Thursday, October 27, 2016

Great career advice, courtesy HN

Often times, there are real nuggets in the comments section of a story posted on HN. I have, like my cohort who read HN, started reading comments first to determine whether the article is worth reading. While this doesn't give the requisite traffic to the source website and ends up taking up a lot more time than if I read the article, folks chiming in on the discussion have amazed me with their insights.

Here is the comment, pasted verbatim (thanks to braythwayt):
If you are sincerely interested in quashing abuse, and if the risk of being laid off does not frighten you, forget about the numbers and let’s talk about quashing abuse.
Twitter gets extremely mixed reviews from people who are the targets of abuse, and I believe I am putting that conservatively. So, what I would ask is not whether they are going to lay me off because they run out of money, but whether I am going to quit because when I get inside, I discover that they are not going to actually do much about it.
If Twitter has had a come-to-jesus moment about abuse, and there are no structural obstacles to doing something about abuse, this could be a job where you will one day look back and say, “I was part of the team that turned the corner on Twitter’s biggest problem. I made a difference.”
On the other hand, if Twitter doesn’t have quashing abuse in its cultural DNA, or if there are deep structural obstacles to quashing abuse, then you may discover that you cannot actually make a difference. That can be soul-crushing if you are passionate about the work.
I am not making a claim one way or the other about where Twitter is with this, I’m just suggesting that if you are motivated by making a difference, the biggest thing to figure out is whether you will actually be able to make a difference.
IMO, this matters more than the financial risk.
Note, not all commenters are this articulate. There is no dearth of trolls on HN. That's just the nature of online discourse.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Apple & Aluminium

Greg Koenig, the creator of Atomic Delights gave me goose bumps in his piece on Apple, Aluminium and whether the next iPhone will be all ceramic:
At peak production, Apple is manufacturing roughly 1 million iPhones per day. More importantly, every single one of those phones is sculpted to 10 micron tolerances, from a single block of aluminum, as is every Mac, iPad, Watch and many of the accessories. It is difficult to convey to folks without a manufacturing background how insane this is, but let me try.
He goes on to say (emphasis mine)...
A central pillar of Jony Ive's design philosophy is honesty of materials. It is one of those flowery phrases that I think gets glossed over most of the time, but we've seen Apple really evolve the entire aesthetic of the hardware lineup around it. 
What makes this product honest is that it isn't bullshit when Apple says the iPhone is "made from 7000 series aluminum." For almost every other big brand consumer products company, your "aluminum" phone would rally just be an applique, a veneer, a pretty cover on bog standard plastic guts. Yes, that phone would work just fine (again, Glock), but it wouldn't be honest.
With an iPhone, the very heart of the device's design and function is this single component. Like a Formula 1 car, this is a monocoque that serves as both the external shell and the internal structure. It isn't a case, or an enclosure - it is a chassis.
This last paragraph, the comparison to the monocoque of a Formula-1 car, drove the point home in the most articulate and emphatic way possible. The greatest Formula-1 drivers, Aryton Senna being one, trust this monocoque implicitly. They would be lost without the stability and flexibility it affords them on the race track.

I never gave much thought to the chassis that houses my precious iPhone; I will now.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Should Apple give iCloud Storage away, a la Google?

Google and Amazon have consistently moved the needle forward when it comes to Cloud-based services. Apple, on the other hand, is a laggard; its services are plagued by outages and poor performance. Microsoft is an after-thought.

There was a time when all providers charged for personal file storage -- some did it directly, others not so much. Here are starting options with pricing from the Big-4:

1. Amazon "bundles" unlimited photo storage with Amazon Prime ($99 a year, $10.99 a month)
2. Microsoft has a free 5-GB tier, $1.99 a month for 50-GB (plan details here)
3. Google had a free 15-GB tier for all document types
4. Apple has a free 5-GB tier; for $0.99 a month, you get 50-GB

Google has upended the market with its announcement on October 4. Vlad Savov writing for TheVerge:
Endless cloud storage. Google will allow free unlimited storage for full-resolution images and videos shot with the Pixel. That's much like the standard Google Photos backup ability, but takes off the size limit and compression, even on 4K video shot with the new phone.
You read that right: unlimited, free storage, no strings attached (photos will be scanned for metadata to serve you better ads, of course).

Thomas Ricker, wriring for TheVerge feels like he is getting a raw deal:
I’m feeling like a chump after yesterday’s Google event. I currently pay Apple $2.99 each month in return for 200GB of iCloud storage — space mostly allocated to my iCloud Photos library. But my free space recently dropped to zero after upgrading all my devices to iOS 10 and macOS Sierra.
He goes on (emphasis mine) ...
Dropbox comes close to Apple’s exorbitant pricing model but Dropbox is in the business of selling cloud storage. Even then, 1TB Dropbox Pro subscriptions cost $99.99 per year. Just think about that for a second; Apple charges more than Dropbox even though iCloud storage is a fundamental requirement for the features Apple promotes to help drive hardware sales.
This is such a US-centric view. China is Apple's biggest market, and iCloud Storage related revenue in that region isn't even broken out, it's that miniscule.

