Sunday, December 27, 2015

My Mug

Monastery Interior
A few weeks ago I found myself sitting in the monastery (above) in Taksindu, Nepal. We were witnessing a "sang" ceremony which helps us remove obstacles in life. It was a powerful experience to observe something like this at all, but then something over-the-top happened.

Throughout the ceremony everyone's tea would get refilled (this constant refill ritual knows no bounds apparently). At one point one of the monks just in front of me left his place on the bench to go make the tea rounds, and that's when I saw it; the exact same mug I had used for tea everyday in the office at Gnip (my old company).

There's nothing fancy about the mug itself; it's a cheap "Made in China" thing. A friend gave it to me about a decade ago. I've seen a few of them over the years. I still have the mug, and it's gone through a few super-glue repairs, but I don't use it as much.

I'm still deciphering the meaning of it all. My mug, at an empty seat, in a Buddhist monastery, in a tiny mountain village, on the other side of the world in Nepal.

The Mug

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Sleeping Pills/Ambien

Coincidentally, many years ago, Ambien hit the market right when I started doing a fair amount of international travel for business. I was stoked. Sleeping in significant time-zone offsets from my home time-zone was obviously a challenge, and I'd always have a packed schedule the next day, so "sleep" was imperative. I saw an ad on TV for Ambien, and set out to my doctor's office for a small prescription.

International travel was changed forever for me. I could force my body to "sleep" when everyone else was sleeping in whatever locale I was in, and I could force my body "awake" during the daytime with tons of coffee. It worked pretty darn well. Of course I was far from settled or in-balance, but it was close enough and I could perform 90%+ during these bursts of tired travel.

Eventually I started using Ambien at home when I had big work-stuff to do "the next day" and couldn't afford a bad night of sleep. I didn't use it much at home, but for a few years, I used it say five nights per month. Luckily I was able to restrict it mostly to sleeping on the other side of the ocean.

I haven't been "working" in an operational sense for a year-and-a-half or so. The daily responsibilities that come with colleagues and running a business have fallen away. My international travel therefore has been all "pleasure" related, without critical meetings taking place "tomorrow."

I recently set out on a trip to Asia with a fresh Ambien prescription fill. I planned on my usual routine of popping 10mgs for the long-leg flight overseas, jamming on coffee, then spending the first several nights popping 10mgs to force my body into sleep submission. However, I realized I didn't have anything crucial on the other end, so skipped the pill on the flight, and just let my mind/body regulate sleep for me. I kept coffee in the mix throughout the trip, but I made it through the entire trip without using the sleeping pills. I also made it through re-entry in my home time-zone without them. The prescription I had filled, never got used. I thought it was so cool that I could do a big trip like that without jamming my sleep with a drug.

I've probably slept 150-200 nights with Ambien (or some random derivative/knock-off of it that the pharmacy decided to swap out on me). 75% of the time I used 10mg amounts, but often I would split the pill and do 5mg just to tip me over. My sleep challenges were around falling asleep, not staying asleep. I'd often heard about Ambien causing people to have weird dreams or to behave oddly the next day, but to my knowledge I only ever had a few, small, odd, brief, episodes during all that time. I didn't restrict any behavior while on Ambien. I drove cars the morning after. I drank alcohol alongside it. My perception was that everything was always just fine. I would wake up with a very minor "Ambien hangover," as people call it, that I just attributed to my mind and body being out of sync, rather than some side-effect of the drug.

Anyway, while the environmental shift of "no work" has probably been the impetus for my parting ways with it (not a luxury we all have), I have to say it felt great to do this last trip without taking it. While I was of course tired, my daily activities permitted me to power through with coffee, and go to bed when I wanted to at night. I didn't have client/customer/prospect/business dinner/drinking meetings that took me into the wee hours of the night.

If I start doing international business travel again, I strongly suspect I'll use it again in that context. It only makes sense.

That said, on the whole, your mind and body will eventually find a way to rest and sleep; with or without it.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Day In Pictures: Nepal Trek

As part of a broader visit to Nepal to help rebuild Chhulemu with the Himalayan Development Foundation, here's our crew during a five day trek to Dudh Kunda ("Milk Lake"). Sherpa Mountain Adventures got us there and back safely, and we had a ton of fun!

Chhiring Sherpa - our lead Sherpa, guide, and translator.
Kale Sherpa - associate Sherpa, guide. He also hosted us in Taksindu one night at his guest house/resort.
Mingmar Sherpa - Comedy relief and most experienced Sherpa on the trek.
Lara from Bainbridge, Washington. Fellow trekker and trooper who did the trek with a solid head-cold.
Keri from Denver. Fellow trekker.
Kate from L.A. Fellow trekker and photographer I learned a lot from.
Sonam Sherpa - Ball of energy 17-yr-old porter on the trek. He can carry more than you; always. Funny guy with lots of English.
Dawa Sherpa - A bit mysterious this guy. Later learned we were trading fresh incense for kerosene with him. He was randomly with us for the day.
Norbu Sherpa - Porter extrordinaire.

Chhiring Sherpa - Names get re-used a lot in Sherpa culture. This Chhiring was another porter on the trek.
Jangbu Sherpa - Our chef on the journey. Amazing what this guy can do with portable food and kerosene burners. Yum!
Db Pakhrin - Another porter. I nicknamed this guy "the beast." Any load. Any day. Any distance. No complaints.
Ashisa Rai - Happiest guy on the trek for sure. Acted as a porter for the trek.
Rabin Rai - Porter.
Yoman Rai - Porter. Jokester amongst the porters, but didn't engage with us directly much.
Prakash Rai - Kitchen assistant.
Kanchha Rai - Kitchen Assistant.
Pasang Sherpa - Kitchen assistant.
Laura. Another trekker and fellow Canon photog. Learned a lot and we shared lenses. She didn't want her picture taken on "the day" so I got it later.

Monday, December 14, 2015

I Hope This Isn't Our Virtual Reality Future.

In the context of our Virtual Reality future, three things have struck me over the past handful of years.

As a kid I imagined totally immersive gaming, wherein even your economics would play out in a virtual world (you would earn and spend totally virtually).

I quickly arrived at the conundrums and degradations that these following first two productions dive directly into; it's scary. The last bullet is a powerfully positive use.

