Hackathon 2012Casual dress code

Procrastination from the Inside Out, Part 1: Everyone's Got the Itch

Chris Fincher

A lazy cat. Procrastination incarnate.

Procrastination is bad.

"What a bombshell," you're probably thinking, "what a fresh perspective! Why didn't anyone tell me before? This will revolutionize my life!"

Yes, I know I'm probably not the first person to tell you that procrastination is bad. I don't think you can get a high school diploma today without being told at least four hundred times that procrastination is bad. I can only remember reading that procrastination is good once, and that was in The Four-Hour Workweek, which is... non-traditional, to say the least. Anyway, I'm not planning to dispute that procrastination is bad, but I do want to change the way you think about it with a little neuroscience.

What We Already Know

Analyzing how the brain works is tough, so most writing on procrastination avoids talking about the brain itself. Instead, it focuses on how your environment affects what you do and how that, in turn, affects your work. This philosophy of treating the brain as a sort of "black box" is called behaviorism. You might have heard of it if you've taken a psychology class. It's taught us a lot of useful things about procrastination, for instance:

  • People make mistakes. When you procrastinate, you don't leave yourself time to find mistakes and fix them.
  • Procrastination leads to stress. Stress can be bad for your work, your relationships, and even your health.
  • When you procrastinate, you don't leave any extra time to work, so if you underestimate how long your task will take, you miss your deadline. Unfortunately, people aren't very good at estimating time.

These are all great reasons to fight procrastination, but most of us know them and we still do it anyway. With this series, I'd like to explore the things we can learn about procrastination by analyzing it from the inside out, that is, putting aside behaviorism and seeing how procrastination relates to the brain on a physical level. Let's start by looking at how the brain causes procrastination, and how we can use the way the brain works to avoid it.

The Problem

Speaking from experience, I know that it's easy to feel cursed when you seem to struggle with procrastination more than your peers. Well, the good(?) news is that they're probably dealing with it, too. We are all wired to procrastinate. When the brain thinks about doing something unpleasant or tedious, it's actually a little traumatic. The same part of your brain that reacts when you see a baseball sailing toward your head is reacting to what you're thinking of doing, and it's objecting strenuously. So when you open Facebook, Reddit, YouTube, or whatever it is you do to avoid working, even if the content is stale and you're not entertained, you still start to feel better simply because you made the bogeyman of work go away. You can't reason your way out of it. Even when you know that the only logical thing to do is start working, there's always part of you that is only living in the moment and does not approve. So unless you've found a way to avoid ever thinking that something you have to do is unpleasant, your brain will want to procrastinate as a matter of survival.

The Solution

The bright side to this instinctive procrastination is that it fades away about as quickly as it appears. If you can push through that initial panic and make yourself start working, then work stops being a baseball sailing towards your head. It's not a danger anymore. It's just the way things are. The part of your brain in charge of keeping you out of peril doesn't notice it anymore, and the more analytical part of your brain, which can consider the ramifications of procrastinating versus working, takes over. While this doesn't mean that the task at hand will be easier, it does mean that the things you know about procrastination and the work you need to do will be clearer when you decide whether to keep working.

In other words, it's easier to keep working than to start working. It's a bit like Newton's First Law of Motion. Objects at rest tend to stay at rest, and objects in motion tend to stay in motion! When it seems just unbearable to get started on something, and you want to watch some videos instead ("just for a few minutes"), try to remember two things: what you're feeling is normal, and if you can make yourself start and get even a little momentum, then the urge to slack will fall away very quickly.

The Lesson

You'll never win the war on procrastination. Sorry to break it to you. I won't, either. It's just not how we're wired. There's always going to be another battle with it around the corner. Thankfully, each of those battles is more winnable than it seems at first glance, so fight on! You might surprise yourself with what you can accomplish with only a little more grit.

In the next part, I'll look at what happens in the brain when you learn and how procrastination impacts it.

Photo credit: Flickr/gRuGo CC BY 2.0

YP Wi-Fi Bus in the News

Eric Thomasian

YP on the cover of the LA Times!

