Need a Tech Eye?

Long time readers of this blog know that entrepreneurship and tech are the closest to my heart. At last, I’m trying to do something about it.

I’ll attempt to fix 100 tech projects by the end of the year.

Starting small, yours truly is going to help London’s non-technical founders first.

squareeye

Eventbrite link here, more details coming soon, hang tight.

(Also, could you please help out by sharing this? Events are just such a hard thing to pull off.)

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The best super power to have

One of the most useful things I learned on my entrepreneurial journey is that, the lead domino in all things entrepreneurial is learning to delegate.

Leadership is hard because the jump into being responsible for other people’s work is hard.

Learning to delegate is like learning to play tennis: you can’t learn it only from books. The only way to play better tennis is to go out to an actual court and start hitting the ball. You can read about the game and prepare in advance as much as you will, but my bet is that regardless of your best effort to prepare, the first time you actually try to play will be 100% different. You can’t see what you can’t see.

Similarly, the first experience with delegating anything meaningful will almost surely cause pain, because there are a zillion things where it can go wrong. You think you carefully explained what you need, until it turns out that it’s lost in translation.

That’s not a reason to give up trying.

And you might say that delegating is stupid right now and there’s nothing you need help with, but in my opinion, you have to delegate everything. Just in case you get really busy.

By the way, if you can’t find anyone who can do your job for what you’re getting paid, it’s time to raise prices. I made the mistake of working for too cheap many times before, and this is a great way to find about the mistake early on.

When I started out I hoarded all work. In my first startup, I’ve done all programming, marketing and all client management myself – until the week where I was trying to survive on 30-minute sleep four days in a row, and forgot a business meeting on the fifth.

The client called me from the place we were supposed to meet, and I didn’t pick up the phone because I was asleep at 2pm in the afternoon. They stopped being my client, and it wasn’t even a bad thing as far as my health was concerned.

I hired my first developer next week, to help me write code. That code was terrible compared to my super high standards, but it was all fine, because I quickly learned to give better feedback and they quickly learned to write better code.

This was a dream come true. Suddenly my job was to find out what to focus on and let others do the fiddly bits.

Fast forward a few years, when I’ve attended two universities and ran two companies at the same time. I studied in one school between Monday and Friday, visited the other one on Saturdays, and been in the office or on client meetings between classes. The trick was to have an assistant whose job was to come up with good reasons for my absence in case a client called, and brief me well for a scheduled callback. Scheduled, carefully, for breaks between classes.

So the only question is then, where would you start learning to delegate?

Start anywhere.

Start with something low risk: get someone to write specs for your app idea. Someone to pick up your phone, or someone to do the research for your homework. Focus only on the one thing you do better than anyone else, and let smarter folks help you whereever they can shine. With so much help available online in 2018, there’s no excuse not to try.

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Outsourcing R&D

When you hire a freelancer to write a mobile app, that person likely has written many apps before. They will have a good handle on how long the project would take, or how much they need to charge you to make a profit.

Research and development projects are rather different, because with those you never know how long the research part would take before you come up with anything useful. Managing R&D projects is difficult, outsourcing is even worse (but, none of those is impossible).

Most artificial intelligence projects you’d want to do these days are heavily front-loaded. A lot of thought and effort has to be put into the first iterations, and you’ll only get to see the result much later. Even the simplest and most generic recommendation engine can be derailed by a perfectly normal looking site’s perfectly clean data, if that particular niche or traffic is less predictable than others.

Artificial intelligence projects mostly fall in the R&D category then, which is alright because yours truly just wrote an advice piece on Managing outsourced machine learning projects. Read it over at the RemoteML blog.

We are also happy to give advice to companies manage outsourced R&D, so do feel free to give us a call!

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Leftover

“Living in New York City gives people real incentives to want things that nobody else wants – to want all the left-over things. There are so many people here to compete with that changing your tastes to what other people don’t want is your only hope of getting anything. For instance, on beautiful, sunny days in New York, it gets so crowded outside you can’t even see Central Park through all the bodies. But very early on Sunday mornings in horrible rainy weather, when no one wants to get up and no one wants to get out even if they are up, you can go out and walk all over and have the streets to yourself and it’s wonderful.”

