On being an interesting person

This weekend I was hanging out with a friend talking about different life experiences. She argued that I was an interesting person and she was boring, when I said “he who dies with the most stories wins.” I can safely attribute 90% of my stories are not because of me, they are because of who I surrounded myself with – intentionally or otherwise. I think I’m a pretty boring person to be honest.

One of things that I’ve done through my life is to put myself into a position where I can grow as a person. To do this I’ve done a combination of playing it safe but making decisions that allowed me to meet new people. For example when I went to Pitt a big group of my friends went there with me. However, I decided to live with new people and ended up living on a floor with all engineers. Which allowed me to meet a ton of new people as well as hang out with my old friends from high school. This choice had a pretty significant impact on my social life and likely enabled many of the craziest of stories that have happened at my places. I met 2 guys my freshman year that led me to meeting the 5 girls I lived with where my HS buddies and our extended group of friends really did some crazy things.

After graduating I again decided to do something different than most of my friends. I moved to Austin. I had 4 job offers and I decided to pick the job that was in the best city with the largest number of people that would be my age starting – this is the main reason I picked Samsung. Because of this choice I met some awesome people and some really interesting opportunities in Austin and met my beautiful unicorn of a wife.

This decision then led me to the Netherlands, which was a practical choice for a Master’s because it was so much cheaper than studying here in the US. While there I was put with a range of interesting people and I got to learn a lot about Pakistan, Colombia, Turkey, Netherlands, and the rest of Europe. I’ve spent a lot of time around people with very different backgrounds, life expectations, the definition of a good life, and all of that. These have influence how I think and helped me become a more interesting person because of these experiences.

Now after moving back from the Netherlands I eventually ended up in Portland because of my wife’s job. I’m again putting myself in a new situation and growing and learning a lot of new skills.

If I’m at all interesting, it’s because of the people around me that have influenced me. I think that for anyone in highschool, college, or without kids take advantage of spending time in Europe for school or some other country. You’ll learn a lot about yourself and meet people with some fantastic different perspectives on life. If you can’t or don’t want to get another degree at least spend some time working over there. In many cases you’ll get special benefits being a knowledge worker and help learning about the culture and language while you’re there.

Go out an meet new people and try to learn new hobbies. This is really hard being an introvert. I know that because I am one. It’s even more important that you force yourself to do it. Not every day, but at least once or twice a month try to get out and meet new people and try new things – especially when you’re in a new area. I’m currently struggling with this and I’ve fallen into a routine of watching my friend from High school stream on twitch.

So, try to surround yourself with people you find interesting. Because of them, you’ll have interesting stories and through keeping a networks of interesting people you’ll be a “structural hole” in all of their networks to keep sharing new and interesting ideas to them. These all make you a more interesting person. That’s what I’ve done to be the person I am today. If i’m interesting, it’s because my friends are interesting, not because I am. I’ve written about the value of friendship on here before, and this is why it’s so valuable to me.

Technology obsessive culture leads to product worshiping

Apparently, today is the 30th year since the Macintosh computer was introduced. All over the internet was a big masturbatory fest over this great achievement. Honestly, I don’t really give two shits. Quite frankly, I don’t think that it really changed everything and anything – similarly I don’t think that the iPhone did. In both of these cases the technology had been in the market, it just required the right type of interface or marketing. It’s well known that there were a lot of similarities between the work that was being done at Xerox PARC and at Apple. In fact, Steve Jobs went to visit and learned a lot about what the computer gods of Xerox were doing. Did he steal ideas from there? No, but I’m sure that his ideas were enhanced and improved because of his visit. Similarly to the way that his ideas were enhanced and improved by all the competition to the iPod including the Palm Pilots, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and so on.

Apple was the first to market for really easy to use printing interfaces as well as type faces. However, at the same time that Apple came out with their product, Adobe was developing their similar product which was a spin off from Xerox. Similar, Microsoft Office was developed by an ex-Xerox employee.

Did the Macintosh change things? It’s likely from a design perspective more than anything as both Windows and Apple’s operating system were similar to the Xerox operating system. What happened, why did Apple succeed and change things and not Xerox? Because Xerox didn’t know what to do with what they had. Apple, coming from a different perspective, different cost structure and different corporate culture, was able to move into the market with only competition from IBM. IBM was a business first company and didn’t really understand the market they were helping to develop. This is why IBM wasn’t able to dominate the market the way they did in the minicomputer and mainframe days – in fact, IBM has completely exited the x86 market. Because of IBM’s business decisions we now have Microsoft and Intel (and others of course).