  • Caprica TV Series. It was just a few years too ahead of its time. It's an incredibly well done depiction, in a pre-Battle Star Galactica realm, of our real-lives tied to our virtual lives.
  • Uncanny Valley short film. A more fictional documentary-like short film. Yikes.
  • New York Times VR. A month ago the Sunday Times delivered with Google Cardboard VR goggles, and links to several powerful stories to consume "virtually." A really powerful view into how storytelling/journalism can evolve if we get this right.
As with anything else, there will be strength, and weakness, in the proliferation of new tech and ideas. Fingers crossed this goes well.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Rdio & The Music Industry

I'm grumpy that Rdio couldn't make it through the forrest of crappy music services that end-users lapped up in the name of "free." Especially when it comes to artistic endeavors, look past your wallet sometimes folks; life is better in the end when we do.

Clients & Services

Pandora's winding down of Rdio bums me out. While the landscape is littered with music playback clients (iTunes (or whatever it is now), YouTube, Spotify, SoundCloud, etc etc), there isn't a single one that gets the music listening experience right for the end user. All of them have significant deficiencies. Rdio was closest though.

Today's end-user music experience requires high-quality music files (320kbps+), seamless offline playback (consistent, high-throughput, low-latency, network access is a myth), cross-platform support (browser, iOS, Android, Sonos), social networking, access to _all_ the music out there, ad-free playback, and playlisting (I can't believe I have to even mention this one). Rdio was the service that got closest to all of this, however it just didn't have critical mass; sadly.

Money

Who's to blame? Obviously, us (the end-users) at the end of the day. In our quest for saving money, we demanded that our experience be littered with advertising so we could "listen" to music. While the industry needs[ed] a revenue model reset, "streaming" harried the process and now we're throwing babies out with bathwater to try and keep up and build a new model that appropriately distributes dollars to artists and middle-men. It starts with us being willing to pay though.

I don't have any answers to how the overall landscape should shake out, but I do like some of the thinking from Imogem Heap around how money should move. I believe Rdio, despite its own issues (of which there are plenty), had the end-user experience closest to correct. It's a shame it's going away. Like my fellow Rdio users, I'm now cast into the wasteland of VHS quality music experiences because the industry couldn't get its shit together. I want my Beta!

What Now?

My friend Kevin figured out a way to migrate from Rdio to Google Music and posted about it here. I've exported my playlists (using Rdio Enhancer) and posted them here. Rdio's announcement says they're going to provide exporting capabilities before they shut it down. I'm curious to see how that goes.

I'd much prefer that Pandora reverse its headspace on Rdio, and instead of shuddering it, double-down with it. Lift it up and push the overall industry forward here. You have an opportunity to set the right experiences (for the end-user, and musicians/artists) in motion for all of us.

For the record, I've always been a card-carrying, full-paying, subscriber to Rdio (RIP).

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

International Business Travel And You

I was in my mid-20s when my boss asked me to go to India to do some work with our office in Bangalore. I was stoked. I was so excited that I was going to travel to India and a) meet my colleagues there and b) to experience another, radically different, culture from mine here in the U.S.

I booked the trip; economy class, two-nights. In and out, on the cheap to be respectful of the companies' resources.

When my boss saw the itinerary, he called me into his office. He reviewed the itinerary with me, and asked if I could be effective on the trip. "Yes sir! I'm going to crush it, and I've minimized the financial impact on the company." "Great!" he replied. He then asked me if I'd ever been to India before; I hadn't. He then proceeded to tell me that it is a special place unlike anything I'd ever experience again in my life. He then asked me if there was more work I could do while I was over there; there was. He then asked me if I really thought I could be effective flying overnight into 12+ hour timezone shifts, with only a two-night stay, in economy class (sleepless); I couldn't. He pointed out that I would need *some* semblance of sleep in order to be effective, and that I should make the most of my time on the ground "over there" by extending the trip a couple of extra nights. He then asked if I wanted to burn vacation days and spend my own money on hotel nights beyond what work needed, in order to truly absorb the experience; I did.

He then suggested that if you're flying on 8+ hour legs, you should be in business class where you can get some shut-eye. He pointed out that for business purposes it's prudent to amortize a long international business trip by elongating things rather than cutting them short. Business-class seats are expensive, so amortize them by staying longer (assuming there's work to be done... don't make shit up). He pointed out that it's probably prudent to take personal advantage of being overseas on the company's dime, and to take personal/vacation days and your own money to make the trip even longer to soak up the experience and culture.

Traveling long distances to different cultures isn't something you're likely going to get a lot of opportunities to do over the course of your life, so take advantage of these opportunities when they arise in business. Stay longer on your own dime; the company has already sunk the cost of at least one of the expensive bits (the airline ticket).

Experience this life. Experience this world.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Parenting, "the talk," and a Request.

A couple of days ago I tweeted about "the talk" I had with my 10-yr-old daughter, and it received an intense amount of attention.

The tweet was actually about "the network," as opposed to sex, which everyone undoubtedly assumed it was about. I included a diagram that I had sketched for her in real-time, which unintentionally turned out to be click-bait that drew a lot of attention.

A really neat thing happened; a few people tweeted back to me with their version of the diagram that they used to teach their children. That got me thinking that it would be neat to compile a bunch of these diagrams that people have drawn for others (their parents, their children, their friends, themselves), and build a book out of them.

These diagrams are kind of like modern cave drawings we're using to communicate the structure of a huge part of our lives; the internet.

If you have a diagram that describes "the network"/Internet (or some facet of it) and want to participate in this, please email a pic/scan of it to me along with the following information. Happy to include you with credit, or anonymously. I'm at jvaleski@gmail.com

- your name
- your gender
- the country you live in
- who you drew the diagram for (a child, a parent, a colleague, a friend, whoever)
- the approximate age of the person you drew it for
- the gender of the recipient


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Spending Capital

The Joker burning "his half" of the cash in The Dark Knight.

Enough data points now to write this post without giving anyone in my portfolio away, and enough that I feel like I see a pattern.

I'm seeing a lot of first-round/seed stage capital going unused. I'm seeing millions of dollars, per company, sit in the bank while the founders subtly brag about "low burn."

