Network Neutrality

Network Neutrality

An academic overview in 2008 by Jared Tame at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, home of the Mosaic web browser,, and Free Press.

When asked whether or not he would alter his telecom bill to address net neutrality needs more specifically, Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) states in National Journal’s Tech Daily, There’s no way you can appease these people. It’s a fetish—it’s really something that doesn’t exist. But they want to stop this bill because it might exist.” Coming from the same senator that claimed the Internet was a series of tubes, Ted Stevens is trying to say that network neutrality isn’t really an issue at all. (Greenfield) Many intelligent, in-the-know, coherent people would argue this type of policy issue differently. They would tell you that network neutrality is another thread that holds the democratic United States together in a flourishing market. And the thread is about to be cut because telephone and cable companies want to do away with all network neutrality rules.

The Internet has come a long way since the 60s. The USSR launched Sputnik, and the United States decided that it was time to stay technologically competitive. The Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA for short) was born with the ultimate goal to create an improved radar system for the United States. In addition, the United States wanted to decentralize their communications systems in the event of an attack. ARPA moved from Harvard University to MIT in 1950, and it was here that ARPANET was formed to create the earliest version of what we know today as the Internet. It’s worth mentioning that telephone and cable companies had absolutely nothing to do with the invention of the Internet; in fact, they refused to support the growth and research efforts, while other government and academic organizations supported it. (Information Outlook)Several different methods and protocols of sending communication were developed during the period from 1960-1980, mostly for government use. It wasn’t until about 1988 that the network began to see commercial interests, starting with MCI getting approval for an internal mailing system, with CompuServe becoming approved and further commercializing it soon after.

The Internet experienced unprecedented growth during the 90s. Tim Berners-Lee completed a project called the World Wide Web in 1989. The National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign allowed the Internet to experience exponential growth by releasing the Mosaic 1.0 browser, which continues to power many modern browsers today (such as Internet Explorer). Each year, growth of the Internet exceeded 100%, with 1996 and 1997 being periods of substantial growth. During this entire period, there was an open set of non-proprietary Internet protocols without a centralized administration. This allowed all vendors to compete freely on the Internet, while preventing any particular company from gaining too much power or control over the network. This is important because the technology can be stagnated if left in the hands of the few corporations, instead of the billions of end-users. Lawrence Lessig,Stanford Law School professor and founding board member of the Creative Commons states, the complexity on a road network is pushed to the edge and manifests itself in the vehicles we drive: on a rail network by contrast the train is part of the network.” In a very simple analogy, when railroad track gets laid, can you improve the railroad track any further? That would not be the point. Once your railroad track is laid, you have a medium for which a vehicle can travel, and you are only limited by the engineering of the train itself. You establish the network to be as efficient as possible, and you let the open market and competition do the rest. What we end up with are many companies competing fiercely to create the smoothest ride with the best fuel efficiency. You are not held back or restricted in any way by the railroad track itself, since the technology is pushed to the very edge and rests upon how well designed and engineered the train is. Similarly, we should not restrict the efficiency or speed of the Internet, and we should actually be pushing for better alternatives such as fiber optics (which will be discussed later). If we limit the speed or efficiency of the network, how can we expect the products that exist on top of it to function at their best? Limiting speeds or changing the data would be similar to creating a faulty track. In a monopoly, which would control the cable and the quality of the content inside of it, there is no longer any incentive to compete, and it will work only hard enough to maintain its dominant position.

Several laws were established during this period to set in place various neutrality rules, however most of them were not formally written until early 2000. This is because the Internet was privatized in 1993 abolishing ARPANET’s Acceptable Usage Policy (UAP), which stated that no commercial activity was allowed on the network. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 went into effect, which tried to reduce barriers to entry and competition in the telecommunications networks.The act specifically required incumbent networks to “lease” parts of their network to competitors at cost, provide wholesale discounts to competitors, and charge reciprocal rates in termination of calls to the network. The act also required incumbent network providers to pass “public interest tests” and other requirements before being allowed to establish themselves in new markets. Later in 1999, a small Internet Service Provider in California known as Brand X sued the FCC because they believed there was an important distinction: cable companies should be classified as a “telecommunications service” and not an “information service.” This means competitors should be able to use the telecommunication services, which is nothing more than the data being carried by coaxial cables. Literally, as quoted in the Act, a telecommunications service is nothing more than the offering of telecommunications for a fee directly to the public, or to such classes of users as to be effectively available directly to the public, regardless of the facilities used.” There is a clear distinction, whereas an “information service” literally means, as stated in the Act:

the offering of a capability for generating, acquiring, storing, transforming, processing, retrieving, utilizing, or making available information via telecommunications, and includes electronic publishing, but does not include any use of any such capability for the management, control, or operation of a telecommunications system or the management of a telecommunications service.