We idolize the great personalities and the beginning of a new technology. But the movement and technology wasn’t created by Apple even though they get the credit. Apple did do great work, they helped to shape an early portion of the computer age, but the introduction of a specific product only notes a specific point in the total arc of that technology. Computers went racing on by, new ways to interface with computers have emerged and were even invented before the Macintosh was released.

The Macintosh was certainly was a high mark at the time and was a great introduction to many people to the greater opportunity of computing. It allowed more people to access computers. I know that I used a version of Macintosh while I was growing up in elementary school, however at home we never owned a Mac, we only ever owned PCs while I was growing up. The Mac was already on the way out by the early 90s, which at the time was fairly fast, considering the quick ramp of computer since then.

Should we honor the Mac? No more than we should honor the first Palm, Blackberry or Android phone. I fully expect the iPhone will be honored as much or more in 3 years when the iPhone hits ten.

Ethics and Values; Military and Espionage

We didn’t get to have a national conversation about government espionage until Snowden released all those documents and now we’re having a pretty vocal one in 2/3 branches of our government (well all three since Obama seems to contradict himself fairly often). Today on Vice’s Motherboard I read an article claiming the military is going cyberpunk. As the article notes, the military has used flight simulators for years, because crashing in one of those is a lot cheaper than crashing a real plane. The Stealth Bombers cost close to 2 Billion each, so learning how to fly one of those is best done in a simulator than in a real plane, plus it reduces the risk of death in the event of a crash.

How will this trend continue? Apparently the military is investing in virtual reality battle grounds. This will help train soldiers in different combat situations without having to build extremely expensive facilities, use blank rounds, damage guns, and any other types of explosive that would be used in those situations. Never mind the logistics to get the equipment there and all that.

It’s likely that these battle grounds will incorporate things like the Oculus Rift and omnidirectional treadmills. This will allow soldiers to move crouch and actually feel like they are in direct combat. For people at home, it’s not going to be as useful, but it could work well in this type of situation. If they add in the ability to make the environment cold or hot and wet or dry they could simulate a great deal of the virtual environment to build skills of soldiers.

The military is also working on robotics as a way to reduce the number of men we have on a battle field. This of course could be extendable beyond simply having robots like the Boston Dynamics Dog, but we could eventually mix the VR environment with a “robot” to have a remote soldier that is bullet proof, never tires (as you could replace the driver), and moves around like a person. This opens up an entirely new type of warfare. It takes the idea of drone combat and moves it to the next level – foot soldier drones that truly make the battle field imbalanced. Of course the final step would be fully autonomous robotic soldiers – but I think most people wouldn’t accept those.

In any of these cases we need to have a serious national conversation about the application of these technologies. Looking from an ethical standpoint there are conflicting views. First, it’s ethical to protect our soldiers as much as possible when we’re in a justifiable defensible conflict. Second, it’s unethical to enter combat as an aggressor where your military cannot be stopped from the position of the defender. Furthermore, if we’re talking about completely robotic military force it’s even less defensible to be using these forces as we don’t have any human control in the case of a software failure – or a hack and remote theft of the system.

As a society we need to have a conversation about if we think we should allow our military to do this. As it is we already routinely have operations that the citizens aren’t really aware of in countries like Yemen and god knows where else. These put our men and women at risk which no one wants for arguable benefit in taking out terrorists – it’s unclear if it’s working or we’re just making more enemies. If we are able to replace real live Seals with a team robotic bodies controlled by a Seal team remotely, how many more of these missions could we run? How much more of this sort of activity would we believe is an acceptable level?

I believe that this goes back to what we value as a society. If we value privacy, safety, freedom, and true constitutional control over the military then we need to make sure that we control this before the military just morphs without really any thought. The NSA morphed into a data sponge pulling in everything that moves on the internet. As a society, based on the outrage, we do value our privacy and we’re trying to pull back control from the NSA – some people disagree with that, which is fine that’s why we need a conversation.