As a reminder, the capital is there for one thing and one thing only... to be burned! I'm not saying blow it all in six months, but I am suggesting you take a close look at your roadmap, and draw circles around the stuff that you can get answers to faster if you spent more money. Whether it's discrete project based targeted spending (a contractor who can vet an idea quickly), or leveling the team up with a new hire to iterate on an aspect of the product that's core to the strategy, spend the money to move the football forward. Everyone in the room wants to know how this business is going to work (or not), sooner rather than later.

Sitting on capital because it's comfortable and feels good to have the buffer is fear driven execution, and remember, we don't want to be driven by fear.

At my previous company Gnip, we took $400k of our $1m seed round and handed it to a contracting firm to help build our prototype. 40% of our $ allocated very early in our existence. Scary, sure, but we got everything moving very quickly.

How you feel about your burn rate is a function of a zillion factors: personality, risk tolerance, state of your industry, competition, etc, etc. Burning too slow can be as problematic as burning too fast. Push yourself!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Four Day Time Portal

I just got back from a trip to Duluth, MN. I had never been to the mid-west before. Nor had I ever spent four days in a retirement community. Nor had I ever spent four days with people who were all 70 years old and up. Nor had I ever spent four days with someone over 100 years old; my Great Aunt Kay.

You may think this is a post about my unbelievable Aunt (102) who cooked a meal for me, has all (every single one) of her whits about her, cracks jokes, remembers everything, is surgery free, lives independently in her own apartment (within the retirement community), does all her own care-taking, dresses herself in activity appropriate garb (going out to dinner, going out to the lake, ladies' luncheon, etc), can see just fine (glasses), can hear just fine (speaking up a little bit helps though), and who has found a way to hold on to her lengthy past, while being progressive and modern in her present self. But, this post isn't about her.

I spent four days amongst people on the other end of life's spectrum; some observations.

  • for the most part, the ego falls away. people still have sense of self of course, and they incorporate their own style into things, but there isn't the same level of jockeying going on. people are coming to terms with their arc, and there just isn't room for the silly stuff.
  • appreciation for "the day" is at an all-time high. everyone was attuned to nature, and stuff like weather becomes a big part of things.
  • we build out our respective worlds to fit whatever environment we're in. this retirement community was a little city within itself. "restaurants," place of worship, entertainment rooms, a cafe, courtyards, etc.
  • no surprise, but things just slow down. as someone that moves around fast a lot, I completely embraced this new pace. it was pretty darn nice I must say.
  • of course the residents I came in contact with were a skewed sample set of people who were interested, and able, to be out-and-about in the facility. it made me think of all the people in their apartments who weren't coming out. some of them just weren't as social. some of them were in physical conditions preventing them from scooting around. some of them were probably depressed.
  • most of the residents are single (largely because their partner had passed away).
  • hobbies become king.
  • things we "share" as humans become the baseline for relationships. the weather. our community. the local restaurant. simple "hello, how are you?"s. empathy for each other's situation.
  • one of my favorite moments was in a conversation with Kay about the internet. she was trying to get her head around various market aspects/dynamics of it, and at one point asked "are there other answering services out there other than Google?" 1) I loved that Google was an "answering service." 2) I loved that she was teasing out the "answering service" landscape; she was exploring.
Living there for a few days while visiting Aunt Kay was an amazing experience. I got a glimpse of the other side of our life arc. It wasn't sad or necessarily scary. It was a handful of days that just "were" and where everything just "was." All of our little circumstances had long since fallen away, and everyone was in this band of time out of time, existing.

Makes me wonder what the hell all of us in the middle are doing. Also makes me want to live life to the fullest, while I can.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Kids And The Network; A Progression

It's been awhile since I've written about my kiddos (boy, 13. daughter, 10) and their relationship with, and use of, the Network.

Anecdotal Stuff

  • If I ever utter the word "ethernet cable" my son rolls his eyes. My daughter does nothing because she doesn't even know what it means. Much to my chagrin... the new world order is indeed wireless.
  • The number of IP-based chat applications (and apps that support in-app chat) explodes over and over again everyday. Staying on top of this is a fools' errand IMO, and we've taken to general education around how to behave online. Trying to control this chat app and that chat app is a full-time job.
  • My son is highly aware of framerates for video gaming, and latencies for quick packet transmission. He can feel network latency hiccups almost as good as I can. I'm proud of this and grateful for it. Call me old school.
  • We've done a good job engraining that there is never a scenario in which you should answer personal questions (where do you live... what's your phone number... etc) on the computer _unless_ you prompted the questioning (e.g. by filling out a form that _you_ initiated). They get this.

Notable Online Account Stuff
  • Both kids have their own email accounts on the valeski.org email server. This was necessary because the general email providers, like gmail, don't like accounts being setup for people under 13-yrs old. We wound up setting up gmail accounts for them too, but you can get into lockout rabbit holes in some circumstances, and I wanted accounts that were in my complete control in case this happened.
  • Both kids have their own gmail accounts as well. Son knows his password (more on this later), but daughter does not.
  • Both gmail and valeski.org accounts copy all inbound mail to me so I can see what's coming in.
  • They have their own Apple IDs for cloud backups of iOS devices and purchases/transactions; however they do not know the passwords to the Apple IDs. This allows us to "find iPhone" whenever we want/need to as parents. Apple's Family Sharing support _finally_ allows us to approve/deny every app/content purchase from our devices instead of having to get on their devices and enter their Apple ID password every time. Designating parent/guardian-level control Apple IDs is huge. Better late than never Apple.
  • The number of accounts my son has that I'm aware of vs those I don't is probably 1/7 (though what I don't know... I obviously don't know). My daughter... 6/7; just because she's younger... not a gender thing.
Adult Content
  • The home router hands out OpenDNS Family Shield backed DNS servers to all clients that connect, so that prevents domain-level exposure to nasty stuff on the home network. Of course, it does nothing for bad YouTube content or bad behavior on IP chat services.
  • My son's iPhone obviously connects to the data network on his carrier, and that's a huge backdoor if he wants to go somewhere OpenDNS doesn't want him to go. The mobile data carriers have completely useless "parental control" services, so, the decision is basically "full access to everything on the Network" or "nothing at all." Lame.
  • Both kids' devices also have various Parental Control Restrictions that Apple provides.
Passwords
  • Passwords remain the bane of everything on the Network. They'll go away in the coming years, but we all have to live with them for the foreseeable future.
  • We used to hold the password to my son's gmail account, but we don't any longer. The belief was that if we held that, he would not be able to change passwords on any of the services he used, or wanted to sign up for, because it would trigger a notification that we'd see and subsequently ask him about. However, one day his buddy was over, and they were throwing around new email addresses to each other that I didn't even know he had, so he'd clearly gone beyond his gmail account and figured out how to sign up for root email addresses on his own. Thus, I was cut out of the loop, and knowing the password to "his" gmail address meant nothing anymore; so I gave that up. We're squarely in the "trust" zone now when it comes to what he's doing online. He can create his own accounts at will, and he can hang out on uncontrolled networks (mobile carrier... friends' houses).
  • I have the pin codes to the kids iOS devices; it's a "rule" that they have to share those if their parents ever try to get on the device but can't.

