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Serial (podcast) – who(ithink)dunit

If you haven’t heard the hype already, the “Serial” podcast that spun off from “This American Life” this fall has become ridiculously popular.  With the final episode of the season airing this week I thought I’d post a few thoughts about what I think happened.

Background

The Serial podcast team is essentially re-investigating a murder from 1999 in Baltimore.  A young Korean girl goes missing after school one day, and her body buried a month later.  While there’s no physical evidence, an anonymous call kicks the police off on a thread that leads to the girl’s ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed.  He’s convicted largely on the testimony of an acquaintance/friend named Jay, who also led the police to the location of the girl’s car (which had also been missing since the day she disappeared).

Needless to say, there’s a lot more to the case… that’s why there’s been over 10 hours of a podcast to listen to!  But it’s the biggest brush strokes.

My thoughts

There are a few major points that I think are true:

1) It’s 100% clear that Jay was involved in the murder somehow.  (He did plead guilty to “accessory after the fact” in return for testifying against Adnan.)  After all, the only physical clue that ties any of the people involved to the crime was Jay leading police to the victim’s car.  The open question is exactly how much was Jay involved?

The crazy thing about Jay’s testimony was that it changed so substantially between his 1st and 2nd interviews, and his 2nd police interview and the actual trial.  Oh, and key pieces of it were essentially impossible.  (Key events could not have happened like he said they did.)  I understand that in real crime details don’t always wrap up neatly with a bow, but when major details don’t match key events and testimony, that’s a problem.

2) The case should not have been prosecuted.  The evidence was incredibly weak to begin with, and I have to believe some of the lawyers and detectives that the Serial team consulted with, who universally said that there wasn’t enough to make a case.  Adnan’s lawyer wasn’t particularly good however, and was disbarred within about a year of Adnan’s trial.  I have to believe with better counsel the case was easily beatable.

3) I don’t believe that Adnan had a strong motive to kill the victim.  Yes, they had been dating and intimate, but they both seemed fine and had moved on since.  Neither of them seemed hung up on the other, and I just can’t figure out the motive for Adnan to commit anything like a murder.  The police really played up the stereotyped conservative Muslim attitudes toward dishonour, but these were just high school kids living in a far more real/modern America than their parents would have liked to believe.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be anyone else that had a motive to kill the victim.  Jay (who was involved somehow) didn’t seem to have one, and there didn’t seem to be anyone else who could have.  This strikes me as the biggest missing piece of the puzzle.

So….

I don’t think Adnan committed the murder.  But there’s nothing pointing to a) any evidence that he didn’t do it, or b) any evidence that someone else did it.  So unfortunately I think he’s going to be stuck in prison.

It’ll be interesting where the Serial team finishes this podcast… I strongly suspect they’re going to come down like I did.  The balance of evidence should say Adnan did not commit the crime, there’s no evidence to date of anyone else doing it, but since Adnan has already been convicted there’s really nothing anyone can do.  The bar is set so high for appeals that the status quo prevails.

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Trending on Product Hunt during YC’s Demo Day – the Seed-DB experience

I had a bit of a weird experience on August 19th this year.

And the circle of self-promotion closed, as Seed-DB was promoted on Product Hunt, driving people to see the YC listing on Seed-DB, which showed users that YC’s class had Product Hunt in it.

What does this mean for stats?  Well, let’s go to Google Analytics.  Here are the hourly pageview stats for the week on either side of trending on Product Hunt:

Analytics hourlyAug

I think the first spike came after initially trending on Product Hunt, and the second spike came after the Product Hunt daily e-mail was sent.  How does this compare to Seed-DB’s traffic across the year?  Well, it was by far the biggest spike:

Analytics dailyYear

And here are the stats from the “referral” acquisition channel for a week on either side of August 19th.  Product Hunt drove over 2000 people to Seed-DB:

Sources Aug

Since then…

Product Hunt has grown massively since then, and would now probably drive an order of magnitude more traffic for the top trending products.  For me, August 19th was a bit of a surreal day but was pleased about the coincidence in the timing.