You can see from this that the roles are clear and distinct: a telecommunication service sells the ability to use the coaxial cables. The information service is responsible for everything beyond and in between that. The Act enforces regulation on the telecommunication services, but when the verdict ruled that the companies were both a telecom and information service, they were no longer regulated in the same way. This is believed to be where the neutrality issue really began. Massive corporations like AT&T who were previously treated like a telecommunications carrier now enjoyed the freedom of an information service. The decision was ultimately passed in favor of Brand X by a panel of judges at Seattle in 2003, the same year Tim Wu published “Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination” to establish a more formal set of rules. However, in 2005 the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the decision and ruled that cable companies no longer were required to share their infrastructure with the competing internet providers. In the same year, the FCC enforced neutrality rules on a small high-speed provider of Internet service called Madison River Communications. Shortly after, the FCC wrote their own neutrality rules and announced them, with 4 basic principles. This caused Edward Whitacre, the former CEO of SBC Communications to complain, stating in a Business Week article in November, 2005there's going to have to be some mechanism for these [Internet upstarts] who use these pipes to pay for the portion they're using. The Internet can't be free in that sense, because we and the cable companies have made an investment.” It is considered to be at about this time, in November 2005, when the debate picked up popularity and was driven to the mainstream news level with consumers. (Shrimali)

A bill known as the Internet Freedom and Preservation Act of 2006 would establish an important rule for the first time in history that would hold any internet provider responsible for traffic discrimination in violation of the Clayton Antitrust Act. The Clayton Antitrust Act is relevant because a specific provision in Act Section 2 states, “price discrimination [is not allowed] between different purchasers if such discrimination substantially lessens competition or tends to create a monopoly in any line of commerce.” This made it illegal for providers to alter the Quality of Service (or Internet speed), refuse traffic to any destination on the Internet, in addition to creating a “two tier” network where people pay a premium price on top of existing service to experience true high-speed Internet speeds. Unfortunately, this bill never made its way to the U.S. House of Representatives, and another attempt under the Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006 passed 321-101 by the House, but was filibustered in the Senate.

Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, posted a widely circulated YouTube video urging people to contact their congressmen and support network neutrality. Free Press launched, a massive support and resource effort for net neutrality.(Dysart)Many prominent figures have since announced their concern about the threat over net neutrality, including Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who was quoted at in an open letter to the public saying:

The Internet as we know it is facing a serious threat... Today the Internet is an information highway where anybody – no matter how large or small, how traditional or unconventional – has equal access. But the phone and cable monopolies, who control almost all Internet access, want the power to choose who gets access to high-speed lanes and whose content gets seen first and fastest. They want to build a two-tiered system and block the on-ramps for those who can't pay.

There is one major group that is against network neutrality, and it’s important to realize a few things before describing their position on neutrality. First, the group known as Hands Off The Internet is considered to be “a big-money front group whose mission is to make operators and ISPs (Internet Service Providers) monitor private Internet traffic.” This was a description given by Washington D.C.-based digital rights group Public Knowledge. Hands Off The Internet consist of member organizations AT&T, Qwest, Alcatel Lucent, 3M, and dozens of others. Hands Off The Internet rebranded themselves as “Arts+Labs,” so when referring to the arguments against network neutrality, it is either cited by one of these two groups, which are essentially the same entity, with a different name. Arts+Labs is partnered with Viacom, Microsoft, NBC Universal, Songwriters Guild of America, AT&T, and Cisco.