Banking/Transactions
  • I setup full-blown bank accounts for each kid ("minor" accounts backed by me on paper, but completely mechanically isolated) at our local retail bank. They have their own debit cards (son somewhat actively uses his... daughter does not) and associated account numbers. I resisted this for a long time, but the need to buy things online grew frequent enough for my son that I wanted him to have his own ability to pay for things online, and that requires a traditional 16 digit debit card. You can't use paypal for underage people as they audit documents proving your age. While this was a major pain to setup, it has the added benefit of isolating the adult bank accounts from the inevitable loss/theft/hacking of the kids' accounts (kids aren't savvy about when/where they put that 16 digit number). They mess around with so many services online, it's a matter of time until their accounts are breached, and it's nice knowing that won't directly tie into my account. Until Final (disclosure... I'm an investor) is fully up and running, these kinds of heavy-handed protections are prudent.
Devices my son uses on a regular basis:
  • 27" communal iMac that sits in the house office. He uses this for playing networked Valve/Steam games (GPU intense), and for drawing/designing with his Wacom tablet. He does a lot of Skype text chatting and in-game voice chatting. I'm in earshot of the voice stuff, so am able to overhear how he conducts himself online in that manner.
  • 13" Chromebook. He uses this for watching Netflix and for homework related stuff (websites/tutorials and Google Apps (which the school system here uses)). He's allowed to use this in his room to some degree.
  • iPad mini. Mostly just Netflix for streaming and iTunes for offline video viewing during travel.
  • iPhone. Instagram and a few chat apps as well as Spotify for music.
  • 57" LED TV screen. Mostly Apple TV for movies, and Netflix for Parks and Recreation re-runs. Some Tivo of stuff he likes.
  • Logitech Harmony (radio based... not IR) for single remote driving of the entertainment system stuff.
  • Sonos for music throughout the house.
Devices my daughter uses on a regular basis:
  • 27" communal iMac that sits in the house office. Some homework stuff, but mostly just watching YouTube videos.
  • iTouch for iTunes music, and video capture to make little videos.
  • 57" LED TV screen. Mostly Apple TV for movies and her favorite "shows," and some Tivo of stuff she likes.
  • Logitech Harmony (radio based... not IR) for single remote driving of the entertainment system stuff.
  • Sonos for music throughout the house.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Ad Tech Bustage?

Number of times I've clicked on an ad over the past 20 years or so and bought somthing on the click-through somewhere? One or two, maybe three, times.

Number of times I've bought something (an airline ticket, a hotel room, a magazine, some clothing, a device, etc) and have had an ad for that very thing displayed to me everywhere I go (Facebook, Google, Fandango, etc) for a week after having already made the purchase? A couple of thousand times.

The ad tech infrastructure seems very good at targeting me *after* I've already purchased. This is _exactly_ when you do _not_ want to be spending ad dollars as a corporation.

Why does this happen?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Main Stream Media And Me

It's been several weeks now since I dropped out of main stream media consumption. My consumption vectors have become...

  • daily curated news/content emails from curators I learn about and can subscribe/unsubscribe to/from if/when they prove their quality/lack-of-quality
  • my Twitter feed. real-time signal from who I follow. if Twitter builds a platform that allows for Journalists to more consistently represent themselves and their work, I could see this platform becoming the bulk of what I want. I blogged a little about some of these concepts here.
  • my feedly.com feed. my own source curation.
  • FlipBoard magazines. awesome feature of the day here is you can now tune FlipBoard to filter out content from shitty sources (e.g. TechCrunch). this is really powerful as it gives the user source-level control in the platform over what hits their eyes.
  • I still sit down with the Sunday Times each week. this is the most "main stream" I come in contact with.
I use Instapaper for "read later" and it's proven to be great. especially the "speed read" functionality; big time saver.

What I've found so far...
  • I spend 100x fewer cycles thinking about bullshit and the latest depressing shooting-of-the-day.
  • I spend 100x fewer cycles reading regurgitated link-bait stories cobbled together by children, and 100x more cycles reading thoughtful original content.
  • I eat-my-spinach constantly now, reading long-form, well thought out, journalism.
  • I miss out on "main stream" stuff; as expected. I'll find myself the only person in the room that hasn't heard about the latest media firestorm. this makes me feel like the odd man out at times, but it's a trade I'm willing to make.
  • I feel better. main stream media/content is depressing.
  • I feel smarter.
  • I don't wind up down link-bait rabbit holes that the reptile part of my brain wants to wander down.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Journalist Rank (jRank) & News Feeds

I just got back from a run and wanted to flesh this notion out a bit. I was listening to a This Week In Startups "news" roundtable in which Declan McCullagh was talking about his new "news" app called "Recent" (btw Declan, if you're not using Stream on the backend, you should consider it (disclosure, I'm an investor)). Someone started talking about ranking journalists, and someone else used the word "jRank" and jokingly compared it to Google's gRank. Declan passively suggested Recent was doing something like this in its algorithm to filter news. During this latest rush to build news apps, I'd like to see journalist rankings blend into the algorithms, and ultimately I'd love to be able to turn jRank dials in my profile to tune my feed accordingly.

You'd have to start with a ranking system first of course. From there, software could consider it when producing my feed, and from there a UI element could be presented to me to allow me to filter/dial journalists accordingly.