– Andy Warhol, in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol

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GDPR compliance with the jQuery EU Cookie Law plugin

GDPR compliance is slightly more work to handle than the EU Cookie Law was. It’s not OK any longer to tell the user to leave if they don’t like your cookies: you actually have to turn features on/off depending on their consent. This post is to show how to do this using the EU cookie law popup script.

(If you already know this plugin, you can skip ahead to the GDPR compliance bit.)

An easy-to-install jQuery plugin to create EU Cookie Law popups.

Supports multiple layouts out of the box. Works well with Bootstrap. Easy to customize markup and CSS.

This is the demo page. For the code, install instructions and to see how amazingly free it is, go to Github.

Get started

To get started, first include jQuery and import the plugin’s files:

<script src=”https://code.jquery.com/jquery-3.3.1.min.js”></script>
<link rel=”stylesheet” type=”text/css” href=”css/jquery-eu-cookie-law-popup.css”/>
<script src=”js/jquery-eu-cookie-law-popup.js”></script>

(Mind you, you need to run the code on a webserver to be able to set cookies.)

Simple popup

In its simplest form, you can add an EU Cookie Law popup by simply adding the “eupopup” classes to any HTML tag.
<body class=”eupopup eupopup-top”>

You can also choose from these layouts:

jQuery EU Cookie Law popups (demo)

  • Top of the page (“eupopup”, or “eupopup eupopup-top”)
  • Fixed banner on top (“eupopup eupopup-fixedtop”)
  • Fixed to bottom (“eupopup eupopup-bottom”)
  • Fixed window, to bottom left (“eupopup eupopup-bottomleft”)
  • Fixed window, bottom right (“eupopup eupopup-bottomright”)
  • Inline (“eupopup eupopup-block”)

And these colours or styles:

jQuery EU Cookie Law popups (demo)

  • White text on dark background (“eupopup-color-default”)
  • Dark text on light background (“eupopup-color-inverse”)
  • Compact (“eupopup-style-compact”)

Custom HTML

To use a custom HTML markup, you can either add it as a Javascript parameter (read about it later), or by adding a DIV with the classname “eupopup-markup”.
<div class=”eupopup eupopup-container eupopup-container-block”>
  <div class=”eupopup-markup”>
    <div class=”eupopup-head”>This website is using cookies</div>
    <div class=”eupopup-body”>We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you continue using the site, we\’ll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies on this website.</div>
    <div class=”eupopup-buttons”>
      <a href=”#” class=”eupopup-button eupopup-button_1″>Continue</a>
      <a href=”http://www.wimagguc.com/?cookie-policy” target=”_blank” class=”eupopup-button eupopup-button_2″>Learn more</a>
    </div>
    <div class=”clearfix”></div>
    <a href=”#” class=”eupopup-closebutton”>x</a>
  </div>
</div>

Parameters

The script takes quite a few parameters. The suggested method to override these is from the init method (find the out-of-the-box one in the jquery-eu-cookie-law-popup.js):
$(document).euCookieLawPopup().init({
  cookiePolicyUrl : ‘http://www.wimagguc.com/?cookie-policy’,
  popupPosition : ‘top’,
  colorStyle : ‘default’,
  compactStyle : false,
  popupTitle : ‘This website is using cookies’,
  popupText : ‘We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you continue without changing your settings, we\’ll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies on this website.’,
  buttonContinueTitle : ‘Continue’,
  buttonLearnmoreTitle : ‘Learn more’,
  buttonLearnmoreOpenInNewWindow : true,
  agreementExpiresInDays : 30,
  autoAcceptCookiePolicy : false,
  htmlMarkup : null
});

Events

If you need to be notified about the consent somewhere in your code (for example, to enable the cookies in other parts of your software), you can listen to the events.

‘user_cookie_consent_changed’ event is fired right after the user accepted or rejected the popup.

‘user_cookie_already_accepted’ event is fired on page load if the user already accepted using cookies in a previous session.