This was a strong PR week for YP thanks to the Wi-Fi bus. Not only were we in an article on the LA Times website, but we were also featured on the front cover of the newspaper. As a print company transforming into a digital company, we thought showing up in both places was especially appropriate. As I wrote this post, I received an email notifying me that we were also picked up by Los Angeles Magazine for their own article.

The LA Times article highlights YP and other Los Angeles tech firms who are leading the adoption of Silicon Valley best practices in LA. With tech recruiting being as fierce as ever in Los Angeles, companies are making great strides in innovating employee benefits to compete in the market. YP in particular looks to reinvigorate the tech scene in the tri-city area (Pasadena, Glendale, Burbank) by reducing any transportation frictions for talent on the Westside.

Greg Bettinelli, a partner at UpFront Ventures said it best:

"As the L.A. tech scene continues to rise, there's obviously best practices from the Valley that will be transported down here. I don't think it's unique to the tech industry, but it's a broader realization of the tighter labor market for highly skilled workers and the need to create better team cohesiveness."

Nathan’s First Week at YP

Nathan

My first week working as a contractor for the Data Quality team at YP exceeded, in a positive way, any expectations I had coming in. Although I don’t have an extensive amount of experience working in different companies (having graduated from college only two years ago), YP has demonstrated that I’m not merely a number in a nationally recognized company, but that I’m part of the YP family.

Let me explain what I mean by being part of the YP family. It’s our families that love and care for us in the best way possible. They want what’s best for us and they’ll go out of their way to provide any means necessary to help. That’s what I’ve experienced at YP beginning on day one.

From the team manager and all the wonderful YP family I’ve met thus far, everyone seems to encourage growth and knowledge within the company for both the benefit of the company and my own professional advancement. It’s manifested first in the simple things like providing a fun and enjoyable work environment (free food and snacks, a ping pong table, a football table, arcades, and more free food) and to the bigger, more important matters like pushing us to learn by making mistakes because that is the only way we’ll grow.

So, I’m deeply grateful to the entire YP family for giving me an amazing opportunity to be among such hardworking individuals that seek the best interest of others and the company as a whole. If my first week’s experience was this memorable I can’t wait for what’s in store for the future.

Happy Diwali

Shri Jambhekar

Diwali Celebration at YP

Drawing
In honor of our rich cultural diversity, and our 'Educate and Celebrate' initiative, Glendale YP team celebrated Diwali after an all hands yesterday.

The culture club committee and facilities decorated the happy hour areas with traditional Diwali decor and provided sweets - creating a beautiful celebration of this most auspicious of Hindu festivals which is celebrated over 5 days.

In addition, the team on 13th floor shared delicious Indian food today.

Diwali also known as Deepavali and the "festival of lights", is an ancient Hindu festival celebrated in autumn every year. The festival spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair.

Happy Diwali to you and your families.

दीवाली की शुभकामनाएं

Generating SVG on the Fly

Joe

When developing a webapp, a great way to enhance the visual design of your site is to use beautiful, intuitive icons. Sometimes people understand images a great deal more than words. Icons take up much less space as well, giving your site a cleaner look.

With the advent of retina-resolution screens, older lower-resolution icons just don't cut it. One solution is to simply start serving higher-resolution icons. This approach causes unnecessary network load for screens that don't need the extra pixels. You can use retina.js to load higher resolution icons only when they're needed, but this requires creating multiple image files.

SVG icons provide the flexibility to display correctly on all screen densities, although you sacrifice file size, as SVG files are generally larger than PNG. The big benefit SVG provides is easy modification. Modify one field in the XML and you've changed the bakground color, for example. So when you want to dynamically generate icons, using SVG makes sense.