On the Hands Off The Internet website, they claim the Internet is reaching its capacity, with “60% annual growth with the urgent need for new investment.” The major argument states that more than ever, users are watching videos online, which is a more bandwidth-intensive application of the Internet. Instead of just sending e-mail and chatting over instant messenger services, we are now using more data, and therefore the Internet Service Providers are justified in charging more for their network usage. Another argument from Hands Off The Internet states from its website that the Internet is already protected, because Title 1 of the Communications Act of 1934 states the FCC has the power to intervene in future cases of discrimination. Also cited in the arguments are three antitrust laws, The Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914, and the Sherman Antitrust Act. Most of their major arguments state that it would be difficult for any company to become a monopoly. (Hands Off The Internet)

Arts+Labs described in a September, 2008 article on PC Advisor, that they will be fully devoted to addressing “net pollution” piracy. This is essentially a fancy word for getting rid of people who download large files. They were literally implying that people who used programs like BitTorrent to download and share large files were polluting the Internet. What Arts+Labs has effectively done is to create the illusion that network neutrality exists as a “public debate” when in fact, the grassroots supporters of network neutrality are the most involved and most supportive of Internet growth and development, with zero profit interests. The polar opposite is arguing in favor of keeping the Internet from advancing because their existence depends on their old and outdated technology using coaxial cables and routing equipment that wasn’t even designed for the Internet, but was designed for telephone calls. What we have on our hands is effectively an outdated infrastructure that is fighting to keep things the way they are now. The grassroots movement also doesn’t want to get stuck with one company refusing to provide a better quality of service. What would be the problem with a community building its own local infrastructure, if the telephone and cable companies downright refused to provide better service? Of course any response to the tune of “that would disrupt the competition” would just be an attempt to maintaining a monopoly and the status quo. If the telecommunications services will not lay the infrastructure that a community wants, what would stop the local community from building their own? In a free market, this would be perfectly acceptable, but large corporations say this would disrupt the market.

The issue on network neutrality is considered bi-partisan, with both democrats and republicans supporting the Internet Freedom and Preservation Act of 2006, in addition to the Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2008, which is supported by Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and many others. Those in favor of the abolishment of neutrality laws include Bellsouth CEO William L. Smith, Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg, AT&T CEO Ed Whitacre, HDNet owner Mark Cuban, and Comcast CEO David Cohen.

The major issue right now is making sure that internet providers can’t get away with breaking the major terms of network neutrality. The terms, which are currently under intense debate by both sides, include: traffic discrimination, double-dipping, and innovation stifling.

In short, traffic discrimination allows the Internet service providers to treat the Internet users differently depending on a variety of factors. If you visit a particular website, such as YouTube, your quality of service (or Internet speed) can be reduced dramatically. However, if you visit a site like Hulu, which is funded by large media companies, speeds will be returned to normal. Perhaps downloading movies from iTunes will be very slow, but if you use Comcast Video On Demand, speeds will not be slowed down. Net neutrality says that Internet providers can do only what they’re best at: providing the cables by which the Internet moves its information across. They cannot block access to particular websites and they cannot slow you down for any reason. They also cannot block desktop applications, such as BitTorrent. In short, the providers are not allowed to interfere, change, or discriminate the data that is moving through their cables. (Fitzgerald)

The second neutrality term is called double-dipping. Right now you only pay one monthly fee for Internet access. You may even have a bandwidth cap, such as 250 gigabytes per month, but you pay once, and you can access all data equally. What Internet providers are proposing now is that people pay once for Internet access, and again for using particular applications or websites. To go further, Internet providers may only count particular websites as “using up your bandwidth allocation,” while using others is “free” or “included with no extra charge.” It’s very similar to how pay-per-view cable TV packages work; you pay for watching a movie once. Internet providers want to gain more profits by charging you every time you visit a particular website, or maybe when you watch videos from select sites such as YouTube.

The third and final major neutrality term is called innovation stifling. It may seem counterintuitive, but one of the goals of the cable and phone companies is to prevent innovation, because innovation can often times be seen as “disruptive” or “creative destruction.” These advancements can be economically beneficial by replacing older, outdated, and inefficient methods of doing things. Skype, for example, is seen as a popular alternative that is cheaper than making traditional phone calls. Skype uses VoIP technology, which is sending your voice as data over the Internet, and essentially making it completely free to you as the end-user. You can see this may prevent phone companies from profits once a new technology has replaced it. Innovation is seen as threatening to larger, established companies who become focused on satisfying shareholders and driving profits up for executive leadership, instead of innovating and delivering real value and technological contributions to society as a whole. There are new tactics phone companies want to use to encourage innovation stifling. Large phone and cable companies would be able to pay “protection money,” as describes it, which would guarantee them the ability to “enjoy life in the fast lane.”

