Nothing is set in stone

Top 15 global brands ranking from 2000 to 2018

Top 15 global brands ranking from 2000 to 2018

The video below (via @freakonometrics) shows rankings of the top 15 global brands over the years. It is super interesting to watch the rise of the internet companies to the top and the fall of technology companies of the past like GE and Nokia.

It is a good reminder that everything in this world is temporary.

 

Attention and awareness are not the same things

Details

Details

Yesterday, I remarked that is funny how the brain works.

I am that person who judges when I go to a hotel and the alarm clock next to the bed is off. Usually, because they suffered a power outage or we passed daylight saving. It makes me wonder when the last time the room was cleaned and how well.

Recently that happened when the car battery got changed in my car and the dealer forgot to set the time. It is not a big deal, but I do judge. I wonder what else did they not check before declaring the problem fixed?

I am also the person who adjusts your painting when it hangs crooked. I won’t judge, but I will adjust it. I’ll probably won’t even tell you, I just do it. I can’t help myself.

At the same time, I can’t write a piece of text without forgetting (in)definite articles or pronouns in various places. My brain works faster than I can type. Even when I proofread the text, I still miss some of them. I use Grammarly to help me.

One time someone wanted to prove to me that I am not as detail orientated as I think I am. He asked, “what is the color of the building you work at?”. I had no idea.

It is funny how the mind works.

Attention and awareness are not the same things and they do not work the same way for everybody.

The mind is a funny thing

Dealing with life

Dealing with life

When you are doing something hard or dealing with major life events, you are trying to get through it. Often it feels impossible or insurmountable.

But when you are on the other side, you often forget. When hard things pass you forget about the struggle and you just remember the success (or failure). But success never comes easy. It takes skill, effort, patience, and perseverance.

Same when you fail. You remember how you felt when you failed but you forget about the struggles before.

The mind is a funny thing.

There are big and small disappointments and setbacks. They have come a similar set of emotions and you use the same skills to cope with them. They just differ in intensity.

Rarely bottom up

Culture starts at the top

Culture starts at the top

I hear myself repeating this a lot lately so I’ll make my life easier to write it up in a post. If you are unhappy about the culture in a company, change can only come from the top. A team lead can (somewhat) influence the culture inside their team, a general manager can influence the culture at a location, but company culture as a whole starts at the top.

This one of the major reasons, you see major changes in executive teams when a new CEO comes on board. You cannot conclude that the existing executive team members are failing at their job. It is often because of a new culture the new CEO wants to instill in the company. It is his job drive down that culture and often this requires new people. New people are not encumbered with the old ways of doing. This is also the reason CEOs get replaced. It is often they are not incompetent at their job, but the board feels they have a hard time seeing other opportunities. Sometimes you need a reset.

People mimic the behavior of other people in the organization. The most effective way to change people’s behavior is to look at your own. One of my favorite books is on this topic is Louis Gerstner‘s “Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?“. He became CEO of IBM in 1993 when the company was near bankrupt and stuck in their old ways. In the book, he chronicles about what he found and the choices he had to make. It is a fascinating read.

If you are a leader and you are unhappy about your company’s culture, take a long hard look in the mirror and ask yourself what you can change yourself to improve. Next step is to instill in your executive team and ask them to take a hard look at their own and team behavior. It is only the way.

Amazon HQ2 failure

Take people on a journey

Take people on a journey

There has been written a lot about Amazon’s HQ2 contest and their decision to go to New York and then pulling out again. I think it has been analyzed from every angle. The arguments from both sides have validity in their own right. I am not here to debate that.

It reminded me of something else. If you want to make a big change, you need to take people on a journey. If you go to quickly, people resist. Many people do not like change and their natural tendency is to resist big changes. This is exactly what happened here.

It is better to go slow. If Amazon decided to open up an office in LIC with a few thousand people without a contest, the level of resistance would have been much lower. They probably could have expanded that campus easily to 25,000 people in 5 years or more. Given the way incentives are given out by the city, I am also confident that they could’ve gotten those as well.

