Joe Mercer

Read this first

[work term report] Building a Decision Engine for Megaphones on Instagram

 Introduction

Instagram is a popular photo-sharing social network. It follows a publish and subscribe model where users publish their photos to the accounts that follow them (their followers), and see photos from the accounts that they follow (their followings). The photos from each following are aggregated together into the content feed, which is the primary surface of the application. In addition to organic content, the feed contains advertisements, which are pieces of content that companies have paid Instagram to promote. At the top of the feed, Instagram will occasionally show a megaphone. Megaphones are Instagram’s way of self-promoting actions within the app, usually for the purpose of converting low-engaged users to high-engaged users. For example, if a user doesn’t have many followings, Instagram will show them a Suggested Users megaphones to help them discover great content to

Continue reading →


[How Do I] Answer a Product Design Interview Question

If you’ve ever interviewed before, you probably know that it’s much easier to tackle interview questions when you have a strategy. For example, Gayle McDowell outlines a five step process for answering Software Engineering technical questions in her book Cracking the Coding Interview:

  1. Ask questions to resolve ambiguity
  2. Design an Algorithm
  3. Write pseudocode
  4. Write code
  5. Test your code

Design is the process of deciding what to build, which is different from actually building something. As a result, design questions should be approached differently than technical questions. The purpose of this blog post is to describe a strategy for answering design interview questions.

  1. Empathize with the customer
  2. Align with business strategy
  3. Define success
  4. Apply the design process
  5. Start by validating your assumptions

 1. Empathize with the Customer

There’s a hot trend in design right now called

Continue reading →


[idea] Opin.io

Opin.io is the app for rating anything.

 How does it work?

As a user, you open the app to reveal the Rate tab. On the Rate tab you see a personalized and relevant list of things you can rate – the restaurant that you’re nearby, the popular television show that’s on right now, the book that your friend recently rated, the politician that is giving a speech later tonight. You can scroll down to reveal an infinite list of things to rate, or you can use the search bar at the top to find specific things to rate. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, you can add it.

The rating scheme is something I call bump ratings. With a bump rating you don’t necessarily know what the true rating of a thing is, all you can do is bump the rating up or down. The benefit of bump ratings is that they remove a lot of the friction to traditional 5 star or 10 point rating schemes. You don’t need to think

Continue reading →


[analysis] Hotel Rayman - Allan Rayman

Back in August I was listening to Allan Rayman’s Hotel Allan about once a day, and now I feel like I need to justify it. So here’s some analysis.

Hotel Allan follows the speaker, Allan, as he navigates personal relationships and struggles to “make it” as a professional musician. Although mostly presented in the first-person, Hotel Allan is a self-conscious album. Throughout the story, our protagonist is hyperaware of the destructive patterns in his life and is haunted by the belief that he’s killing everything he loves. This demon follows Allan across several facets of his life, starting with his relationship with his girlfriend, but quickly progressing to his music, and finally his very being.

The first track in the album is Dear Allan, which starts with Allan addressing himself in letter format, and ends with refrains of future songs played over an instrumental that could easily fit

Continue reading →


[mathNEWS] New Music Roundup (7/20)

 1. Don’t Say No - Cheat Codes feat Dresses

Dresses is an indie pop duo from Portland and Cheat Codes is an electro pop trio from LA. Don’t Say No sounds exactly like what you think it sounds like.

 2. Look Outside - Nat & Alex Wolff

Look Outside is off the soundtrack to to Paper Towns, which is a movie I had not heard about until today. This song makes the list because I think that as we head towards finals we should keep in mind the refrain in the chorus: “It’s not so bad. It’s alright.”

 3. This Isn’t The End - Owl City

Owl City released his fifth album, Mobile Orchestra, last week. It’s bad. Just though you all should know.

 4. Stockholm - Atlas Genius

Stockholm is the lead off Atlas Genius’s new album, Inanimate Objects, coming out August 28th. I’m exited.

 5. Seventeen - Sjowgren

Sjowgren has a HAIM style girl power rock vibe (though I should note that I couldn’t find much

Continue reading →


[mathNEWS] New Music Roundup (7/6)

If you’re a fan of music like the 1975, then this week is good for you. Lots of tracks in this list come in a similar vein.

