Friday, October 26, 2018

Honey in Boulder

Our Boulder office foyer.

Earlier this year I joined Honey in order to help them scale product and development beyond their headquarters in Los Angeles. The company is growing rapidly and in a look toward the future, it wanted to distribute and diversify its ability to build software. I’d been involved in the company in advisorship and investor capacities over the years, and their desire to scale beyond Los Angeles coincided with mine to get back into building software sustainably in a full-time capacity; right place, right time.

Honey’s in a rare position. They have something every company wants: millions and millions of users and the beginning of a hockey stick. I’ve seen, and have participated in, incredible growth, but prior to Honey, I’d only ever read about growth (existing, and projected) like this. I’ve never actually sat in the saddle of a hockey stick; it’s trippy.

When revenue maps to growth like that, a company gets to do some impressive things. Chiefly, they are able to place bets and take risks that others cannot. They’re able to explore new product areas and invest in tangential industries that are generally considered new/different companies altogether, and therefore rarely get to be pursued by existing team members. Honey’s able to leverage its wealth of activity and usage into new fields. While the fundamentals have to be in place for that to even be an option, it takes strong leadership to effectively create and support these kinds of efforts. It’s not easy running a large business and firing up new ones alongside. Yet, here we are. I’m beyond impressed with Honey’s senior leadership team; careful, calculated risk.

Over the past several months the start of our team in Boulder has come together. New people with new backgrounds and experiences coming together to sustainably build software. We’re working on backend systems stuff in a new product area. We’re blending new ways of doing with an existing core system built on top of Google’s Cloud Platform (which is new for me... I come from AWS land). Aspects of the system move data at thousands-of-transactions-per-second rates, so we have our hands full. But, that, coupled with greenfield product, makes it fun and engaging and challenging. Node, Scala, microservices, PubSub, and the GCP toolchain. Our VP of Engineering, Sam Aronoff has some posts up on our tech blog here.

If you’re interested in helping the world be more fair, join us. If you’re interested in working on big data challenges, join us. If you’re interested in supporting an internet that has hundreds of thousands of independent retailers/merchants (instead of just one), join us. Here are the roles we're hiring for.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Navigation & Route Hacking

While the AI/Machine-Learning battle is likely over in the long run, I'm surprised municipalities haven't figured out real-world hacks to game all the mapping/routing apps away from the frustrated neighborhoods getting clogged with traffic. Waze/Google Maps/Apple Maps/etc all rely on public databases to describe the roads upon which they build routes and maps. Those databases indicate things like speed bumps, traffic circles, crosswalks, and so on. The routing algorithms leverage that information in their calculations for "fastest route" and "shortest route." They then go onto generally avoid them when determining routes. If neighborhoods vote-in a traffic circle or speed bump or two, they can knock their routes out of the routing algorithm's choices to present to users, and push traffic back to the roads meant for heavier load and higher speeds. Not only will automated systems adapt away from the obstacles, but crowd sourced systems will likely trend away from them as well.

Of course, in the long run, the system will optimize the road network at large, and all the crevices will be filled in the end, but, it's a short term hack few munis appear to be leveraging. Los Angeles might be cluing in though.

My involvement with UrBike over the past year, and Carmera over the past few, has opened my mind to just how broken the U.S. is in terms of personally owned automobiles. We've spent too many of our resources building roads and parking places for hunks of metal to sit idle for 95% of their existence.

Go get on a bike (or a skateboard, or a scooter, or _something_ other than a car).

Sunday, May 27, 2018

My Brush With Technology In The Classrom At Scale

The 2017/2018 Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) school year has come to a close, and with it the DTAC group is wrapping up for the year. I will not be pursing a role on the committee this next cycle (thought I encourage you to do so to get a sense of what’s happening). Instead I will be putting my resources into district board member lobbying and campaigns. I am lobbying for district policies that ban cell-phones (personal communication devices) in middle-schools on down, and campaigning for prospective board members that have an understanding of the impact screens are having on our childrens’ growing minds.