By coming in strong, Amazon lost a good portion of local support which bolstered local politicians to stand up. A David and Goliath fight resonates very well and granted Amazon does not need those incentives to run its business, but on the other hand, LIC can use the investment. It is a difficult discussion.

Seattle has many more Amazon workers and their campus is bigger, but they grew into it together. There is resistance now but they are already there and they keep expanding. Arguably, Seattle is a smaller city so the Amazon impact is even bigger in that city. Because they grew incrementally, they could take it much farther than if they would have said they were hiring 50,000 people in just a few years.

With Shapeways, I learned that if you need to increase pricing, you know where you want to be, but if the leap is big enough you take small incremental steps to get there. You need to take your customers by the hand and bring them along. The interesting thing is that you even learn a lot along the way and it allows you to mitigate any problems you did not think of.

Whenever I contemplate a big change, I try to think about how to break it down in smaller steps. It avoids change resistance and you can adapt along the way. Landlords know this game very well. If you increase the rent by 7% every year, you double it in a decade. 7% is not a lot to take year-over-year, but doubling the rent from one year to another because you passed the decade is going to make everyone upset.

Hand-drawn stop motion video of the original game

Paper Mario Bros

Paper Mario Bros

I came across this video (h/t The Verge) of a hand-drawn stop motion video of the first level of Super Mario Bros.

It is cute, fun and so well done:

He describes himself as: I make stop motion animations about games. My Twitter account is @KisaragiHutae6. I can’t wait to see more.

 

Retro gaming: Doom 3

Retro gaming: Doom 3

Not as retro as usual on my Saturday posts, Doom 3 is almost 15 years old. It was released in August 2004 on Windows/PC. I used to play this on the Xbox 360 back in the day.

Doom 3 is not a sequel but a reboot of the series. You play an anonymous marine who is dispatched to Mars in the year 2145. The Union Aerospace Corporation (UAC) set up a research facility for developing new weapons and teleportation. Accidentally they opened up a gateway to hell. Something is very wrong on Mars.

You can finish the complete game in about 9 hours. The video below is a complete walkthrough:

Of course, you can play it online. It is the demo version though, but it is playable enough for an hour of fun.

Gabriel Cuvillier ported the ID Tech 4 engine which runs Doom to Emscripten / WebAssembly and WebGL. It is a testament on how far web technology has come and how underused some of these technologies still are. It is one of the reasons, I keep saying, “you haven’t seen anything yet.”. I tested this game in Windows, Linux, and MacOS and it runs on Firefox and Chrome on every platform. Impressive.

Notes

  • One time download of 400MB of game data – be patient
  • Esc is mapped to Home button (to leave HUD / tablet screen)

My love affair with unstructured notes and documents

A second brain

A second brain

I am a simpleton with regard to productivity software. I just use notes and documents. I have tried many smart todo lists apps, CRMs, and fancy note-taking apps, but I always stay with plain note taking. Over the years, everything moved to the cloud and I love the ability to jot something down on my phone and look it up later on my laptop. I jumped on the Evernote bandwagon early on. I still got thousands of notes in Evernote even though I have moved on to Simplenote and Notes on MacOS.

I got reminded of this when I was doing some research in past meetings and people I met on a particular project I was working on a while ago. I typically use spreadsheets for CRM type of activities and I got the names and companies I was looking for very quickly. A search on their names or company names revealed the notes I made during or after the meeting. In a couple of hours, I had a great overview of what I needed.

It is in these times, I am grateful for my habit of making notes of everything. I literally can tell you which meetings I had and what was decided on let us say Thursday, June 14th, 2012. I can even tell you what I did that day. I keep a rolling to-do list with a log for a long time. I wrap over the todo list every year or so to keep the document manageable in length.

I call it my second brain. My second brain does not live in one particular place. It is scattered around Simplenote, Notes on MacOS, Evernote and Google Docs. A quick search reveals literally the thing I am looking for. Larger documents go into Dropbox and are easy to find back too. Nowadays I don’t even bother with complex folder structures. I do not like endless clicking through folders too much work, but I do make sure every document has a sane filename containing all the keywords I need to recognize it for what it is.

