans are paid back with 0% interest, and the money can then be withdrawn or given to someone else.  The premise being that helping people to become self-sufficient is better than simply giving charity.

It’s working.  The Grameen bank pioneered the model in 1976 and has loaned out over six billion dollars so far.  Interestingly, their loans go mostly to women, who proved much more likely to pay back the loan and to spend the new income on their families. brings the internet into the equation, allowing lenders (you! me!) to participate with amounts as small as $25.  Larger loan requests are spread across many people, minimizing everyone’s risk.  For example, while I’m happy to help Juma Rahimov towards the purchase of two cows, lending him the entire $800 he needs would require more serious research. 

I’d want to meet him, but he’s in Tajikistan.  I’d want to talk to him, but he probably doesn’t English…  Luckily for me, 96% of loans are repaid in full, and since I’m only lending $25 if Juma can’t pay me back I’ll be alright.

I found myself most interested in loans that might get people over a specific problem that’s holding back their business.  For example, Cecilia Tettey in Ghana buys corn from farmers and sells it to retailers in the city.  She needs better transportation, which could really big boost for her business if it meant more trips to the city or less time spent on the road.

It’s interesting to try thinking like an investor.  Along with the text, you find yourself studying the pictures for clues.  Would this person pay back the loan?  Do they look honest?  A hard worker?


Mehman Mirzayev

In the end we can’t help but be influenced by the images.  Somehow the man above reminds me of my father-in-law.  And my friend Ross who always stops to help people with car trouble.  Heck, even the fact that he’s working in the cold makes me want to help him.

Traditional economic theory is all about rational decisions.  Spreadsheets and calculators.  Lending like this is interesting because it  can’t be done rationally.  You just don’t get enough information.  A picture, a paragraph or two and your gut.  That’s it.

Somehow the lack of perfect information makes it fun.  With more information I might find myself trying to calculate return on investment.  Instead I find myself thinking “holy smokes lady! That corn looks heavy.  Maybe this loan will help you buy a truck.”

What do you think, is this the future of giving?  Would it change the equation if the rate of return wasn’t 0%?

reuben at six months

April 2, 2007

reuben at six months young.

reuben@6months video clip

If the video’s choppy it’s also here

hmm, been awhile

April 1, 2007

Time to start posting again. It won’t always be about hawaii, but we’ll try to post more often. :)

To start things off… this is pretty neat.