Proposed jRank factors for a given journalist

  • age
  • languages
  • primary country (city?) of residence
  • mediums (video, books, newspapers, web, a... blah blah blah)
  • first published article/video
  • most-recent published article/video
  • freelancing date-ranges
  • on-staff date-ranges
  • outlets (e.g. cnn, foxnews)/platforms (Twitter, Instagram...) published on (incl. links)
  • sponsors (explicit/implied) (this one would take some work, but the idea is to have transparency into where the journalist gets their dollars). think 
  • website (system can cull gRank-like data from it)
  • list of social profiles (to be crawled and individually ranked, then those ranks are subsumed into jRank)
  • etc.
The idea would be consider all the interesting factors that go into a producer of words. There are times I want to see content from random citizens who happen to catch a "news worthy" moment while walking the dog, and there are times I want to see stories on a known topic produced by someone who just spent a year of their life embedded in a specific environment studying a topic. And, everything in between. The combination of deeper knowledge around who produced the content, and the platform aggregated/presenting it, gives me, the user, a lot of control. Of course, "news platforms" relying on the crowd for the content can have all the dials turned up to 11 for the default stream.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

After Several Weeks With Apple Watch

I keep putting it on each day which means something I suppose.

I use it for

  • Checking the time.
  • Strava start/stop for commuter rides when I'm wearing the watch. I don't wear it for true sports activities.
  • Paying for stuff at the grocery with Apple Pay. _awesome_
  • Checking in on Swarm.
  • Reading text messages as they come in, and quick pre-set responses.
  • Composing text messages via Siri when I'm in a quiet room.
That's pretty much it. I like being able to tell time without pulling my phone out, receiving glanceable notifications that I deem important, and being able to initiate specific, simple, actions (Strava start/stop, Swarm checkins) from my wrist.

In the end, I suspect all I really care about is checking the time and I'll probably go buy a regular old analog watch now that those are back in style.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Human Travel Agents

They're baaaaack!

For the past several months I've been using an app called Native to book leisure travel. For the past several months I have NOT had to...

  • deal with busted hotel, airline, restaurant, and other travel websites
  • deal with constantly changing workflows of said websites. "Look at us, we've upgraded our website! It's better now!" No... it's not.
  • deal with busted payment processes with said websites
  • deal with login credentials with said websites
  • call hotels or restaurants to get questions answered
  • try to orchestrate last minute travel changes by hand
  • have awareness of hours of operation of places I have questions for prior to arrival
Instead, now I send a few texts to Native (human agents) and it's over. Here's one I sent the other day.

"NYC please. Personal card. Two ppl (myself and daughter). Depart DEN to LGA in the morning on X date, return LGA to DEN on Y date mid-late afternoon (enough time to grab lunch in Brooklyn on way to airport)."

Native knows my airline, seat preferences, the hotel I stay at in NY, and ground transport needs.

A few texts later I've confirmed details, and it's over. A trip that would've taken at least an hour to pull together (flights, hotel, cars, events, reservations), takes minutes now.

Totally impressed. Happy the modern travel agent is back.

Travel Guides



I've been doing a fair amount of leisure travel recently and have come across an amazing set of travel guides. They're called CitiX60 guides, and are published by Viction Workshop; http://victionary.com/ .

They are awesome!

  • Each one is a compilation of recommendations by local creatives (not advertisers paying for placement).
  • Each one's cover is a cool wrap that unfolds into an artists' beautiful rendition of the city map itself.
  • They're small and softcover and fit into daypacks easily.
  • Each recommendation has a QR code you can quickly scan if you want to dive in further.
I've been to a few cities with these guides now and have to say that I've enjoyed more experiences through them than I have in a lifetime of other guidebooks. Nearly all hits, and no misses, and they're gorgeous little books to keep around too boot.

Curation... it's the future.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Read More Faster; Instapaper


I've radically changed my content discovery approach and sites/services I consume for information and news. As a result, my new method leverages a broad array of curated content sources using a disparate set of presentation formats (web sites, feeds, emails, posts, etc) that I either consume via Flipboard (because it natively supports said service) or via Instapaper because it's not in Flipboard.

I've had an Instapaper account for quite some time, but hadn't used it until recently due to this change in my reading behavior. I was overjoyed to see Instapaper supporting Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP)! I've never been able to effectively adopt "skimming" or proximity based "speed reading" techniques; my brain has to consume _everything_ in order for it to work (for better or worse). A year or so ago my neighbor introduced me to RSVP during a project he was working on, and my mind blew! He was (and is about to release) a RSVP viewer for a wearable device; brilliant!

Anyway, I'm stoked to finally have a cross platform RSVP reader baked into a content source aggregator (Instapaper) for the "read later" use case. I'd encourage you to try the technique out using a tool like http://www.spreeder.com/ or Instapaper.

So... fast.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

"Editing" Hardware


Yesterday I found myself "modding" one of my 12-yr old son's Nerf guns. One of his buddies had done it, and now he wanted to. We grabbed a bunch of tools/gear and sat down to hack away. I've built physical things from the ground up plenty of times. Following instruction manuals, or not, to constitute some sort of hardware (models (custom and pre-defined), PCs, bikes, skateboards, furniture, etc...), but I'd never really "mod'ed" anything.

My boy was using the word in a way we didn't as kids. It was weird. We sat there pressing play/pause/rewinding some other kids' YouTube video on how to modify this particular model gun to do some new cool things. The mods were really all about removing limitations put in place by the manufacturer for undoubted liability reasons. It was a ton of fun!

And they my son said something that broke my brain a little. He picked up one of the foam Nerf darts and postulated out loud: "I wonder if we can edit this dart." I'd only ever used that word in the context of code or content. I'd never even heard it used in the context of something physical. He sat there pivoting the foam in his hand, looking at it; wondering. Wondering how he could tweak this physical thing and "edit" it to do something else.

He's growing up in a world of 3D printers and prolific "mod" instructional tutorials online. He's starting to think about the physical world the way I thought about software.

Such a trip.

What's next?

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Where Did The Journalism Go?

With Circa dead, I lost what I considered my last shot at reasonable "news" consumption. I'm aware Circa was "editors" and not "journalists," but they did a decent job editing stuff together and letting me walk down categories of content I wanted, instead of being spoon-fed crap by media outlets. Circa dying was a big blow for me.

Anyway, I've asked this before, but now I have to again, what are folks doing for their "daily" news content consumption?