I believe that having robotic avatar’s will lead to a higher likelihood of abuse – similar to what we’ve seen with the NSA. I think this is what’s happened with the Drone Program, where Obama has a kill list that they are proud of having. Having more humanoid drones that can shoot sniper rifles will reduce the amount of collateral damage, but will be abused. It’s also very debatable if the kill list is even constitutional.

I think that the innovation for reducing our military expenditure is a good thing. However, I think we need to have a conversation around what the end goal of these programs.

Work, Lean, and Health

I just visited a nutritionist today. I’ve had issues with Gluten for years and I’ve also been diagonosed with Hypoglycima which is a condition where my blood sugar levels aren’t well regulated by my body. The combination of the two has caused me no end of issues. At this point, it’s been difficult to tell the difference between a glutening and low blood sugar, at least a low level glutening anyway, a serious glutening it’s pretty obvious. I feel drunk within a few hours and then have the shits the next day or two. It’s pretty bad. Anyway, the combination has been pretty difficult to pull a part. When i have spikes in my blood sugar it makes me feel out of it as well. So, I’m going to really address both of these issues through better nutrition and probably more working out as well.

How does this connect to work and lean process improvement though? Well, at Cambia, we get a discount for eating salad’s and other healthy foods, so I’ve already been doing that, but that’s not the work connection I’m talking about. I just started reading a book called “Lean is Healthcare” which I picked up because I thought it was actually a book on Lean in Healthcare – pretty understandable confusion I think. I’ve only read a few pages, but as a lean practitioner it really ressonated with me. The premise is that Lean is a way of improving your employee’s health. Thinking about it now, it’s pretty obvious, but it definitely was an Ah HA moment when I read that.

Lean helps create flow in work. This is for both the product as well as the worker. Flow can be described as feeling you get when everything is just clicking. It’s like when a basketball player can’t miss a basic, they are in a state where they are relaxed and feeling good. It’s similar to a meditative state – think about any of the projects that you’ve gotten into and time just flew by. When you think about work, you never think about flow like that. I’m sure you’ve had bits and pieces of flow – but they don’t last very long. However, imagine if you were able to get into a job where everything you did flowed like that. Where you walked into the office and you walked out feeling accomplished, got things done, and excited to come back tomorrow.

I think there are a few companies that encourage that – companies that encourage creative coding and design are likely the best at this type of work. Why? Because they are all about thinking and connecting ideas and concepts to each other. It’s easy to get into a meditative state when you’re really jamming away at code. I feel a similar mode of thought when I’m blogging with a keyboard that works.

Work like this makes you feel better. It’s better for your health, better for your life balance, and better for your confidence. With that in mind, shouldn’t it be a moral imperative for a company to shift to enabling work like this? Work that makes you feel accomplished, healthy, and productive? Isn’t it also a financial imperative as well as all these things increase the value the company gets out of you as an employee?

I think the answer is yes to all these questions. I will be thinking about this as I work at Cambia continually driving towards for productive work and healthier stress balance for the employees.

Is Net Neutrality regulation commie nonsense?

Network Economy

Regulation’s a bad thing, right? Personally, I think there are instances where regulation is an amazingly good thing that drives innovation. We also need to be cautious about who is saying regulation is good or bad. Back in the 90’s we’d hear that regulating in anyway to prevent acid rain would cripple business and kill our economy. This clearly didn’t happen, we have acid free rain for the most part, we have more productive manufacturing than ever. We also hear that regulating CEO pay by median rather than average is significantly more complicated to the point that a place stacked full of MBA’s can’t figure it out. Then there are regulations that pick winners like Solyndra and turns out to be a disaster. These cause higher taxes and are actual drains on the economy (personally I’m on the fence about experimenting with new technologies and having the government support them, but that’s me).

What about the FCC “regulating” net neutrality? I think that it’s important to look at how this all started. First, I’ll start with a bit of a history with the telecoms, then move to how the internet was developed, and move to comparisons between other monopolies.

AT&T has been described as a natural monopoly. This was partially helped by the US government because the government wanted coast to coast telephony and selected AT&T as the standard for that activity. This gave AT&T incredible market strength, but was also extremely fragile as it was continually under threat of being broken up for being a monopoly (which is was). To do everything they could to avoid this, the geniuses at Bell Labs continually designed ways to keep their costs down, improve quality, and make very thing better. They also had some government deals that helped them a lot (military contracts for telecom stuff, like the first satellite). The value of AT&T’s network grew every time a person joined the network.