$(document).bind(“user_cookie_consent_changed”, function(event, object) {
  // true or false
  console.log(“User consent: ” + $(object).attr(‘consent’) );
});
$(document).bind(“user_cookie_already_accepted”, function(event, object) {
  // true or false
  console.log(“User consent: ” + $(object).attr(‘consent’) );
});
 

GDPR compliance

There are certain things that the website simply cannot do without the user’s consent. With this plugin you can ask the user first and perform certain actions based on their decision, using the built-in events.

Using Google Analytics integration as an example: it’s still safe to add most of their code as per usual, but only call the initialisation function when the user consent status changed.

<!– still include most of the snippet –>
<script async src=”https://www.googletagmanager.com/gtag/js?id=UA-XXXXXXX-1″></script>
<script>
window.dataLayer = window.dataLayer || [];
function gtag(){dataLayer.push(arguments);}

// Don’t call the init functions just yet:
// gtag(‘js’, new Date());
// gtag(‘config’, ‘UA-XXXXXXXX-1’);

function initialiseGoogleAnalytics() {
  gtag(‘js’, new Date());
  gtag(‘config’, ‘UA-XXXXXXXX-1’);
}

// Subscribe for the cookie consent events
$(document).bind(“user_cookie_already_accepted”, function(event, object) {
  initialiseGoogleAnalytics();
});

$(document).bind(“user_cookie_consent_changed”, function(event, object) {
  const userConsentGiven = $(object).attr(‘consent’);
  if (userConsentGiven) {
    // User clicked on enabling cookies. Now it’s safe to call the
    // init functions.
    initialiseGoogleAnalytics();
  }
});
</script>

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Case study: transportation system abandoned

People tend to overestimate how hard it would be to replace them. Many managers push back their retirement date thinking that the company would die without them. While it’s true that transformation is rarely easy, it’s almost never impossible either.

I wrote this as a case study for our corporate website, but removed all names or sales pitch for this platform. Publishing it on my personal blog for the education value, and to spark conversation.

The local transportation authority of a USA state capital developed a new website and mobile apps for commuters to receive realtime travel information, or get around easier. Then they received a letter from a lawyer.

A visually impaired user wanted to take them to court, because the new apps lacked accessibility controls. It was impossible to navigate, the colours didn’t have enough contrast, the apps needed a top-to-bottom overhaul. To avoid having to go to court, the company had less than 12 months to bring in a new team and roll out completely new apps. So they did. The works started in January.

The new team then left in September, just after 9 months in, and leaving a little more than 3 months to find a solution. The project was abandoned, and so close to the deadline, the only choice seemed to be to remove the transport apps from the app stores altogether. In the end of the day, if there’s no app, there’s no need for it to be accessible either, and no-one gets sued.

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
– Larry Elder

We joined the team in October with the promise to roll out the app in the very end of December. We applied two massive changes to the project.

  1. Changing the programming framework to Facebook’s React Native, we could develop the app only once but still generate full-feature, truly native Android and iOS apps. This helps rapid development without giving up on features like extending the app with e-ticketing.
     
  2. Shifting project management from waterfall to agile methodologies. The previous development team was waiting for the transportation authority to first sign off each and every wireframe, layout design and feature request, before the actual development started. We changed it around: we came up with the schedule, and released a new test app every Friday and collected feedback that got incorporated the next week. We also made sure to test the app with a big group of actual commuters, and most importantly, with visually impaired users amongst them.

These two changes allowed us to move really fast, and provide our client with more than just weekly progress updates: they could test the actual app developed, and had a huge impact in changing it with their feedback for the better.

Everything’s well that ends well: the apps were both released on schedule and in budget, on the very last workday of December.

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Lacoste shows us how to do campaign

For the Save Our Species campaign, Lacoste replaced its crocodile by ten threatened species, to bring attention to animal rights and biodiversity.

Lacoste-Save-Our-Species-02-1152x625

Advertising agency: BETC Paris. They know that the devil is in the details.