Twitter's decent for "real-time," but it can feel like an echo-chamber, and I can't find a website that isn't ad driven and using near child-labor to produce what they call "content." Really long-form stuff I think I have covered (Foreign Affairs... Economist... Atlantic, Sunday NYT), but short/mid-length stuff, and daily stuff feels like a void. Digg's daily email rollup is kinda cool, but falling into link-bait status quickly. Brain Pickings has been great, but not "frequent" enough. I get into satirical stuff like John Oliver and Louis C.K., but I have to temper that stuff as I quickly get depressed over how awful the world seems to be.

I guess Flipboard "cover stories" and other of their magazines/sections are serving me pretty well these days too. A friend thinks Flipboard will rule the world in the coming years, and I think they're right. Yea, Flipboard's probably my go-to these days, but I'm wondering if there's a consistent and reliable source for daily content produced by actual journalists (people who have dedicated their lives to non-biased (as much as possible) to understanding and reporting news. Anyone???

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Canon 5Dsr First Impressions

1/8000' exposure, f1.8, ISO 100, 50mm
I've been using the new Canon 5Dsr for a few days now. I'm quite certain it'll replace my 6D, but I want more time with it to be sure.

The Good
  • 50 megapixels; 8,688 x 5,792 resolution. Great for landscape shots and stuff you want to print big or view in really high res.
  • Mirror lock-out support to minimize/eliminate camera shake. This is awesome for landscape shots.
  • Better bracketing support.
The Bad
  • Canon thought it'd be cute to drop the on-board GPS and WiFi capabilities that the 6D had. I used both of those features all the time. I'm not about to add-on an off-board GPS device (clutter), and I'm trying the Eyefi card for WiFi capability. The card and camera support in-menu enable/disable of the wifi radio on the card, so you can control it as to not deflate battery time of the camera battery.
  • It's really big.
  • It's really heavy.

50Mp?!?!

If I didn't do large format printing of pics, I wouldn't have bothered buying this camera. 50Mp is just huge and you really feel it when transferring pics (using native SD card slots and of course via WiFi) and importing them into your app (e.g. Lightroom). The files are massive, and rendering software really has to work to do its thing w/ the files. That said, I do print things in large format, and I'm super excited to be able to effectively double my capabilities there.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Google Inbox: I Tried

I was in the first wave of Google Inbox users when they started leaking it out into the world. I can't remember when that was, but I've been using Inbox exclusively now for at least a few months. I'm done using it now and am moving back to mail.google.com and native Google gmail apps.

Let me start by saying that of the three application protocols (HTTP, SMTP, IMAP) in the world that actually matter, two of them are email related (the latter two). The lowest common denominator implementations of said email protocols are the only impls that matter, and the same goes for email clients (web or otherwise) implementations. Google knows this, and so I thought they'd get it right with Inbox. However, the vi shortcuts that gmail has leveraged for nearly a decade now, don't work in Inbox. I thought I could get along without them, but, I can't. I can only assume the hardcore email client engineers on the mail teams in Google are revolting against Inbox's high-level email abstraction UI metaphors, and therefore the shortcuts aren't being prioritized in Inbox. I suspect they eventually will (it's just not that hard to build them in), but until then, I'm back on gmail proper clients.

Inbox got a lot of things right.

Inbox got some key things really wrong.
  • Search results presentation. Trying to guess which results are most relevant for me, and presenting those first, has long been a broken approach. Don't do it. Give me chronological results. I know how your search algorithms work... let me drive from there.
  • Search operators. I spent years mastering these, don't take them away from me. You're a search company first and foremost, don't forget that.
  • select/copy. Selecting text in an email and copying it doesn't work on iOS.
  • And the biggie... keyboard shortcuts. Few if any of them work.
  • GUI state refresh. Going in/out of the iOS app causes full GUI state refresh causing me to have to reload searches and find scroll positions again. That's a bug.
For a general email user, I suspect Inbox is pretty sweet. As a power email user that uses the keyboard a _ton_, it's not so good. Let me know when the above list is fixed and I'd happily give Inbox another try; in general I like the new UI.






















Saturday, June 20, 2015

Running in Tokyo

After a handful of trips to Tokyo, and associated runs, over the past few years I thought I'd share some routes and tips. I've only stayed in the central Roppongi area, so my launches are from hotels there.

  • Hang left. The Japanese drive on the left-side of the street, so, naturally they drift and hang on the left side of sidewalks/paths. You'll obviously figure this out fast as you collide with everyone as you run on the wrong, right-side for a few minutes.
  • As with any big city, commuting hours are a nightmare to weave through pedestrian traffic, so run off-hours; you'll be up before the crack of dawn anyway.
  • When you're crossing a street, look the opposite way you normally would (again, they drive on the left so everything's inverted).
  • Even if the coast is clear, wait for the walking signal to turn green before you cross. Crossing streets out of order is severely frowned upon. Order reigns supreme and you'll be that jerk Westerner who disregards everyone else if you go with your instinct to just cross the street because there are no cars (yes, even at 5am when no-one but the guards/police are floating around).
  • The Imperial Palace is a beautiful ~10k from Roppongi. Here's a recent Strava GPS trace of one of my runs around it. Lots of runners on this route; very popular.
  • The Akasaka Palace is another gorgeous route. It's shorter (about half of Imperial), and includes a couple of hills. Not as popular as Imperial, but still a fair number of runners.
Run on.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Apple Watch Review

I just spent a week with the Apple Watch. I thought it was going to be the answer to my sports activity tracking needs, however it’s not. Surprisingly though I’ve found a ton of value in it in ways I didn’t anticipate.

The Good

Wearing the following on my wrist has been nice…

  • the time. dragging your phone out of your pocket a zillion times a day to check the time sucks. looking at your wrist for that info is a convenient blast of functionality from the past.
  • text notifications. getting inbound text notifications on your wrist means you’re not dragging your phone our of your pocket a zillion times a day.
  • email notifications. getting inbound email notifications, of emails you care about, on your wrist means you’re not dragging your phone out of your pocket a zillion times a day.
  • “the crown.” the crown felt like a useless gimmick for the fist few days, but now it’s a really nice refinement on scrolling. I’m a big kinesthetic feedback person, so physical buttons/dials matter to me.
  • ordering up an Uber from your wrist is magic.
  • using Apple Pay from your wrist is double magic!
  • Siri works incredibly well for composing text messages.
  • the heart rate monitor seems to work pretty well, but it’s clearly a step backward in terms of frequency/preciseness if you’re used to a chest strap.
  • it does “activity tracking” just fine. the issue I have with it is in heavier duty “sports activity tracking.”
  • as you’d expect it’s a high quality piece of design/construction.