 1. Abrasive - Ratatat

New Ratatat album Magnifique coming out July 17th. Need I say more?

 2. Tell Me What You Want From Me - Good Old War

Good Old War’s latest album Broken Into Better Shape was released last week. Much like the album, the lead track, Tell Me What You Want From Me, is optimistic and approachable despite an angsty title.

 3. XY&O - Low Tide

XY&O only has one song on Spotify, but it’s a good start. Low Tide fits right in the genre niche formed by bands like the 1975 and Smallpools, but bewarned it’s not a jam. It’s more of a playlist filler type song (in the best possible way).

 4. Galaxy Rider - Voyageur

Galaxy Rider has less than 15k plays on Spotify, but I think it’s beautiful. The chorus is cringingly high, and the lyrics are immature, but

Continue reading →


[notes] Crucial Conversations

 Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High (2002) by Kerry Patterson and Joseph Grenny

Buy from Amazon

 CH. 1: What’s a Crucial Conversation? And Who Cares?

“Now, what makes one of your conversations crucial as opposed to plain vanilla? First, opinions vary… Second, stakes are high… Third, emotions run strong.”

“When conversations matter the most-that is, when conversations move from casual to crucial-we’re generally on our worst behavior. Why is that? We’re designed wrong. When conversations turn from routine to crucial, we’re often in trouble. That’s because emotions don’t exactly prepare us to converse effectively. Countless generations of genetic shaping drive humans to handle crucial conversations with flying fists and fleet feet, not intelligent persuasion and gentle attentiveness.”

“We’re under pressure. Let’s add another factor. Crucial conversations are

Continue reading →


[notes] The Power of Habit

 The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (2014) by Charles Duhigg

Buy from Amazon

 Part One: The Habits of Individual

 1. The Habit Loop (How Habits Work)

The Habit Loop: Cue, Routine, Reward

“This process within our brains is a three-step loop. First there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future.”

 2. The Craving Brain (How to Create New Habits)

“This explains why habits are so powerful: They create neurological cravings. Most of the time, these cravings emerge so gradually that we’re not really aware they exist, so we’re often blind to their influence. But as we associate cues with certain rewards, a subconscious

Continue reading →


[mathNEWS] New Music Roundup (6/22)

Pretty good two weeks for new music. The highlights are definitely Overflow and Re.Up, but Rumble in the Park and Daye Jack have enough intrigue to warrant a listen, and it’s hard to be unhappy with anything RAC does.

 1. Back of the Car - RAC

Back of the Car is RAC’s new single, and it’s probably about average on the spectrum of RAC songs. So, y'know, it’s alright. But the reason it makes this list is because I love RAC and I saw them perform this song at SXSW before it was released. In other words, I’m biased.

 2. Rumble in the Park - Catey Shaw

I hadn’t heard of Catey Shaw, and I’m not sure if Rumble in the Park is a good song, but it’s certainly an interesting song. The intro brings traces of The Chemical Brothers with a rap beat, and the vocals have a sass that has nothing to do with either. The lyrics use the word fisticuffs, and set up a scene reminiscent of the fight scene in

Continue reading →


[mathNEWS] New Music Roundup (6/8)

Lots of great new music came out in the last two weeks, so I’m sticking with the same theme. I’ve also put the tracks in a playlist, which you can find by searching mathNEWS on Spotify.

 1. L$D - A$AP Rocky

I typically don’t like A$AP Rocky, but I typically do like heady, faded songs about drugs. So I guess they balance out. Since I’m biased towards Seattle Rap, I’d also recommend Paradise by Ryan Caraveo and Goodbye My Love by Fresh Espresso. But L$D is good also.

 2. Scud Books - Hudson Mohawke

There’s no denying that Scud Books is a good track, but it can be kind of intimidating to fit into your day. Maybe when I start running again I’ll have time to appreciate it’s intensity.

 3. We Won’t - Jaymes Young and Phoebe Ryan

Jaymes Young’s top song on Spotify samples Sufjan Stevens, so obviously I like him, but the reason this song makes the list is because of Phoebe Ryan. Phoebe Ryan

Continue reading →