Bandwidth Caps Are (Still) Easy to Bypass

I still don't get it. I've been going to a research-intensive school, and there are ridiculous bandwidth restrictions for students. I'm even in an apartment, and not a dorm, and I have worse bandwidth restrictions than the undergrads here. Basically, most students get 2GB a day, while I get 1GB. Most students have the luxury of being throttled down to lower speeds when they hit their limit. My connection is atomic, it just shuts off once you hit that 1GB daily limit. WTF?!?! 1 GB A DAY. That's 30 GB a month. Nothing compared to the limit that Comcast recently annoucned with 250 GB a month. So as a guy who doesn't download much porn, or really anything from bit torrent--1 GB doesn't last very long. I'm still surprised how easy it is to reset your own bandwidth, though. I didn't even think of it, some nerdy looking guy I didn't know sat down and started eating breakfast with me last year when I was in the dorms. I told him I was really angry that morning because I had been throttled to a lower internet speed. In high school and middle school, I had my own ways of disabling the filters (cgi proxies). But now I've got new problems on my hands. This guy just told me to look up macshift and that would fix all my problems (and it did). Surprisingly, changing your mac address isn't hard, and it probably works in more cases than not. Here's what you do (and this is for educational purposes only, I don't encourage you to violate your own ISP's terms of course): 1) Download macshift. It will let you change your MAC address, which makes it look like a new computer is connecting to the network. 2) Open command prompt in windows. I put macshift.exe in C:/, so I go to C:/ and type: macshift.exe -r -i "Local Area Connection 3" Note: you need to figure out which connection is being used by your LAN cable. Just go to my computer, network places, and look at the names of the network connections. Usually it's just "Local Area Connection", possibly with a number after it. Use that. 3) Wait a few seconds for the MAC address to change, then wait about 15-20 seconds for your internet to reeconnect. 4) All done. Granted, this won't work in all cases, but it's a start.

Using Google Analytics - New Snippet Code for AJAX

I was wondering why I couldn't track AJAX through analytics, because let's face it, the world we used to know as "1.0" and static HTML is going to slowly disappear into the abyss. One of the frustrations of AJAX, however, is knowing what your users are doing. You're not refreshing pages (that's so 2002), it's just live HTTP requests.

The first Google search for "urchin ajax" has a dead link. The article here now points to nothing. Also, the #1 result for "analytics ajax" talks about an outdated method using the old version of the Analytics code.

So I'll post an update.

1) You need to read the Google page on how to track AJAX applications.

2) You need to make sure you're using the NEWER urchin/analytics snippet code. The easy way to do this is to check the page that shows the two versions of the Google tracking code (you're most likely running the older stuff).

3) You need to start calling the pageTracker function every time you run an AJAX call, or at least the AJAX calls you want to track.

I'll give an example of what my code looks like. In my <head> tags, I'll call to my external JS file that holds all my AJAX calls, functions, etc. It's important to note that you won't load Google Urchin/Analytics until AFTER all of the <head> JS has been loaded.

Don't try to create DOM elements on the fly and do any immediate tracking. You can't access the pageTracker function until the DOM has fully loaded, including the <body> where your Analytics snippet is embedded.

Inside of every AJAX call I want to track, I'll put this at the very end of the code block (assuming the AJAX call was successful):


thisView:"what_ajax_call_or_view" });

initUrchin is simply a function that looks like this:


//initialize urchin stats for ajax calls

function initUrchin(parameters) {

var thisView = parameters['thisView'];

pageTracker._trackPageview(thisView); }

Wow! Google Chrome is FAST

I'm writing my first blog from Google Chrome, and it's fast!

My first impression when I read about Chrome was skeptic.  I didn't really understand what Google's motivation was for this, and I didn't really want to read the 200 page comic book on it either.  If you have to use a comic book to explain a product, I'm not interested.  I'd rather just read a dead-simple two or three sentence overview and get the idea.

It's still hard to understand why Chrome is cool over, say, Firefox.  But the speed is definitely one thing.  Having multi-process support for tabs is also a great idea.  I definitely see Google pushing the web browser to behave more and more like the desktop.  It starts to feel like a desktop application, and remove what has felt like "the internet" with lag.  There is almost no latency for loading stuff like JS, even on TechCrunch and Facebook, which have been two terribly slow-loading sites because of the enormous amounts of JS they have.