In my intern project I had to do just this; I needed to generate map markers with letters inside to represent waypoints. There are a few ways to generate SVG on the fly. One is by using a library like svg.js, which allows you to programmatically create SVG with a very easy-to-understand API. The other is the method I used:

Manually create an SVG image using an editor such as Inkscape. This will give you an SVG file that looks something like this:

<svg
   xmlns="http://www.w3.org/2000/svg"
   width="307.99988"
   height="455.08182">
  <g
     transform="translate(-169.2067,-124.16583)">
    <g
       transform="translate(64,-51)">
      <path
         transform="matrix(-0.86545762,0.50098217,-0.50098217,-0.86545762,689.00106,496.77337)"
         d="m 437,360.36218 c 0,82.29043 -66.70957,149 -149,149 -82.29043,0 -149,-66.70957 -149,-149 0,-53.23257 28.39924,-102.4215 74.5,-129.03778"
         style="fill:#ffdd00;stroke:#000000;stroke-width:10" />
      <path
         d="M 388.62072,403.36218 324.00914,514.28781 259.39756,625.21343 194.65584,514.36218 129.91412,403.51093"
         style="fill:#ffdd00;stroke:#000000;stroke-width:10;" />
      <text
         y="384.4017"
         x="197.7131"
         style="font-size:180px;fill:#000000;font-family:Verdana;">A</text>
    </g>
  </g>
</svg>

Now you can edit this any way you want! For example, using a framework like Ractive.js or Angular.js, you can replace the "A" in the text node with "{{text}}" and use your framework's method of populating templates.

Another method is to use Jade templates to serve your SVG icons from a node.js endpoint. To create a Jade template from your SVG XML, modify the root node to use Jade's "Block in a Tag" feature. Your root node should look similar to:

svg(
   xmlns="http://www.w3.org/2000/svg"
   width="307.99988"
   height="455.08182").

The rest of your XML file can be copied in. Then replace whatever you'd like to change on the fly with Jade's method of inserting content:

<text
     y="384.4017"
     x="197.7131"
     style="font-size:180px;fill:#000000;font-family:Verdana;">#{text}</text>

To serve this SVG over a node.js endpoint, create a route (here using express) that sets the Content-Type to "image/svg+xml" and passes a text parameter to your Jade template:

app.get('/marker', function (req, res) {
    res.contentType('image/svg+xml');

    res.render('path/to/templateFile', {
        text: req.query.text
    });
});

And here is the result:

“Hot!”

YP Intern Hackathon 2014 Followup

Alan

I am sorry to report that we failed in our mission to eat all the food in the breakroom, though not for lack of trying. Part of the problem was that delicious food kept being brought in for us even before we could finish the last meal. While we ate everything from sandwiches to pizza to a spread that couldn't decide if it wanted to be Mediterranean or Indian, the greens went largely untouched. Who knew interns don't eat salad?

Despite our best efforts to focus on eating and playing ping-pong, however, my team (myself, Joe, Jaspreet, Kate, and Kwun; code-named GUARDIANS), managed to produce FoodDeck, an idea I had just the morning before the hackathon best summarized in the cliché formula as "like Tinder but for food."

We didn't actually get much done while at YP until at the last moment Kate saved the day by fixing an issue in less than an hour that had blocked seniors Joe and me for nearly two days. After a weekend's worth of hard work, the final app we created actually had a pretty sexy UI (if I may say so myself), and reverse-engineered the YP Android app's API call to pull data directly from YP's servers — all from a team that only had one actual Android developer intern to start.

image

Our "competing" team (David, Jordi, and Shrinidi; code-named AVENGERS), worked on Sage, which uses predictive regression modeling (insert other fancy words here) to correlate advertisting expenditures with potential click-through results. It sounded like it would be very useful for YP sales representatives, who can better communicate to clients what YP is able to do for them.

I am happy to say that my team's FoodDeck was pronounced the "winner" of the hackathon, though Sage seemed like it would benefit YP more (or at least much more quickly). Of course, we did have Kwun, our project manager intern who put together an awesome deck and pitch. I do have high hopes that both applications can be put into actual production, especially given our new Consumer Platforms SVP Paul Ryan's emphasis on having more than just a single core app.