He proceeds to then make this bold assertion:
It’s bad enough that iCloud’s storage pricing hurts Apple’s most loyal customers — people who want to synchronize their data across multiple iOS, macOS, tvOS, and watchOS devices and then share it with like-minded friends and family. But the pricing also inhibits new customers from experiencing Apple devices to their fullest potential because the owners are reluctant to pay for something they were told was free.
The fact that iCloud is charging its users and Google isn't (but only for Photos), is this an unfair, even deceptive, practice by Apple? Are Apple users in crisis because iCloud usage comes with a price tag, and if they choose not to pay up they have to live with hampered functionality?

Short answer: a resounding NO.

For the average user -- me included -- the $0.99/month, 50-GB storage tier suffices. I haven't turned on macOS Sierra's iCloud Drive Sync feature. But even if I did, Google's FREE UNLIMITED storage for PICTURES wouldn't have helped me. I have more than PICTURES on my computer! If I turned this on, the next tier, $2.99 for 200-GB would be plenty. Yes, plenty.

This story, my avid readers, underscores my point that "there is a growing chasm between the tech press and users".

Yahoo keeps the hits coming!

All this time, I have been a staunch advocate of Yahoo vs. Google when it comes to privacy and security. The last month has shown me how shaky the ground is on which I stand vis-a-vis Yahoo. First there was news that data for 500-million Yahoo accounts was compromised:
Yahoo has confirmed that a data breach from 2014 hit 500 million users, allowing hackers access to sensitive information, including poorly encrypted passwords.
A press release from Yahoo confirms the news, and follows reports earlier today that Yahoo was set to confirm the breach. If true, stealing the user credentials from 500 million users would be one of the largest hacks ever to hit a US company.
And now, this (quoting BGR):
Intelligence agencies wanted Yahoo to scan all Yahoo Mail emails looking for a specific signature. Apparently, agents of a foreign terrorist organization were communicating using Yahoo “with a method that involved a ‘highly unique’ identifier or signature.” The investigators did not know what email accounts were used, so they needed Yahoo’s help to discover them.
Not a good coda for Marissa Mayer's tenure at Yahoo.

Trump's Vision of America

Gwynn Guilford and Annalisa Merelli writing for Quartz:
Whatever his logic, we now know more about the Republican candidate’s vision for the country. “Law and order” will wield its power arbitrarily, accountable to neither fact nor law. In Trump’s America, people of color will be kept “safe” by police that are required to be suspicious of them—and they’ll no longer have the Constitution to protect their rights.
That this person might win the Presidency and has such radical views on law enforcement make for a spine-chilling prospect for all people of color.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Oakland Files

The move to Oakland has been quite an adventure. It has been about a week since Puneet and I found our way to our slice of heaven in the Bay Area. The journey was long and circuitous, meandering through Hampton Boulevard in Norfolk to Brookside Way in University Place, and we lost and found a number of things along the way. New friendships were forged, relationships were mended, and cherished possessions that had been part of our lives were bid goodbye. Such is the nature of moves: you gain some things and you lose others.

Of the things no longer with me, I do miss my BMW the most. Attachment is hard to rationalize, even harder to manage, especially when the thing in question is no longer with you. I am happy that my prized possession is in the care of someone who will preserve it to the best of their ability. It’s all about finding silver linings in situations, isn’t it…

After a long hiatus, I got on the tennis court last afternoon. The last six or so months in Norfolk, January through the end of June, helped me regain some of the lost fitness during my years at Deloitte. Tennis was a constant in my life, and I made a number of friends on the tennis courts, chief among them being Dr. Rich Ciavarra. Him and I played almost every day, for hours on end. Let me tell you something about this rare gentleman: He is 72-years old, but has the resolve and fitness of a 40-year old man. When playing with Rich, I couldn’t help but reminisce about the hours spent on the badminton court with my dad. Now that I think back to all the hours playing tennis, I attribute my desire to relive that time on the court with my Pops to be the reason for why I enjoyed tennis with Rich so much. It was as if he was a proxy for my Pops. Only time will tell if I will find someone in Oakland who is as passionate and available to play tennis as he was. Cest la Vie.

Oakland is a very bike friendly city, so I have put my newly fixed up bike to good use this past week, much to the dismay of my “poor” buttocks! My bike has a very stiff seat, so I did some research and bought a new one from Amazon finally; it arrives on Thursday. Guess what it is called: Planet Bike “ARS”! They should have added an “e” at the end, lower case and nondescript, of course! :) I cannot wait to install it on my bike when it arrives and do a test ride.