However, the only real "lag" I see now is the website's actual lag.  It used to feel like two things were happening, with regards to things like TechCrunch and Facebook: you would sit and wait for the regular content to load, and then you would wait on "dependencies" to load.  These were things that had to be rendered dynamically, for whatever reason.  Now you just see things load, with little regard to how much JS overhead there is, if that makes any sense at all.

In a nutshell: Chrome is cool.  It's fast, it's clean, it's lightweight, and there are a few quirks with it, but I think it's a great start to continuing to give the world a "push" towards web application development.  I think we're sort of seeing the web respond more and more like the desktop, especially with these speed improvements.  Give me Firebug in Chrome and I'll make it my primary browser.

80+ Hours a Week: The Follow-Up

It's difficult to describe what the verdict is on the article I wrote about How to Work 80+ Hour Weeks.  I think there are a few things I should have probably mentioned a little better, and it's the subject of a lot of debate.  Most of it is opinionated, but it's still important to see both sides of the argument so you can call your own shots.

For clarification: most of this is just freely written as I think of it, and you shouldn't take it too seriously.  I'm just writing my thoughts out, and I'm not the authority or expert on this topic.  I don't understand all of the underlying dynamics, like the psychology and statistics and all of that.  I also don't spend a whole lot of time researching this stuff, I take the approach of throwing something out there and seeing what sticks from the conversation.  I've seen a few patterns from people who follow up, so I'll point out the 3 major responses:

#1: All you'll have at 30 years old is a wasted life and a lot of money. That's a legitimate point, although I see this as being pretty opinionated and subjective.  It's true, a lot of people would feel terrible if they woke up one day and realized their friends from high school and college had moved on because you were always wrapped up in your own entrepreneurial endeavors.  You would look back at your college experience and wish you had gone out a little more, met more people, or had more fun.  The bars, the parties, the games, the movie nights, hanging out with friends, going to the mall, road trips, you wish you would have gotten to experience it all.  But you're 30, you have a lot of money, and you've got no life.

Here's why I think part of this argument is weak: you won't get the money or the success until you've made it through your startup.  What happens in the mean time?  You'll most likely run into a lot of interesting people who share your interests while you're working on your startup.  What about all the people you met through your startup?  Your customers?  Your employees?  Your co-founders?  Your investors?

What happened to all of those entrepreneurs who decided to take the plunge and work 80 or whatever hours a week?  They also have no friends from college or high school who they've stayed in touch with, so don't you think at the end of the day you'll have a lot of very hard-working, highly-driven, somewhat crazy people without many childhood friends?  Don't you think those people might be interested in getting to know each other, understanding well in advance the complex dynamics of a startup and the intense schedules?

Entrepreneurs like to network with other entrepreneurs, which is part of why I take an active role in building that sort of network at my own school.  We thrive on positive energy, so we have to find people out there who are positive and workaholics, just like us.  It's actually harder than it sounds because those people are few and far between.

Most college entrepreneurs I know don't want to wake up one day at 30 and have nothing to show for it.  They don't want to be labeled as a failure by their friends, or whoever is left from high school and college that has the patience to stick around.  They don't want their investors, their parents, or their own team to see them as failures.  So the reason I think we find working so hard now is not just so we can stop "treading water" as Paul Graham puts it, but so we don't wake up some day and realize that we haven't contributed anything useful to society.  Entrepreneurs have a code written in their DNA that says "make the world a better place than it was before you came here."  That's what drives us, and if we can't do that, we feel like failures, and we look like failures.

What people will define as a "wasted life" will vary from one person to the next.  We all want to avoid being bored, we want to live.  It's all part of what your definition of "live" means.  If it's to be social and have fun, then go be social and have fun.  If it's to make a contribution, then start popping some anti-depressants because it's going to be an interesting journey.

#2: Why 80 hours a week? 40 hours could be just as productive. I think we all have weeks where working nothing at all would be more productive.  Some weeks can be bad for me, and I'm not saying every entrepreneur should work 80 hours every week of every month of every year.  I haven't done that, and I know it gets thrown around quite a bit that entrepreneurs put in a lot of hours.  But not all of those hours go into coding, for example.