Following our presentations and a giant lunch of wings, most of us headed out into the middle of nowhere to settle our differences with paintballs. I came home sore and even bloodied, though what hurt (both physically and mentally) the most was being friendly-fired by a teammate at point-blank range. Maybe removing Kate's cat pictures from the app wasn't such a good idea... :3

image From left to right: Jordi, Jaspreet, Kate, myself, Joe, David, Aaplavi, Shrinidi

What a 16th Century Samurai Teaches Us About VOICE - Part Two

Jeff Leeson

This is the second post in a series on the VOICE principles and the philosophy of Miyamoto Musashi as written in The Book of Five Rings. The translation of The Book of Five Rings used here was sourced from WikiQuote.

You can start from the beginning of the series here.

We at YP practice the VOICE principles (Velocity, Ownership, Innovation, Collaboration, and Execution), striving to embody each of them in order to become more effective at not only our jobs, but in our personal lives.

In the 16th century, a Japanese Ronin (a lord-less samurai) named Miyamoto Musashi wrote The Book of Five Rings. In it Musashi describes his philosophy, called “The Way” of sword fighting, which is still studied today and can be applied across any discipline.

This series explains how the sword fighting principles of The Way can be generalized to each VOICE principle, leading you to becoming more productive in your life. In the previous entry, I wrote about how we can apply Musashi’s teachings to the principle of Velocity. In today’s post, I’ll be covering Ownership.

Ownership

The term Ownership is commonly used in reference to property, and many dictionaries define it in such terms. But ownership has a secondary definition that is often used in business, meaning to take responsibility for an issue or problem. It’s this type of ownership, one of taking personal responsibility, which we embrace as a principle and strive to achieve in our work and our lives.

We take ownership because we strive to deliver simple and robust code, we want to fix each customers’ problem and ensure they have the best experience possible. We demand quality in our personal consumption of services and products, and so should we deliver superior quality, through ownership, in our work and personal lives.

Here is what Musashi says about Ownership:

If you merely read this book you will not reach the Way of strategy. Absorb the things written in this book. Do not just read, memorise or imitate, but so that you realise the principle from within your own heart study hard to absorb these things into your body.

Ownership begins with understanding and internalizing. In other words, you must own ownership. You must understand its value and demonstrate it in your actions. If you simply perform the actions of ownership, going through the motions, the result will be significantly less successful. Only by committing yourself to the application of ownership will you be rewarded fully by its value.

The Three Methods to Forestall the Enemy

The first is to forestall him by attacking. This is called Ken No Sen (to set him up).

Another method is to forestall him as he attacks. This is called Tai No Sen (to wait for the initiative).

The other method is when you and the enemy attack together. This is called Tai Tai No Sen (to accompany him and forestall him).

There are no methods of taking the lead other than these three. Because you can win quickly by taking the lead, it is one of the most important things in strategy. There are several things involved in taking the lead. You must make the best of the situation, see through the enemy's spirit so that you grasp his strategy and defeat him.

The Three Methods to Forestall the Enemy are the fundamental ways one attacks something one owns. When you develop your strategy for approaching a given problem, your attack, or leadership, will initiate by you attacking first, allowing the problem to attack you first, or both you and the problem attacking simultaneously. In every case, velocity, or swift decisiveness, is necessary.

The strategy of going on the offensive first is the equivalent of a frontal assault on a problem, and the most common approach in applying ownership. Whether a technical problem to solve, or an opponent with whom you are arguing, attacking first is a practical approach to many situations. You identify the problem, evaluate the scope, analyze weaknesses, plan your attack, and then execute the plan.

The strategy of letting your opponent, or problem, attack first can sound counter-intuitive to ownership, but it has its uses. For example, in an argument your opponent may attack and you let yourself appear weak, or stay silent, but when the timing is right, you seize on a weakness, countering strongly to gain the upper hand. Being the owner, being responsible, means utilizing the ebb and flow of a problem or conversation, and sometimes the most practical strategy is to let the problem, or opponent, attack first.

Finally, the strategy of attacking simultaneously is when the onset of a problem occurs quickly and without warning, requiring a calm yet strong response. While some problems gain momentum over time, others come on quickly, requiring an equally rapid response. You must always be prepared to take responsibility and ownership of an issue, so you can respond swiftly yet forcefully, powerfully yet with steady determination.