Many companies have tried to organize the way we work, create and distribute information across an organization. When you work in a team, it is often useful to structure information to facilitate the proper flow of information and decision making. But it also comes at a cost. If I got a dollar every time someone complained to me about some information organization system, I would be rich by now. I always tread carefully when deciding to try something like that in a company. It becomes worse when the tool becomes an excuse and that is accepted. I have seen that too – especially in larger companies.

Unstructured information systems allow me to mold them to my way of working. It is never in my way. The only thing you need to let go is structure.

When I talk about this, people often push back and give a slew of good reasons why structured information is more useful. The one thing I always ask them is if they organize their email in folders or do they just archive or delete. Often a light bulb goes off at that moment.

Someone did it

Add a headphone jack to your iPhone

Add a headphone jack to your iPhone

I am a sucker for breaking convention and not taking “impossible” as an answer. Scotty Allen of Strange Parts thinks the same. He is famous for his video on building an iPhone from scratch based in parts sourced at local public markets in Huaqiangbei, China.

In this video he tries to add a headphone jack. I love this:

That moment a person is operating a drill with a Xbox controller to drill a hole into the phone body made laugh out loud.

Browsing the web with 250ms latency is impossible

The old days: solving latency problems on internet-over-satellite connections

The old days: solving latency problems on internet-over-satellite connections

In general, I am in favor of taking small iterative steps towards improving the product and fixing any problems. Small steps are easy to manage, allow for missteps without too much impact and many small steps can lead to big results. But sometimes, you find yourself in a position that you really need to take a big leap to improve the service for customers. Today, I am talking of one of those I did in the past.

I was with Aramiska. Aramiska delivered two-way internet-over-satellite connections to companies in Europe. Back in 2000 many areas in Europe did not have high-speed internet connections. The photo above was our uplink in Liedekerke, Belgium which we rented from Belgacom. I was part of the engineering team. We built all the software to deploy and manage a large scale ISP. The company no longer exists. The accelerated rollout of cable and DSL made the internet-over-satellite solutions obsolete.

The biggest problem with internet-over-satellite is latency. Latency was usually around 250ms. Latencies like that create havoc with TCP-connections and HTTP requests. One of our standard benchmark sites was nytimes.com. I remember that at the time the NY Times homepage had around 50 objects. Even with HTTP/1.1 which allowed for reuse of TCP-connections, it still took 15 seconds to fetch and render the homepage. This was not a bandwidth problem but a latency problem. It was the single biggest complaint from customers; web browsing was too slow. How do you solve that problem?

During an industry show, I found a company called Tellique which was operating out of Berlin. They had developed a solution to break down TCP-connections and turn them into UDP-streams. Also, they prefetched the whole page at the uplink and send everything over before the browser at the other end would know what to request. Sounds great right? Except it only worked on servers and we had small routers. It was developed for point-to-point setups with a satellite connection in between. We needed a scalable multi-point solution.

Together with Tellique, we embarked on a mission to develop a light-weight client version of their software we could run on our satellite routers. It took 6 months before we could start trying it out. Six months is a long time with unhappy customers and we spent a significant amount of money on this solution. I think it was one of the single biggest expenses the company ever with regard to infrastructure software.

The first roll-out was a disaster. Luckily we did it on a Friday night and customer impact was limited. We totally miscalculated the server capacity necessary to prefetch web pages, compress them and send them onwards. I also discovered that Friday nights was porn night when I was following along the requests. The end result was we had to rollback. This is my star project and I was a young engineer in my second job. I was sure I was going to be fired.

But I did not get fired. We ordered a bunch of extra servers and spun them up. We tried again a week later. This time we got it right. I was ecstatic.

Remember the NY Times homepage? It went from 15s to 1.5s. Customer satisfaction went through the roof.

After roll-out, I spent years perfecting this solution. The problem there are many protocols and applications running on top of the internet. There were many small edge cases which broke in small or spectacular ways. But this 6 months project made it possible to use internet-over-satellite connections for web browsing.

In the end, we ended up acquiring Tellique in another life. Their technology together without multi-point network expertise turned it into a winning solution. I still think fondly about that.

Thinking about it today, I wonder how they solved the HTTPS conversion which makes it hard to transparent proxy solution.