DTAC is a well organized and executed committee and I applaud our district CIO, Andrew Moore, and his team for actively engaging the community; thank you. Unfortunately, his team has been given an impossible task. BVSD is attempting to modernize itself with hundreds of millions of dollars in bond money, much of which is being spent to support its “1:Web” initiative. Our CIO has been tasked with bringing our schools “online” and figuring out how technology gets purchased and deployed in the classroom. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of cart being put in front of some really big, strong, fast moving horses. The Board has NOT provided reasonable guidance or direction at the policy level, and the CIO’s office is left trying to interpret direction and meaning, field extremely difficult questions from parents and students, and manage the deluge of technology vendors who have shown up at the bond money trough to feast and sell expensive products to a district that lacks a cohesive, safe, technical strategy to rollout.

There are a few massive challenges we, as a society, need to come to terms with before public dollars should be spent trying to rollout “technology” in classrooms.

Personal Connected Devices

In a nutshell, these are today’s “cell phones” (iOS/Android devices with SIM cards in them). Cell phones are destroying in-person social interactions at our schools, and ruining classroom participation dynamics. Teachers have become cell phone baby-sitters dealing with an incredible new level of distraction in the classroom, instead of being... teachers. To further complicate things, our kiddos use their cell phones as WiFi hotspots and connect their school-provided chromebooks to them to circumvent the expensive IP network filtering we deploy on school networks to protect our children from bad online content. To stop the hemorrhaging of effective social interactions, friendship bonding, social learning, and _teaching_ in the classroom, I recommend a zero tollerance ban of personal connected devices in our middle and elementary schools, and that school provided chromebooks be locked down to only connect to whitelisted WiFi networks. Yup, you heard me. Ask a teacher about their experience with cell phones in their classroom, and go read the book “Glow Kids” or watch the movie “Screenagers.”


The current wave/generation of staff/educators do not know what “digital curriculum” looks like. A few of them do, but the vast majority do not. They do not know what “digital citizenship” looks or feels like, nor do they have a cohesive understanding of how, and when, to do certain things digitally. It’s been a disturbing several years as a parent watching my kiddos manifest science projects in a slide deck. Machines have a place in education, but we haven’t figured it out yet, and we’re losing generations of children to broken programming/curriculum. I recommend significant research into what new-age teaching and curriculum should look like, and then training/developing teachers to effectively apply it.

Addiction Services

When a child shows up at school grappling with a drug addiction, we lend them a hand. Unfortunately, we do no such thing for the droves of kids addicted to their screens. School counselors are often addicted themselves, so, we’re lost on an entirely new level. The world has not figured out how to handle/manage personal connected devices/screens, and we’re educating generations of kiddos in this environment. I recommend effective funding/staffing for counseling services to help our children navigate the new addiction.

In general, I believe we need to slow down the introduction of technology in our classrooms, and roll it out only when we understand it better. I’m bummed my kiddos are going through school amidst such a massive experiment.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Connectivity Fallacy & $(window).load(function())

While the Network as a whole is borderline miraculous, the reality of its connection quality is far from it. Connectivity sucks, even in private-industry led first-world connection environments. Fiber backhauls are generally pretty good, but "last-mile" services suck. The issue is usually around latency, but bandwidth throughput is also generally inconsistent and poor (and about to get a lot worse if/when Net Neutrality dies). I'm pointing the finger at cell/mobile carriers mostly, but also at cable providers. Satellite carriers don't count because the technology just plain sucks (latencies between ground/low-earth-orbit sats are too high to be generally useful); it's cute, but it sucks.

We all stare at our screens waiting for content to load. Whether that's an image upload in an iMessage exchange, an Instagram image load, mail coming in, or web pages loading, we spend way to much time looking at blank screens or spinning graphics indicating "progress." I'd like client app providers fire OS-level notification events that indicate network operations are complete. This way, I could open a web page, then put my phone back in my pocket while it loads, then pull it out once it's done loading and the notification fires.