I was recently going over the statistics, and Seed-DB has grown virtually every metric by 30-40% compared to 2013.  While I could look at that in startup terms and say “meh”, because I don’t do any marketing of the site I’m pleased that more and more people are finding it and finding it useful.  I’m going to be adding a few key features in the coming months, so please stay tuned!

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No regrets… ever

definition of regret:

re·gret – r???ret/

verb

1.feel sad, repentant, or disappointed over (something that has happened or been done, especially a loss or missed opportunity).

One of the principles I use to live my life is simple: have no regrets.  I believe this has made me a happier person, and has allowed me to turn decisions that might eat away at me into lessons that I can use to make better decisions in my future.

An example

A big decision that I made relatively early in my life that has had massive consequences for me was the decision to accept a Navy ROTC scholarship in the senior year of high school.  Doing this meant that when I graduated in 1999 I entered the Navy, instead of potentially going to work in the nascent internet industry (or somewhere else).  I was effectively locked into six years of Navy service instead of participating in one of the craziest times of the internet’s growth.

But while I could regret the opportunities I passed up, I also have to recognise the transformational experiences I did have in the Navy.  At 23 years old I was put in charge of a nuclear reactor.  At 24 years old I was running a $2billion submarine and responsible for safety of 130 crew members’ lives.  And because I had my ROTC scholarship, I graduated with zero college loans or any other financial burdens.  So while I might have been able to be a part of the internet’s wild ride, I actually did start my career with some very unique experiences and a decent financial footing.

(That said, at the time I was a huge Google fan and user… partly because I got to Michigan just after Larry Page left and knew people that were friends of his.  If I had managed to convince Google to hire me around the time I graduated in 1999, I would have been anywhere from employee number 15 to 60.  That could have been… lucrative.)

How I think about potential regrets

So while I have made a number of decisions in my life that if I look back I might do differently, I remember that each decision was made with the best information I had available at the time.  The benefit of hindsight is information that you never had when you actually had to make the decision!  Where I would have chosen to do something differently I analyse what I wish I would have known to figure out if there are ways I should systematically do more research or think differently about categories of decisions.  Then I can take any lessons from those situations and apply them to future decisions.

Having this attitude has made me a lot happier.  I have made a conscious decision to have no regrets, which allows me to focus on the benefits I’ve had from the decisions I’ve made.  The only control I have in life is over the decisions I’m making right now, today.  Regret is simply a waste of time and energy.

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Ben Edelman – Harvard Professor, pedant, twit

Ben Edelman is a Harvard Business School professor (and Harvard undergraduate and Harvard Law School grad), a pedant, and a twit.  My evidence?

Come again?

In a nutshell, Ben Edelman:

  • ordered chinese food
  • saw that he was charged $4 more than expected, so contacted the restaurant
  • found out that the restaurant hadn’t updated their prices on their website
  • proceeded to go nuclear on the owner.

This story has already gone viral… it’s what happens when a Harvard professor bullies a small business owner over $4 of food.  At his consulting rates, he probably wasted hundreds or thousands of dollars on this back-and-forth with a small business owner, and also managed to wreck any sort of negotiating power he had.  (Despite somehow being a professor in the HBS “negotiations” unit!)

Ben strikes me as the very definition of a pedant in that instead of focusing on righting the restaurant’s mistake, he dove into the depths of the legal issues around this $4 injustice, the legal consequences, and the actions available to him.  I know one or two other people like this, and while they always seem to have some grounding in facts, they are completely disassociated from reality.

I will admit to a previous minor bias against Ben, in that I was a Google employee for about five years, and Ben was famous for posting long screeds against various aspects of Google’s technology and implementation, while playing down the fact that he’s been a consultant to Microsoft for years.  I think some of his research is actually interesting, relevant, and important for consumers.  But frankly, there clearly aren’t enough examples of real widespread fraud online anymore, so Ben has to play minor disagreements as nuclear issues.

So if you want a funny story, I highly recommend checking out the e-mail chain on the Boston.com article.  The patience of the business owner is amazing, and I congratulate the owner in dis-arming and defeating a Harvard Business School professor.