If you're in a seed startup, and you're a college student, you usually can't get a full team together to build an idea out.  It's usually just a few friends, add a few more if it's a project for a class.  Between a few people, there's an overwhelming amount of work to be done.  Someone on YC news responded that you almost need one person who can be willing to take on the business responsibilities full-time.  There goes one of your developers while you're fundraising.  Unless they're really good at jumping between fundraising and writing code, you'll probably be going 50% slower on product development, assuming you have just one partner of course.

I don't know many people who spend 80+ hours a week, every week during the year, doing nothing but coding.  That is, nothing but coding.  Coding by itself is a mental task, and it requires a bit of deeper thinking at times.  You have to take breaks, walk around, and stare out your window.  You have other stuff you're doing, like optimizing, scaling, debugging, learning new frameworks or libraries, etc.  Not all of your time will be spent on just coding, but if you're anything like me, you write your code and you still have a database to normalize, a site and logo to design, copy that needs written, elevator pitches that need rehearsed, and funds that need raised.

And that's not to say your obligations are only external, to your company, and your product, and your team.  You have to stay motivated, which isn't something you "will" and it happens.  It's not as though entrepreneurs wake up and say "today, I will be motivated and I will work 18 hours!  And I'll be ecstatic for every one of those hours!"  I remember Steve Pavlina saying how he would finish college in half the time it usually takes by overloading courses in a given semester, and on the way to his classes he would listen to motivational audio CDs (back before the iPod existed and we walked around with the dreaded Walkman).  Staying motivated requires a fair amount of work too.

You also can't fall off the map completely because you still need your friends and their friends to help test your applications out and offer some immediate feedback (although depending on your friends, they may tell you only what you want to hear, so I recommend telling them you know someone who made it and just wanted to share it, get their feedback, etc).  You of course should stay muscular, like I do, and exercise to keep in shape, all while building your empire.

Anyway, you can see why having a team could be a luxury.  You don't have to pin all of the work on any single person, and nobody is expected to put in 80 hours a week.

#3: What are you going to do when you retire in 10 years? I was referencing to Paul Graham's 'economics of a startup' when I said the purpose of a startup is to condense 40-50 years of a 9-5.  I didn't want to imply that I was doing it in order to retire early.  More than likely, I'll do another one if I have enough anti-depressants to get me through it ;)

To wrap up my stream of consciousness, I think there's a simple heuristic you can use to test this out.  First, you should ask "should I work 80 hours or more a week?" Nobody really knows, you can probably find out if you sit yourself in a quiet room and ask what your priorities are, and see if you have enough people involved where you can distribute the work.  You also need to figure out how fast you have to move, and how big you're going to scale.  Moving faster and scaling up are the two biggest things that I can think of which will require more of everyone's time.

Assuming your first question is answered by a yes, you may be thinking "how do I work 80 hours a week or more?"  It's harder than it sounds, especially with the amount of distractions that exist today and considering the amount of discipline it will require you to continuously turn them off.  Goodluck.

How to Work 80+ Hour Weeks

I remember going through a stage in my life where I thought the concept of The 4 Hour Workweek was cool.  I even tried it out, and I created my own muses.  It turned out that I got very bored, I didn't really enjoy the type of "lifestyle" work I created for myself, and some of the things I did weren't suitable as a muse company.

When an entrepreneur picks up a book like 4 Hour Workweek, it's probably by accident or curiosity, as it was in my case.  But once a workaholic, always a workaholic.  The 4 Hour Workweek for me was torture, and even if I could have my way, I wouldn't want that lifestyle.  I've learned that I really enjoy the stuff I'm currently doing in startups, to the point where I do it all the time.

And so when I'm asked by people "What do you do?" I respond usually with "I'm a drug dealer" or "I'm taking over the world."  Of course even when I say it with a straight face, I have a hard time trying to convince people that I spend all of my time doing that type of stuff.  So I attempt to explain how I work in startups, I code, I do usability, I design, I eat lots of pizza, get very little sleep, have little left over for a social life, and I read Paul Graham essays excessively (although if you're an entrepreneur, it's not excessive to read and re-read his material).  And occasionally if I'm feeling bold, I'll slip in the fact that I usually spend more than 80-100 hours in front of my PC a week.  Not straight working, but a majority of my time is spent working, if not I'm learning something new.