The fact that one person joined Network A over Network B could further impact the growth of that network. Let’s say Person A is friends with 5 people and is already on Network A, it’s likely, if they are really good friends and A is known for making good decisions, that those five people will join A on Network A. The value increases by more than simply 5, because all five of those people can talk to each other as well as every other person they know on Network A. Now if Person A has more friends, but not as good of friends and they actually are better friends with Person A’s friends they will also likely join Network A. This sort of cascade effect will continue to happen. This is also known as Metcalfe’s law.

When AT&T was force to break up, all of that interoperability remained. Instead of one big monopoly there were regional ones instead. As we’ve seen over time, these same regional operators have slowly re-joined back into 2 Bells versus the non-Bells. AT&T being split is a type of regulation for sure, but it did spur some interesting competition for a time.

How the Internet was designed:

The internet was originally designed to operate in many different application layers. Essentially the bottom of the stack was Internet Protocol which was agnostic to the type of information being sent across it. At the time, the most efficient method was over Ethernet so there was not any requirement to be concerned over the application medium. Over time there would be some concern, but that was really addressed by the protocol.

What would happen is that the applications that required information to be sent on either end would translate the information to be used by the layer below it to send out, such as a web browser to the OS, to the network driver to IP, across the internet to the network driver to the OS to the web server application. Across this entire process the actual data being sent was unknown to any of the nodes in between the application layers. (If you’re interested in this check out Internet Architecture and Innovation).

Of course the companies providing the bandwidth for that did not want to find itself in a similar role as they had after the break up of AT&T where they were forced to become “dumb pipes” for whatever people wanted to send across their network. To prevent this they created capabilities like deep package inspection and other tools to identify what content was being shipped across their lines. This also was the beginning of violating “True” net neutrality.

Why were they dumb pipes? Because they were defined as a common carrier to increase competition across the land line providers and ISPs the telephone companies had no choice. This lead to the explosion of ISPs like AOL, Century Link, and so on. What has happened since? The broadband lines have been ruled that they are not “Common Carriers“. Meaning that the data across the line can be treated however the companies that own the lines want.

Why is this bad in a network economy?

In a network economy, being able to fully control anything and everything can be very bad for the consumer if there is no other option. Now, you could argue that there are options, but in most cases because of other monopoly rules there are few options for allowing a new ISP.

A perfect example where a network monopoly isn’t a big deal is in Smart Phones. The iOS App Store is a natural monopoly in a network. The more people using the iPhone the more valuable it became and more app developers developed apps. It never became a problem that Apple regulates the entire experience BECAUSE there were other networks you could shift to, such as Blackberry, webOS, Windows (whatever mobile version you want to include), and, of course, Android. All of these ecosystems offer very different options for devs. Additionally, within Android there are competing App stores which further benefits the consumer. If there were no other competitors to iOS and it’s App Store the constraints that Apple puts on their product would likely be viewed as very anti-competitive and a type of “foreclosure.”

Market foreclosure is using one monopoly to enable another monopoly. Now, regardless of if you think that this should have happened or not, it did. Microsoft was hit for using it’s Window’s OS to foreclose on the internet browser market and was looking to do the same with their music player. What resulted was that MS was required to offer other browsers when a new Windows OS was launched and helped to reduce the market share of IE.

How does this apply here? Comcast is already trying to do the same with Netflix in the streaming video business. Comcast owns the content (Universal, NBC, etc), the connection (Comcast Cable ISP), the rules (data caps), and if they want to charge to access their network or not. Eliminating the rules of net neutrality tilt the table in the direction of Comcast to a degree that Netflix may never recover. If Netflix, at one point 2/3 of all internet traffic, had to pay for every bit they streamed to allow for an enjoyable streaming experience they would be bankrupt in very short order.

I get that Comcast’s of the world don’t want to be dumb pipes, they own the content and that’s king. However, not every ISP owns content (Verizon/AT&T) so they aren’t at such an advantage to companies like Netflix. However that’s where AT&T’s data plan comes in. Which would essentially level the table compared to Comcast. We, as end users, wouldn’t see any benefit out of this. It’s not that our subscription fees would lower or we’ll magically get faster internet. This is simply rent seeking behavior and bad for the economy overall. Only true new competition can lead to that. Changing these rules have zero impact on that competition.