The Bad


  • too many spinning “beach balls” when loading third-party apps.
  • it’s really just a remote control for your iphone. as such, you have to have your phone within range of it in order to do anything.
  • currently, third party apps can’t use the sensors on the watch, so watch apps like Strava’s, again, are really just start/stop buttons for the on-phone app. I had visions of ditching my chest strap heart rate monitor, and my phone during sport activities, but it’s clear I’m going to have my phone on my workouts for the foreseeable future. I also quickly realized that I don’t want to wear the thing on my wrist that gets covered in sweat and goop from a 3 hour mountain bike ride, on my wrist to a nice dinner a few hours later. fundamentally there may be a gap between devices you use for heavy workouts, and otherwise just hanging around.
  • no on-board GPS. it relies on the location services of your iPhone for this.
  • I cross my arms a fair amount and the watch has trouble understanding the difference between that motion, and just raising the watch for viewing. this leads to inadvertent app usage/running.


I’m hooked; not for the reasons I expected though. All the little nervous twitching we do with our iPhones these days is being nicely distilled into a smaller piece of hardware that’s more readily accessible on your wrist. I feel like a more efficient Pavlovian dog when I have the watch on.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Existential Week


We're near the end of Boulder's annual cloudy week. It's a nice change of pace from the constant sunshine, but it always produces an odd lens through which life gets considered. I'm looking forward to some sunshine; go away clouds!

Over the past several days... a handful people in my life (not to mention myself) have been going through massive life changes and questions. From big career shifts (up and down), to significant relationship realizations and changes. Deep self discoveries. Deaths. Births. From people shedding parts of themselves they don't want anymore, to clarity around aspects of their lives being exactly what they've always wanted. Friends getting their companies funded. Friends NOT getting their companies funded.

Intermingled with the above, a few pieces of content have really affected me this past week. Didn't help that my therapist was out of town this week.

  • The Ex Machina film. Obviously lots of questions about the singularity and humanity and machines. One quote really bent me and drove to the core of the work we were doing at Gnip. Nathan was talking about breaking out from his search engine company into the R&D thing that yielded the AI project. I'll botch the quote, but it was something like "everyone thought the interesting part of all the data collected by a search engine company was _what_ people were searching for. I realized it's not _what_ but, _how_ people are searching." Great scene, and Cecily Strong illustrates precisely how I felt when I saw it.
  • HBO's Kurt Cobain documentary, Montage of Heck. Motivated by a friend, and that a neighbor is one of its principle producers, I started watching it. I'm only half way through, but wow. Pain. Hurt. Artistry. Disgust. Love. Relationships. "Here we are now, entertain us!"
  • Anthony Bourdain tours Chile with a guy named Raul who nailed this (for those of us in, or past midlife) "Now is a time in our life when we really know what is good and we enjoy it more. Before, we did something because we *thought* it was good. Now we *know* that it is good."
Our life experiences comprise us; "I Am" by AWOLNATION.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Another Day In Pictures

Fun day around town with friends and my 1.2f 50mm prime lens.
Off to school.

Breakfast with Ro Gupta.

The man the myth the legend Lloyd Tabb passing through Boulder.

David Cohen... "Cincy Baby!" #startupcincy

Duer Reeves expounding upon Weather Cloud. 
Boston marathon and Finance/Accounting ass kicker Kim.

Feldernator. "What?!?"

Happy Ryan McIntyre.

Man on the street intrigued with my lens.

Man on the street's dog Ruby.

Happy Ari Newman.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Rant On Music Listening: Library Bifurcation, Offline Listening, and Bitrates

Listening to music is hard again.

Library Bifurcation

To listen to all the songs I like, I have to have some of my music in iTunes, and some of it in Rdio (I pay the $15/mo and always have). Once I decide which music I want to listen to, I fire up the App that gives me access to that music. What a mess! If I have a playlist in my mind that wants to have music from both services, I'm out of luck.

The vast majority of what I listen to is on Rdio, yet as artists get more and more frustrated with streaming revenues (effectively non-existent for the artist AFAICT), they're pulling more and more of their music off the streaming services (e.g. Rdio & Spotify). Whenever they do this, I either stop listening the music, or I get it on iTunes (99 times out of 100 iTunes tends to have the music I want, it's just that the App sucks so I try to stay out of it). Lame!

Offline Listening

Streaming sucks. Let's face it, it only exists because Rdio and Spotify (and other early streaming services) were trying to get around licensing regulations/rules/laws. It's a brutally horrible user experience. Using the network to stream music is wrought with technical issues that get in the way of a good listening experience. Chief among those issues is offline access to music. While Rdio recently revamped it's "Downloads"/offline experience (which is much better now), it's still a PITA to re-download gigabytes of music each time I re-install the player (change phones for example).

Apple completely screwed this up with their Cloud music offering (whatever it's called) stuff. Their transition to cloud-hosted-everything essentially is what caused me to drop iTunes, nearly altogether, as a listening platform. They moved my entire library into the cloud and gave me poor tools to work with it from there.

If you listen to music on the move (planes, trains, automobiles, bikes, running, skiing, international travel, etc), "streaming" is just a failure.

Bitrates

All the recent chatter about enhanced music listening services is ultimately good for the consumer, but the only service I've seen handle this appropriately is Rdio. If users want high bitrates, they can easily pay for them with Rdio, and dial the bitrate they ultimately want. I'm stoked that the industry is finally paying attention to bitrates. Apple screwed us all when iTunes was initially introduced with it's awful quality. We're playing catch up; finally.

Solution?

I want a platform agnostic DRM solution, so I can purchase, or access for free if the rights holder wants to offer it as such, high bitrate CDs or digital downloads of an album or track, and to have all the players support said DRM, so I can use the player of my choice. Streaming services can be cheap/free sampling products (like they kind of were originally), that upsell me into the platform agnostic DRM. After typing that, I feel like we've already tried this. What happened?!?!

If you want to steal the music, you can be an asshole and strip the DRM so the artist doesn't get paid.