And so inevitably the next thing I'm asked is "Wow... How do you manage that?"  And most people lookat you like you're crazy, as if you're slaving your life away and have no regard for it.  The real truth is, entrepreneurs have a much greater respect for life and the purpose of a startup is to condense much of what would have been a very dull, very boring 9-5 for 40-50 years into a fast-paced, stress-intensive 4-7 year startup.

There's really nothing magical about the number 80, or 100 (remember we're talking about work weeks here).  The fact is there are 7 days in a week, and 24 hours in a day.  People have to sleep about 6-8 hours a night, on average, to maintain peak performance.  My number seems to be 10, where I operate perfectly throughout the day with zero drowsiness.  However I rarely get 10 hours on any given week day, although I'll usually let myself catch up on sleep during the weekends.

Keep in mind that there are times where a startup is in a "crunch mode" where sleep is almost non-existent and non-important for days at a time.  This is actually a highly debated topic because a lot of studies have been done on whether "binge working" is really productive or healthy for the employees involved.  Obviously it's not.  At least for extended periods of time.  This type of work habit is very painful to endure for long, although with the proper conditions[1], the team will work just as hard as the co-founders.  Usually, it's not a problem unless you're a very early employee, as the milestones are very intense in the seed stages of a startup where there is nothing but a "light and non-functional prototype" to show for.

So we have 168 hours in a week.  Let's assume a worst-case scenario and say that you need 9 hours of sleep a night, every night, even on weekends.  That's what the doctors are recommending, so we at least know this will keep you mentally sane to follow this.  There goes 63 hours, you still have about 100 left in your week.

Now 100 discretionary hours a week sounds like a lot.  But it's not when you consider how many distractions we are faced with.  Paul Graham has recently "unplugged distraction" (nice metaphor Paul) by unplugging his working computer's internet connection, and only using an alternative computer for internet-related activity like e-mail, news, games, whatever.  I actually think this may be something I should do, as I've recently been enlightened to how many distractions I've got.

It seems a little awkward, by the way, when you wrap things like "social life" in a box labeled "distractions."  Most of my college friends would think I'm pretty weird if I just suddenly disappeared and never answered phone calls or text messages or Facebook wall posts.  And they'd think it was even weirder if they were labeled as nothing more than a "distraction" in my head.  But you have to make up your own mind about what is distracting you, and what's not.

The analogies that Paul uses for entrepreneurs are very similar to that of a drowning man in a pool.  Many people in startups just don't succeed because they're not committed or determined enough.  And some of the startups Paul has witnessed succeeding are from people who have the determination of a dying man (that was his literal example) drowning in water.  That doesn't paint a pretty picture, of course.  But when you put yourself in that position and you start thinking about priorities and distractions, you start to dumb things down a lot.  And that hazy cloud that couldn't quite help you understand what was truly distracting or not is quickly removed by your primal instincts that say "either this gets done and I know exactly where my priorities are at, or they don't get done and I'll loan my hours of time out to various people, various distractions, various tasks, that are not related."

That's really what I think it comes down to when you're opting-in to the 80 Hour Week (or whatever 100 Hour Week) mailing list.  It's nothing more than understanding you have a very finite amount of time in each week, and each week you're expected to deliver very real results to your investors.  By the way, if you're reading that last sentence and sort of shrugging it off because I used the word "investor" than you should really think your situation through.  I know the word "investor" is thrown around a lot, and in a negative way, but the fact is they pay your expenses while you can sit around with your friends and build a company.  This isn't a circus to them, they are betting their money and their time on you, so be prepared when you sit down with them each week and explain what you've gotten done.

I think this is fairly obvious to most people, especially those who are out of college and graduated.  And one of the reasons this type of thing interests me is because I'm still in college, and I'm constantly being approached with distractions.  Many of them don't even seem like distractions, and in fact some of them really are just things that are necessary.  Like going to spend time with your family for the holidays, right?  Well, I think it's good, but my habit is that I'll break my routine which takes a lot of effort to get into, if I take too much "vacation time."  I try and actually bring my work with me on vacations so that I don't come back feeling like I did after I failed that final exam after Christmas break because too much time away made me forget all of the material I crammed and memorized earlier.

I tend to write for other college entrepreneurs, so if much of the stuff I'm saying seems obvious, it probably is and should be since you were there 5-10 years ago.  But for us in college, we're still young and learning quite a bit.  I also tend to work on my own projects on the side, so much of this will be a "duh" for those who are seed companies, funded, with investors who are involved, active, and have a vested interest in your progress.  I, on the other hand, am just hacking my own stuff together, but I still feel compelled to work with the fever of any other full-time, fully-committed entrepreneur.