"To tread down the sword" is a principle often used in strategy. First, in large-scale strategy, when the enemy first discharges bows and guns and then attacks, it is difficult for us to attack if we are busy loading powder into our guns or notching our arrows. The spirit is to attack quickly while the enemy is still shooting with bows or guns. The spirit is to win by "treading down" as we receive the enemy's attack.

In single combat, we cannot get a decisive victory by cutting, with a "tee-dum tee-dum" feeling, in the wake of the enemy's attacking long sword. We must defeat him at the start of his attack, in the spirit of treading him down with the feet, so that he cannot rise again to the attack.

"Treading" does not simply mean treading with the feet. Tread with the body, tread with the spirit, and, of course, tread and cut with the long sword. You must achieve the spirit of not allowing the enemy to attack a second time. This is the spirit of forestalling in every sense. Once at the enemy, you should not aspire just to strike him, but to cling after the attack.

To tread down the sword is a strategy that encompasses velocity, ownership, and execution. When an issue arises, you must possess the constitution to take responsibility, do what is necessary with speed and authority, and consistently follow through to completion. You must be quick in your response, taking away the ability for the problem, or opponent, to counter. The deliberateness of your actions in owning a problem, in making it your focus, your obsession, will guarantee your success.

Everything can collapse. Houses, bodies, and enemies collapse when their rhythm becomes deranged.

In large-scale strategy, when the enemy starts to collapse you must pursue him without letting the chance go. If you fail to take advantage of your enemies' collapse, they may recover.

Ownership is closely tied to execution, and consequently to perseverance. When you own a task or problem, you must be consistent in your perseverance of accomplishing or conquering that thing. Once you own something, don’t relax when you believe the problem is on the path to being solved. Follow it through to completion. Problems can reoccur and arguments can be regurgitated if your ownership wavers, so persist in dominating them to the end.

When your opponent is hurrying recklessly, you must act contrarily and keep calm. You must not be influenced by the opponent. Train diligently to attain this spirit.

As ownership is a function of leadership, when we own an issue, we must not be led by others, particularly the problem or the opponent. If you allow yourself to be influenced by your opponent, becoming frantic or panicked, the problem or opponent has begun to lead you. When your opponent is frenzied, you must fight the urge to be reactionary and stay calm and relaxed in response. This mindset will allow you to think clearly when others do not. It will frustrate your opponents and reassure your team and your allies, demonstrating your ability to lead under stress.

Conclusion

Now that you’ve read how The Way applies to ownership, you need to start taking ownership in new ways, and of things you haven’t before. Begin by applying ownership (decisiveness, obsession, and persistence) to your daily life. Force yourself each day to identify at least one problem, whether it’s within your line of service or not, and own that problem through to its ultimate demise.

Next in the series, we’ll read what Miyamoto Musashi writes about innovation.

YP Intern Hackathon 2014

Alan

As the first ever YP intern class, we feel it is our duty to at least attempt to be the last ever YP intern class by eating all the food in the breakroom. To this end, we are proud to annouce that we are holding what will hopefully be the first of many YP Intern Hackathons!

This will be a two-day affair lasting all of Thursday and Friday, August 7-8, from 10am to 5pm in the Glendale 5th Floor Breakroom. All YP employees are welcome to stop by and cheer us on, or even sit and code with us for a little while. We also still haven't settled what we'll be hacking, so if you have any ideas, please drop a comment or let one of the interns know, and we'll see if we can run with it.

Hope to see you there!

YP Intern Hackathon 2014

Thursday, August 07 - Friday, August 08
10am - 5pm
Glendale 5th Floor Breakroom

A special shoutout to Melissa, Rico, Nathan, and Justin for helping us figure out planning and logistics!

Tox - free, secure, distributed, peer to peer Skype replacement

Oren

I just discovered Tox. It's a secure, open-source Skype replacement - https://tox.im.

The protocol is decentralized and peer to peer. Each person in the network has a public and private key. The NaCl crypto library is used to do all of the encryption.

There are clients for Mac, Windows, Linux and Android and even a text-based one. Not all of them have video chat (yet) but it's getting there. And if you decide to try it, my user is oren@toxme.se

tox