There is another side to Oakland though, and it hit me in the face a few days ago. I went looking for tennis courts on Tuesday evening after work. No car here, so I got on my trusty but painful bike, and rode around town for about 90-minutes. Unfortunately, I struck out at three spots, and I have lost faith in the veracity of information provided by a website Google ranks really highly: I first rode to a college, Laney College, because it supposedly had 8-courts in good condition. Reality: the courts had been razed to make way for a new building. Tennis courts, the first casualty of urbanization and increased student enrollment. Down but not out, I rode next to a park with 3-courts, but miscreants had stolen the nets! The nets! What does one do with tennis court nets?!

Not one to quit, or not know when to quit, I decided to try a third recommended location. After riding about 4-miles through a neighborhood that seemed to get seedier with every passing block, I finally reached the park. Much to my dismay, the park was rundown; weeds were everywhere, there were huge cracks in the asphalt and the basketball court, the basketball rims were sans nets, and the air was heavy with a noxious cocktail of spices and weed. A shirtless man was throwing a baseball at a tree, screaming incoherently every few seconds.

In isolation, none of these sights would cause alarm. In their entirety though, they made me shudder. I made an executive decision and turned around immediately. To not panic was the hardest, but I somehow managed to stay calm and transfer as much energy to my pedaling feet as I could. I weaved through a street that had a number of gentlemen sitting on their tailgate catching up on the day’s events while cat-calling passers-by. I rode past homeless people living under the freeway bridge in abject squalor. I didn’t let these sights unsettle my focus. About 10-minutes later, I was back in familiar territory, on the “right” side of the freeway corridor. Relieved to have made it this far, I paused to wonder about the circumstances—commercial, political, sociological—that had resulted in such a stark disparity between two sides of the same city. The heaviness of the thoughts dragged me down, and while I moved on to lighter thoughts once I got home, I do think that the widening chasm between the haves and the have-nots must be bridged if we are to avert an upcoming reckoning. It’s a matter of finding a way at the grass roots level, and building on up.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Growing Chasm between the Tech Press and Users

Us technology folks (fans, users, critics and developers) are living in a time when there is no dearth of tech news. As you would expect, Apple is covered in great depth and breadth by the Technology Press. As a shareholder and Apple device owner, the feverish (borderline fanatical) coverage of Apple minutiae is a blessing and a curse: Apple stock moves based on Tech press sentiment as opposed to fundamentals. The flip side is that I am perennially aware of new features, product releases, growth potential, and a constant stream of rumors and theories on what Apple will do next. I read the following every day:
  • Hacker News
  • QZ
  • WSJ
  • AppleInsider
  • BGR
  • The Verge
I will occasionally browse through the Daring Fireball feed to which I am subscribed. Therefore, I consider myself to be a curious and informed reader. Since I am now purely a consumer/user of technology, I am increasingly interested in coverage that speaks to the "User" as opposed to the "Technologist" perspective when it comes to new product announcements and launches, both hardware and software.

One of my favorite writers covering Technology is Mr. David Pogue. Mr. Walt Mossberg is a close second. I like their style because they inject humor and whimsy into what is an otherwise dull (think of the color beige) subject. Mr. Pogue, in particular,  leverages his knack for making silly and ironic videos to showcase new devices and products, thereby demonstrating to users how he uses a new product or feature as opposed to mere prose. Their focus is the user, and how technology enables users to accomplish a discrete set of goals.

Unlike these two writers, a large percentage of the Technology press these days has shifted the locus of their coverage away from users and on to what technology can and should enable in the future. This contingent of the press seems to want a death match, a zero sum game almost, between the technology Titans  – Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple. Stripes and street cred are won or lost based on who predicts the winner of the next round correctly. The frenzied press coverage comes at us consumers in all formats 24x7: print, social media feeds, audio and video. This has to be a good thing, right? Increasingly, I don't think so!

Alas, the Tech Press, like Film Critics, have lost touch with consumers of technology. Most users with whom I have spoken don't even leverage 10% of the functionality in their current devices across all SKUs (mobile, tablet, laptop). They feel increasingly overwhelmed by what is available on the market, and are extremely skittish about Web-based/Cloud services. One such gentleman has four degrees, one being a PhD! When I asked him how he felt about more technology, he said he had enough to keep him busy. My wife and her family? The same response (except her 24-year old brother, of course). These folks could care less with the future of technology; they are struggling to keep up with what's already available!

Only one of the news outlets that I read balances the "User" with the "Technologist"; it is The Boy Genius Report. The writers do their best to showcase how users can make the most of Technology, regardless of vendor. Their practical articles mixed in with the chief editor's prognostications, compliments and diatribes strike a good balance without coming off as preachy, dour and heavy-handed.

The rest of the Technology Press should consider a similar approach or risk alienating a large reader group that can neither appreciate nor abide news that always makes it seem like nothing is good enough.