Amazon’s streamer is perfect travel companion

Bring your own (Fire) TV

Last week, we were on holiday at North Captiva Island in Florida. We rented a lovely house right on the beach and got to enjoy beautiful sunsets, dolphins, manatees and a bald eagle from our deck.

One of the things I always bring on trips for the last couple of years is my Amazon Fire TV stick. I even bought a pouch to keep it in since the original box wore out.

It is super convenient to bring your own TV and music streamer. All the apps and accounts are already set up and it is really plug-and-play. Every TV has an HDMI input nowadays. It only takes 1 minute to set up the wifi connection.

Speaking about wifi connections; the Amazon Fire TV is one of the only streamers which properly supports captive portals as you see at hotels.

The Amazon Fire TV stick is also small and affordable which makes it the perfect travel companion. It never happened before but even if I forgot it, it is only $50 (usually $40). The only thing missing is proper Youtube support but that is coming soon.

I think if my Apple TV breaks down today, I probably going to replace it with a Fire TV stick. The new version fixed a major problem I have with my current one and that it has volume control. I only use one remote and volume control is essential.

We’ve come a long way since I was recording TV shows on my computer, transcoding them and put them on my iPod to watch them on the go.

Less is more

Skipping the news cycle

Yesterday, The New Yorker published an article called “The Urgent Quest for Slower, Better News“. The author argues the case for his want of a slower, more in-depth news.

He writes:

Media outlets have been reduced to fighting over a shrinking share of our attention online; as Facebook, Google, and other tech platforms have come to monopolize our digital lives, news organizations have had to assume a subsidiary role, relying on those sites for traffic. That dependence exerts a powerful influence on which stories are pursued, how they’re presented, and the speed and volume at which they’re turned out.

For digital-media organizations sustained by advertising, the temptations are almost irresistible. Each time a reader comes to a news site from a social-media or search platform, the visit, no matter how brief, brings in some amount of revenue. Foer calls this phenomenon “drive-by traffic.”

I had this need too and decided last summer to switch from the New York Times to The Economist. I just read their weekly paper on my iPad. For me, the weekly interval is more than enough to keep up with what’s happening in the world. It also filters out all the misinformation and misinterpretation which creeps into the news reporting including by the NYT because of the urgency to put out the news as quickly as possible.

I like it so far, it works well.

You might ask how I got to this article? It popped on Hacker News. I visit Hacker News and Techmeme once a day to see what people are talking about in tech.

Work hours and productivity have limited correlation

Work-life balance at a startup

One of the most interesting things I’ve encountered when moving to NYC and running a company there is the long hours people tend to work while not being 100% productive. It is pretty normal to take a “long” lunch and go for a haircut. People manage their private affairs like doctor’s appointments while at work. These long hours are a charade and are more for the benefit of being physically in the office than being 100% productive.
The other related thing is “working from home” which is often loosely translates to taking a private day while being ‘available”. It is a direct correlation with the limited number of vacation days people tend to get and they compensate with private days.

I don’t buy into that.

I have a simple rule which I tell everyone in my team. I want you to work 8 hours a day and I want you to accomplish your goals. If you need more hours in the day to accomplish your goals, you need to ask for help. But if shit hits the fan for whatever reason, I expect you to be there 24/7 and weekends.

Another rule I like to put into place is ample vacation days with a minimum of 20. It comes with the strict rule that you take off when you’re off and you work when you’re not.

In my experience, it usually takes 3-6 months for people to adapt to these policies which are a bit foreign in NYC corporate landscape. It sometimes takes a couple of nudges to make them understand that “working from home” really means taking a day off.

The biggest upside for the company and its managers is that there’s less frustration about the availability of people. I hear this complaint a lot where founders complain about their workforce not putting in the time they want them to. I usually ask them a few questions about their policies and more often than not it is the fuzziness of their own policies which causes their frustration. It is better to be more binary.

In general, I notice that the number of hours people put in is strongly correlated with how well the company is doing and how well they feel connected to that success. The best motivator is to make people feel they have an influential role in that success. In general, this applies to all disciplines.

The longer people work long hours, they will eventually get burned out. The point of burn out is different for everyone. It is unfair to put people in a position, they can’t keep up with those long hours and promote people who are more tolerant of it. They’re not necessarily the smartest or best people on your team. It is just one aspect of that equation. Like everything else, it is a balance. It is best to keep it healthy.

A warning sign in an organization

Company or office politics are poison

A big threat to any company culture is politics. Be wary of an organization which is run by politics. I’ve seen too many times in my life and it is really a good indicator of problems down the road whether it is in your own organization, with a major supplier or a major customer.

Politics typically creep up when management does not really have a clear mission for the company. Politics is about power and more specifically about consolidating power. It is a necessity when you need an organization marching without clear marching orders or direction.

I see office politics as similar to bullying in high school. Both are about power and controlling groups of people. Both need to be dealt with in the same way, it is unacceptable behavior.

When the executive team is endorsing and managing through politics, there is not so much you can do except accept it or move on. But often you notice political behavior in middle management or cross-management positions when new people come on board filling those positions. It is learned behavior and it can be unlearned. It requires vigilance and zero-tolerance policy to stamp it out as soon as possible.

Company or office politics have no place in a well functioning healthy company culture. Stay away or change it.

The birth of id Software

Retro games: Commander Keen

Retro games: Commander Keen

Commander Keen is one of those game-changing games. It was the first game on MS-DOS / IBM PC which featured two-way parallax scrolling – a feat something only reserved for game consoles. It was also the birth of id Software.