Like I said, what a mess. The listening experience is suffering like it never has before.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Colorado, Legalized Cannabis, and Parenting

It's been a few years now since Colorado legalized recreational cannabis growing/use. I have friends and relatives in States/Countries that haven't legalized it yet, and I get questions from time to time from them about what life is like here given that it's legal. They engage as if life in Colorado must be radically different. It's not. Some impressions after a few years in...

  • The Colorado Department of Education has been able to distribute millions of dollars in grants to school districts throughout Colorado thanks to a portion of cannabis retail sales tax dollars being allocated to the DoE. Some of these grants have directly impacted our kids' schools. The kids themselves are aware, via the administrators/teachers, of where the money came from. It was funny to hear my son come home from school one day telling me XYZ was built because of "pot tax revenue."
  • No, the roads are not any more dangerous than they were when it was all illegal. At least, any increase in danger is not perceivable in my world. Maybe there's data out there saying otherwise, but I'm just speaking from my perception as random joe citizen.
  • No, there aren't people wandering around stoned out of their minds. Everyone has not turned into a pot-head.
  • Yes, access is as simple as wandering into any number of pot shops and buying what you want off of a shelf.
  • No, there isn't a pot shop on every block (though they certainly do have a presence).
  • No, kids are not allowed to have pot on school grounds.
  • Banking for retail outlets is a big problem. Apparently banks have been reluctant to take on pot shops as business customers b/c it's still "illegal" at the Federal level. This causes shop owners to manage unsafe amounts of cash and leaving them at higher risk of robbery.
  • Landlords (both retail and light-industrial for growing) have jumped at the opportunity to lease to these new businesses.
  • Stigma around pot has plummeted, and that has made the job of parenting around it 100x easier. It's not some thing that is out to kill all of us and ruin lives, and that makes the discussion around it with little ones much more sane and approachable.
  • No, our kids don't smoke pot (at least not that I know of :) ).
  • THC content in retail marijuana is a problem. There's no regulation on this front, so you can sell marijuana with really low THC levels, yet sell it as though they're high, which misleads the consumer. There will ultimately need to be regulation on this front. Disclosure around THC levels will be required at some point.
  • THC in food items (candy, baked goods, etc) is the biggest challenge as a parent. We've had to take extra precaution around the kiddos taking food/candy from "strangers" and even peers at school (who might have inadvertently come into possession of THC'd candy themselves). To our knowledge our kids, nor their friends, have not eaten any THC, but it's the greatest risk for sure. Packaging and selling of THC'd food items isn't regulated, so you can wind up with something that can get you high without even knowing it. Regulation will have to step in here.
  • The landrush to make a buck in the new industry has led to more than a few morons trying to distill/infuse/cook down a variety of things in an attempt to make intensely potent THC. They've hurt themselves in the process.


    It's still early, and the overall impact won't be known for decades. I would summarize my impressions thus far by saying that the legalization hasn't been a big deal, _at all_. It's been most noticeable in the context of more funding for schools (obviously a great thing). The sky hasn't fallen.

    Mexico's President Pena Nieto sounded like a DARE broken record six months ago in this interview with Bloomberg; skip to the 8-minute mark. I'm glad that here in the States we're progressing in terms of stopping the silliness around cannabis being illegal; long overdue. As for other states following suit, I'll bet a dollar the vast majority legalize it in the next few years, and that the Feds back off of it within five to ten years.


    Much ado about nothing.

    Friday, March 13, 2015

    Orrin Keepnews On Technical Leadership?

    Orrin, who recently passed away at 91 years of age, was an award winning Jazz music producer. As I was listening to this 1980's interview with him conducted by Terry Gross with NPR, his words about music production perfectly described how I've always viewed my role in building software products. If you're trying to lead others in the construction of something creative (e.g. software), take note.

    "The role of the producer is that of a catalytic agent. My job was to create the circumstances, set the scene, in such a way that the artist could behave at his creative best. Although my methods of doing that, and techniques, have undoubtedly changed and developed and have become more flexible over the years, that concept as I look back on it stayed with me for over 30 years." - Orrin Keepnews

    http://www.npr.org/2015/03/03/390467352/fresh-air-remembers-jazz-master-orrin-keepnews

    Sunday, March 1, 2015

    Week In Pictures

    Shot a full week's worth of interactions this time. The 1.2 50mm Canon fixed prime lens is a thing of beauty; dang hard to get focus right at apertures that big, but when you do, the results are incredible. I put an 'X' at the end of the captions of the pics where I think I got it right.

    Taking daughter to school. This one's gaining in complexity by the minute these days. X
    Quick conversation with daughter's teacher.

    Catching up over coffee with Nick Matheson. X
    Learning about what Alec Zopf is up to. X
    Talking toys over dinner with tired VC Brad Feld.
    Learning about cancer drugs and bioluminescence from Dan Rudnicki who's 1000x smarter than the rest of us. 
    Drinks with Doug Williams who came to town to talk with Brad and me about partnerships with a Built In Colorado group. X
    Tricia Bailey helping me get acquainted with the 10.10.10 crew on their last program day.

    Brad doing his thing with the CEOs of 10.10.10.

    Cameron saw me sitting alone before the main event. He came over just to say hi. Nice guy.

    Paul Talbot (photographer/partner at 23rdstudios.com) was in Denver shooting the earlier event, then came back up to Boulder for the next event du jour. X

    Elyse Kent; the mastermind who got Brad, Doug and me to open up about Gnip & Twitter's partnership. X

    More Doug. X

    Winding down a really fun day with Brad and Doug over yummy food/wine.
    Doug contemplating his next move.
    Jodi playing along.

    Couple's therapy with Deb.
    April; behind the eyes.
    Individual therapy with Jillian (yup... right after couple's).
    Someone who fully embraces the camera; David Cohen.
    Awesome Agile & food manufacturing discussion with Kyle Kuczun and Dan Heiges.
    Dan arriving late and pondering his drink order.
    Lunch with the guy who always seems to have it figured out; Todd Vernon. X

    Kelsey wielding a straight razor and a #1 clipper before my haircut.

    Hostess Aprilla at an awesome dinner party at our house. X

    Happy, fun, and new Boulder transplant, Wendy Hepworth.

    Another guy I can learn from; Isaac Hepworth

    Ian with a lot on his mind. X

    Melissa with a lot on her mind too. They have a baby forthcoming.