What it does do though is negatively impact the creation of new businesses that want to stream video or provide a novel product that requires high bandwidth and equal rights to streaming. Removing the protections on net neutrality dramatically increases the cost of streaming that otherwise could go into building that startup’s infrastructure. Think of the problems at Twitch.TV with their growth. My subscription fees pay for the growth of the network that I subscribe to regardless if it’s something like Twitch or Comcast. Anything else will go to shareholders and CEOs.

Could we develop other options like a Mesh network? It’s possible, but for that to work the option would have to be a public/private venture. Most citizens aren’t going to help create that and likely don’t have the technology savvy to do so. To further complicate this issue many ISPs are actually pushing to make it illegal for cities to create their own ISP.

In many cases regulation is bad for business. However, in cases like net neutrality it’s returning the net to it’s roots and enabling much stronger competition based on the merits of the company providing the service, not the arbitrary whim of network owner.

Samsung, the battle for tablets isn’t going to be over specs soon, get ready for Customer Service Wars

I recently got a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014, in fact, I got it for Christmas as a present from my awesome wife. I plan on using the tablet as a replacement for my laptop as that’s on it’s last legs and I’m not quite ready to build a PC. I’ll be doing that for my gaming and other stuff, but in the mean time a tablet is going to fit my needs for blogging, watching streaming video, surfing the web, and even a lot of gaming. 

The thing about blogging, is that you really need a keyboard to be able to be efficient at writing. So, I bought a blue tooth keyboard so I can do my writing. Combined, this was a pretty sweet set up. When I was typing it worked pretty much perfectly, however, as I started to use my tablet more for this, I was having blue tooth issues, figured it out about 2 days later. So I talk to support after doing a lot of investigation myself, including reverting to factory settings, and eventually figured out that my blue tooth would drop whenever I switched applications. That’s clearly not acceptable as the tablet is designed for a user to have multiple windows open at the same time and multi-tasking. 

So, I contacted support and they requested that I send my tablet into to get fixed. I sent my tablet in on the 28th and I didn’t hear anything from Samsung until 1/8/2014 when the tablet was repaired. I still haven’t gotten my tablet back. Apparently the label to return the tablet to me was created on 1/11/2014 and still hasn’t shipped out 2 days later. 

Samsung should be concerned the long term impact on their business. I’m probably early as someone that will fully replace a laptop with a tablet, but still rather late to the tablet game as a consumer. Samsung is competing with both Amazon, Google, and Apple for best tablet. Amazon has a fantastic track record with customer service for the products they have full control over. Apple has really good support as well. Google, from my understanding, is also excellent. To this point Samsung has been able to rely on their cell phone providers to provide customer service for their devices, now it’s incumbent upon them to properly manage their customers when they have issues.

What I wanted as a customer in this case was pretty simple, clear expected delivery date to Samsung’s repair facility, clear report on the problem as well as how to deal with the problem if I ever have to do a factory reset, fast turn around time on sending my tablet back to me. At this point I’ve gone much longer without my table than with it.

I’ve had issues with Amazon’s products in the past, my Kindle broke while I was flying and it was well out of warranty. What happened with that, they told me if I paid $50 and sent them my broken Kindle they would replace it. In fact, they actually shipped me a new one and asked me to use that box to return my other one. This worked really well and allowed me to get my Kindle back faster and the customer reps made it very clear what was going on.

How Samsung could have made this better.

  1. Provide Tracking Number for my tablet to Samsung’s repair
  2. Failure analysis with a way of ensuring that I wouldn’t never have this problem again
  3. Shipping my tablet out the very next day from their repair facility to me. It’s been 5 days and the Tablet hasn’t shipped yet.
  4. More information on their service tracking website.

I’ve been extremely disappointed in this service experience. If this problem isn’t resolved, I’m going to be returning the product and likely will not return to the Samsung ecosystem in the future. The great product I bought has been pretty well tainted by their horrible customer service. 

Also, Samsung also asked me to review their service before I got my product back. Talk about tone deafness. Samsung needs to fix this otherwise they will not be able to compete especially with these extremely strong customer service companies in Google, Apple, and Amazon. Great products won’t matter because Laptops will be replaced with tablets and tablets need different levels of manufacturing support than laptops.