I remember getting this game through a magazine. Back in the 90s, there were plenty of “computing” magazines which distributed software on floppy disks as part of the magazine. I never owned the full game, but I had great fun with this episode 1 of Commander Keen.

The creation of this game is a fun piece of gaming history. Wikipedia explains the history of Commander Keen well or you can watch this 10m documentary below:

The gameplay is like any sidescrolling platformer. Avoid all enemies by either jumping over or on, use the ray gun (when you have it) to kill or stun it. You jump from platform to platform to reach the end of the level.

Here is a long play for Commander Keen:

You can play Commander Keen 1: Marooned on Mars online. This is the first installment of a three-part release which was released as shareware. For those born after 1980, shareware is fully playable demos which are free to copy and share. You pay for the full version.

Notes

  • ENTER = select + start
  • ARROWS = move
  • CTRL = jump
  • CTRL + ALT = shoot
  • SPACE = hud / extra info / pause

Hedging against telcos

Broadband internet over satellite

Yesterday, the news came out that Amazon is planning to launch a constellation of low-earth satellites to provide broadband connectivity. There are a number of companies working on this including SpaceX’s Starlink and Facebook. Google is doing something with Loon – their balloon project.

The reasoning is to bring broadband internet to the underserved market. It is plausible and commendable, but I just don’t buy it.

I think these companies feel vulnerable since a small number of telecom companies sit in between them and their end-customer. This is a hedge.

If broadband connectivity works well for the underserved, it will work equally well for the rest of the world. Orbiting satellites do not discriminate.

Unfortunately, I could not find anything about speeds and capacity. I am curious what they’re targeting.

Data ownership is the way to go

Privacy for the sake of privacy

Yesterday, I came across Keith Axline’s post “Privacy Is Just the First Step, the Goal Is Data Ownership“. I wholeheartedly agree with the concept of data ownership. I think we should elevate data ownership as a fundamental human right and take it from there.

This tidbit caught my attention:

Privacy for privacy’s sake is a weak argument, and privacy advocates should abandon it.

It is true that many people have a hard time defining what privacy means and why it is important. People feel it is important, but they have a hard time articulating the reasons for the need for privacy.

First and foremost, privacy is an individual choice. People make their own choices what they think is appropriate. Socialites and celebrities trade in privacy for media attention while others would not want to have their photo taken by paparazzi.

The problem with the internet today is that you are not given a choice at all. GPDR tries to do that, but it is like the T&Cs and cookie permission dialogs, nobody pays attention to those and mindlessly click them away. GPDR is not a solution, not even close.

There is no choice because you do not have any rights to your own data.

But we are not even aware of which data is collected and how it is distributed and sold. I have seen databases of 220M Americans containing 1,000+ attributes per person including religion, political affiliation, gun ownership, etc. It is relatively trivial to build databases like this and corporations do this.

Corporations have access to data about you, you do not even know. This creates information asymmetry in the market place. Companies can decide that you are an unfavorable customer based on that data. Of course, this is in their right. Companies can choose with whom they want to do business. The problem here is two-fold:

  1. You do not know which data is used by a company to determine eligibility and pricing.
  2. You cannot change or update that data.

This is happening today. I think the closest example is credit reports. Now, credit reports are in a highly regulated domain and it is for the reasons above this happened. Similar this needs to happen for other data too.

In short, the reasons that we talk about and find privacy important are:

  • No choice about the collection of data.
  • Unknown which data is collected about you.
  • No control over correctness and distribution of your data.

No privacy law is ever going to fix this. Ever. I am 100% convinced of that. The problem is choice. We need to be able to choose what we want to release and what not. Clearly, my mortgage provider has more rights to information about me than Facebook. I need to be able to choose.

This is the reason it is better to talk about data ownership. You are your own data and nobody can take that without explicit and clear permission. We should just forget about the whole concept of privacy because as a concept it is impossible to define.

 

Writing a simple Wordpress plugin

Customized RSS feed for WordPress

A couple of months ago, I used IFTTT to auto-tweet my posts to a Twitter account. It’s been working well, but I wanted to add the subtitles and tags to the tweets. By default, WordPress’ RSS feeds do not contain those.

This meant I had to write my own. How hard it can it be? It wasn’t. While looking around on how to accomplish that, I came past the post “Creating customer RSS feeds – the right way”. I agree with the author that most tutorials on customizing RSS feeds for WordPress are really terrible and lead to code duplication and maintenance issues in the future. The right way is to do it with a plugin which uses the existing RSS feed code of WordPress to accomplish the customizations you need.

I also never wrote a WordPress plugin and this looked a fun way to learn the basics.

It took me less than an hour from start to finish. I put the code in a Github repository. It is really straightforward.

There is only today

Live like a child

When I spend time with my kids, I realize they have something we all lost as an adult and that’s to embrace life to fullest and live in the moment.

For a kid, the day ends when they go to bed. They’re excited to wake up and realize there is a whole new day. Young kids do not even understand the concept of next week. Next week does not exist nor even does tomorrow. There is only today.

They live in the present and they do not care about tomorrow. It is not important to them. Even if they know something exciting is going to happen tomorrow, they are still more than content to be excited about what is going on right now. That is only what counts for them.

Along the way, as we grow up, most of us lose that ability. There are bills to pay, there is a job to go to. There are errands to run. We run from moment to moment, but if we are not careful we are not really experiencing them. They become lists of tasks captured in a todo list.

Kids do not have a todo list except when we give it to them. Kids just know what they want right now.

When I am really spending time with my kids, I am reminded that the secret to enjoying life is to just live in the moment and let tomorrow be tomorrow.