100 hours a week is quickly spent, especially when you're in college, and especially if you're tied down in a relationship.

In college, the list is pretty long.  A lot of my time spent when I'm not coding or designing (or dealing drugs/taking over the world), I actually play computer games.  For some people, it's the XBOX 360 or PS3.  I've always invested my money into my PC, I've always liked the idea of dual SLI cards.  And there aren't many games I play, but the ones I do, I enjoy quite a bit.  Recently, in an ongoing effort to "unplug distractions" and do my cleanup, I've uninstalled many of them.  I sat there for a good 10 minutes, wondering if it would be something beneficial or not.

There's really nobody to say whether games have a positive impact, or whether it's a good way to a "work life balance."  I'm not even sure entrepreneurs have a work life balance when you think about the drowning man analogy.  But, when you're breaking down your week and something tells you there are too many distractions currently there, sometimes it requires difficult decisions.  Even something as trivial as deleting a game off your system can be a difficult decision, because you know it's there when you get stressed over a bug in your code and are ready to give up.

There are lots of other things that distract college students, like TV.  I think Paul covered this pretty well and said the average person watches 4 hours of TV a day.  Say goodbye to more than 25% of your week right there.  And what has actually happened or been produced because of that?  I actually have almost no problem with TV, as I just don't watch it very much anymore.  I enjoy movies quite a bit, but even then I'll only watch a few movies a week at most, and that's only during certain weeks.

The parties and alcohol and socializing and all of that good stuff is another obvious distraction for college students.  Those can easily take up your entire weekend.  Even the small stuff, like getting lunch or dinner every day, can take away the very limited amount of time you have to work with in a given week.

What I've found to be true of the case is that if you're slacking off, you'll find things to distract you.  PG describes this phenomenon pretty well by saying you should take an hour out of your weekend and sit alone with nothing except a pad of paper.  The idea is that you'll become very uncomfortable because there are things that you sort of "crave" and are already attached to that feed off your time and attention resources.

The same can be said of those who are graduated, out of school, or in a relationship.  Unless you're funded, you may be moonlighting or working on your own project on the side.  If that's the case, that's tough.  I've seen a lot of stories on YC news where people really struggle with holding down a full-time job and then coming home to do a startup.  I'm not really an expert on that, but I want to say it's close to impossible.  I know a full day of work of itself can be exhausting, not necessarily because it's hard, but because 8 hours is a really long stretch of time to be sitting in an enclosed space for so long.  And as with any regular job, it can be dull, so it's difficult in that sense.

So if you're out of school, work can eat away your time, and relationships... do we need to even go there? [2]

So if anything, I would say feel extremely lucky with the time you have if you're working full time on your startup.  I've seen lots of companies in this stage, and it sounds easy, but consistently working 80 hours a week is really hard.  It's endurance, and it's staying determined, even on your bad weeks.  It's not just that, but it's obviously a constant struggle for keeping distractions out of the way.  Social networks, news sites, and the likes are always going to be there.

The final trend that I may have noticed recently is when engineers in the startups become wrapped up in the business elements.  I know it's preached that you shouldn't hire business people early in a startup, but if you're finding that it's taking up that much time, why not hire a President or CEO who can handle all of the day-to-day stuff while you can worry about engineering?  Maybe I'm just misunderstanding seed startups, but I've always thought that co-founders who are technical should stay fairly involved in CTO type of role, instead of branching out and getting into the business stuff.  Maybe I'm wrong there, but it only makes sense to me.

[1] Conditions that are really good for having a team pull all-nighters with co-founders: substantial equity packages, steady and available amounts of caffeine, a clear goal in sight, overwhelming commitment displayed by co-founders.

[2] For the sake of conversation, relationships are unavoidable face time.  The only exception I would give is if it's a long-distance relationship where you only see each other every once in a while, in that case, it may work if you can find a way to limit phone conversations.  I'm single, so I don't really have to deal with this one too much.

Disclaimer: this is the first version of this article, and may change in the future, although I tend to just enjoy writing these things as I think of them.  It doesn't go through quite the amount of scrutiny or review that PG's essays do, and I don't expect them to come quite as close in terms of quality or comprehension.