  1. Replacing Lacoste’s very logo shows how important the case is for the brand, and that they are fully invested in our environment. Call that “togetherness”.
  2. They’ve kept the colour and overall styling of the crocodile, so the campaign can only ever belong to this one brand. Good luck copying it, anyone else!
  3. It’s all just a limited series T-shirt – 1,775 pieces, so you had to be quick to get one. Scarcity effect is at full speed.

More info on Save Our Species here, and video on Youtube.

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Reading list in 2017

This year I’ve read 31 books, most of which were awesome. Collecting here the bits to remember them by; the two favourite books on top, then in no particular order:

Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut

“The First Industrial Revolution devalued muscle work, then the second one devalued routine mental work. […] That would be the third revolution, I guess: machines that devaluate human thinking.” In Player Piano’s world people either work in factories, or be social outcasts.

Surely you’re joking Mr. Feynman? by Richard Feynman

The importance of deeply understanding things: “I can’t understand anything in general unless I’m carrying along in my mind a specific example and watching it go. Some people think in the beginning that I’m kind of slow and I don’t understand the problem, because I ask a lot of these “dumb” questions: “Is a cathode plus or minus? Is an an-ion this way, or that way?” But later, when the guy’s in the middle of a bunch of equations, he’ll say something and I’ll say, “Wait a minute! There’s an error! That can’t be right!”
About burning out: “Physics disgusts me a little bit now, but I used to enjoy doing physics. Why did I enjoy it? I used to play with it. I used to do whatever I felt like doing—it didn’t have to do with whether it was important for the development of nuclear physics, but whether it was interesting and amusing for me to play with.”

Lean in by Sheryl Sandberg

Job opportunities are a jungle gym, not a ladder. Only one criterion matters when picking a job: fast growth. When companies grow quickly, there are more tings to do than there are people to do them. “If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, you don’t ask what seat. You just get on.”
About work & having children: right before having a child can actually be a great time to take a new job. If she found her new role challenging and rewarding, she’d be more excited to return to it after giving birth. The time to scale back is when a break is needed or when a child arrives – not before and certainly not years in advance. If you have a good carrier with children, there’s less of a void when the children leave the house and you can get back to work.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Another awesome novel from Haruki Murakami. This one is quite like reading a bishōjo game, a coming-to-age story set in the 60s’ Tokyo – university times and life’s big questions. Surely not the last time I’ve read this book.

The 100 Dollar Startup by Chris Guillebeau

Highlights were: (1) get to your first sale as fast as possible, and (2) oftentimes it’s not required to jump full-time into a new business, evening hours & weekends is an option. The book is way longer than it should be, but is useful in inspiring to create info products.

The Alchemy of Finance by George Soros

Common sense dictates that a company is eventually worth whatever amount of money that company is capable of making, and the market’s expectations can’t do much beyond influencing today’s price. Soros argues that quite the contrary, market participants’ bias can shape the course of events, can change the future making of a company, which then can feed back to the bias and shape today’s expectation in return. Notice that this two-way connection between perception and the actual course of events interact in a shoelace-fashion. Makes a fun read.

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

“Occupy yourself with few things, says the philosopher, if you would be tranquil. But consider if it would be better to say, Do what is necessary, and whatever the reason of a social animal naturally requires, and as it requires. For this brings not only the tranquility that comes from doing well, but also that which comes from doing few things. Since the greatest part of what we say and do is unnecessary, dispensing with such activities affords a man more leisure and less uneasiness. Accordingly on every occasion a man should ask himself, Is this one of the unnecessary things? Now a man should take away not only unnecessary acts, but also unnecessary thoughts so that superfluous acts will not follow after.”

How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie

Today’s problems are the anxiety of tomorrow and the fear of yesterday. If the issue you need to deal with is something for today, let’s get busy and get it out of the way. If it’s a big problem facing: Look at what’s the worst that can happen? Try to accept it mentally, concentrate on the problem & try to improve on the worst. If it’s something you can’t change, just accept it.

Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Opinionated and quick to judge, Nassim is hardly the best writer to read. A lot of his statements are simply false, and the only thing I’ve learned from the first half of the book is that the writer thinks highly of himself and puts everyone else down. Two takeaways from the second half of the book are: you don’t have to understand proper mathematics in order to use it successfully as a trader, and, I also liked the idea to be ’flexible’ enough to gain from downsides.

Made to Stick by Chip Heath & Dan Heath

Essentially a howto for building ideas that have the potential to go viral. The six principles are (1) keep it simple: strip the idea down to its core (2) find the controversial, surprising, unexpected element of the message (3) being concrete is better than being abstract; other people don’t know what we know. (4) make it more credible (details in #3 also make it more believable) (5) emotional: why is the idea important for others? (6) stories: empower people to use an idea through narrative.

Quiet power by Susan Cain

Gaming all systems. For example, if your teacher’s job is to call out each student to talk in front of the class and you’re an introvert, then make sure to participate early when you can prepare ahead of time. Play for your strengths: know whether you like to be the person who gives ideas, plays devils advocate etc. (and again, prepare for those). Another important take-away from the book as a manager of any team: make sure that every single person has to share their opinion, to give room for introvert voices.

The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

Naples and Rome and dolce vita, creepy manipulation, self-loathing, billionaires moving about. Can’t help to think that it would be super-easy to catch Tom in 2017 with so many traces left behind, but a very enjoyable read nonetheless.

Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull

Candid feedback is the most important thing in creative processes. Creatives have to unlink themselves and the idea: the film and not the filmmaker is under the microscope. People shouldn’t be afraid of messing things up, erase all things from the company culture like “whose fault was this”, make it safe for others to be open about problems. Run experiments: short films in the beginning of the feature films are good for trying out directors and techniques. About solving problems: sometimes focusing on a problem one’s close to won’t help. Focus instead on the space around the problem to get closer to a solution.

Start with Why by Simon Sinek

Have people show up for themselves: inspiration is the only sustainable way to lead people. Our why is the American Dream: American culture values entrepreneurship, independence and self-reliance. French culture values group-reliance and “Joy of Life”. It’s not better or worse, only different. The entrepreneur-type immigrants are drawn to America. It has less to do with the US and more to do with them.

What the dog saw by Malcolm Gladwell

Short stories by Malcolm Gladwell. Nothing specific to remember, but great writing style to learn from.

Dubliners by James Joyce

I was listening to the audiobook version read by Tadhg Hynes, and oh did his voice do justice to the book! Listening to the urban short stories with a nice Irish accent, it’s a time-travel right back to the 1900s Ireland. Dubliners doesn’t get any better than this.

Post Office by Charles Bukowski

Made me laugh and made me not to take life too seriously for a sec. As always, a twisted, dirty old man drinking booze and going about with women, this time with a postal bag.

So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport

Passion mindset: what can the world offer you vs Craftsman mindset: what can you offer to the world? This one thought, many, many times over.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E Frankl

Holocaust with a psychiatrist’s eye. Who is a going to survive the concentration camp? Only the people who can identify a life’s purpose that’s worth living for. Prisoners got used to everything, but the way they imagined their future affected their longevity greatly.

The Virgin Way by Richard Branson

Short and snappy wins every time: life’s to short, get to the point, will you?! If you do start a company, you might as well start something that you enjoy doing.
About listening: “No one has learned anything from listening themselves speak.”, “Listen more: it makes you sound smarter.”, and “Listening is accompanied by note taking, which also helps to keep from law suits”.

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

Some ideas can go ’viral’ and become unstoppable – think of the broken windows phenomenon. Children are better off in a good neighbourhood & bad family than the other way around. A list of tightly related short stories in Gladwell-style.

The Industries of the Future by Alec Ross

Putting tech and trends into global perspective. I took notes like school boy, as an example: “There’s value leaving local hubs and heading to Silicon Valley. But the drain is mitigated by a few factors. First, there is the near-inevitable fact that the large platforms in Silicon Valley will be going public. Their ownership will be much more distributed than those locally owned cab companies, and many of the beneficiaries of those early investors.”.

Influence by Robert Cialdini

Take time to structure the request. The 6 principles are: (1) Reciprocation: people are more willing to comply with requests from those who have provided such things first; (2) commitment: people are more willing to be moved in a particular direction if they see it as consistent with an existing or recent commitment; (3) authority: in a study, 3 times as many pedestrians were willing to follow a man into traffic against the red light when he was merely dressed as an authority in a business suit and tie; (4) social validation: researcher who went door-to-door collecting for charity and carrying a list of others in the area who had already contributed; (5) scarcity; (6) liking: people prefer to say yes to those they know and like.

A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami

Another brilliant one from Haruki Murikami, this one is a bit of a supernatural detective story intertwined with spies from the Cold War, mind-reading and afterlife.

Rework by 37 Signals

Start small, build only what’s absolutely necessary for launch and build everything else later. Don’t worry about nice-to-haves. Sell byproducts. De-commoditise the product by making yourself part of the process (like Zappos where customer service makes the shoes different).

Remote by 37 Signals

Feels like a collection of badly written blog posts. No, instead, feels like a BA homework assignment. Either way, after the first half I got annoyed and only skimmed through. It’s only in this list to make sure I don’t accidentally try to read it again.

The Character of Physical Law by Richard Feynman

Reading this book kind-of-feels-like being in Feynman’s introduction to physics class. Plus a chance to think about basic physics and feel good about oneself for still being able to understand it all.

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

“The key to good decision making is not knowledge. It is understanding. We have, as human beings, a storytelling problem. We’re a bit too quick to come up with explanations for things we don’t really have an explanation for.” And immediately contrasts that with: “We live in a world that assumes that the quality of a decision is directly related to the time and effort that went into making. […] But there are moments, particularly in times of stress, when haste does not make waste, when our snap judgments and first impressions can offer a much better means of making sense of the world.”

The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

“Technology businesses tend to be extremely complex. The underlying technology moves, the competition moves, the market moves, the people move. As a result, like playing three-dimensional chess on Star Trek, there is a always a move.”
Note to self, read this again when hiring for C-level; the only way to have experience running a large organisation is to run one – in absence, no-one can tell whether you’re able to do such things.

Circularity by Ron Aharoni

Limits of formal logic, circular arguments, Cantor theorem etc. Playing around rather than sweaty work, and playing around with math is always fun.

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Missing dollar riddle

One of my favourite puzzles is this one, from the 1930s:

Three people check into a hotel room. The clerk says the bill is $30, so each guest pays $10. Later the clerk realises the bill should only be $25.

To rectify this, he gives the bellhop $5 to return to the guests. On the way to the room, the bellhop realises that he cannot divide the money equally. As the guests didn’t know the total of the revised bill, the bellhop decides to just give each guest $1 and keep $2 as a tip for himself.

Each guest got $1 back, so now each guest only paid $9, bringing the total paid to $27. The bellhop has $2. And $27 + $2 = $29 so, if the guests originally handed over $30, what happened to the remaining $1?

Try to solve this without any further hints.

Obviously, there’s a trick.

The misdirection in this riddle is at the end of the description, where a bunch of unrelated numbers are added together – only to misguide the listener.

There’s no reason to add these random totals, and even less reason for the sum to add 30. If you wanted to sum up the cash total, you have to look at the $25 in the register, the 3*$1 in the guests’ pocket, and the $2 with the bellhop. That’s, as expected $30.

More missing dollars on Wikipedia.

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The Pleasures and Pains of Coffee

The state coffee puts one in when it is drunk on an empty stomach under these magisterial conditions produces a kind of animation that looks like anger: one’s voice rises, one’s gestures suggest unhealthy impatience: one wants everything to proceed with the speed of ideas; one becomes brusque, ill-tempered about nothing. One actually becomes that fickle character, The Poet, condemned by grocers and their like. One assumes that everyone is equally lucid.

A man of spirit must therefore avoid going out in public. I discovered this singular state through a series of accidents that made me lose, without any effort, the ecstasy I had been feeling. Some friends, with whom I had gone out to the country, witnessed me arguing about everything, haranguing with monumental bad faith. The following day I recognized my wrongdoing and we searched the cause. My friends were wise men of the first rank, and we found the problem soon enough: coffee wanted its victim.

— Honore de Balzac: The Pleasures and Pains of Coffee

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