Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Pebble Time Non Review

I'm not buying a Pebble Time.

This may sound surprising, since the last time I talked about my Pebble Smartwatch, I was singing its praises.

But that was the first day. By 18 months later, I'd soured on the experience.


1. My watch strap broke under normal usage. I would push the watchstrap's pin back into place, only to have it fall out as soon as I did something daring and audacious, such as bending my elbow while wearing long sleeves. 

2. My watch's internal system broke. I had to stop wearing it, obviously, and I used it on a countertop in the bathroom, reasoning that something that could go 30 meters down would be able to withstand the humidity of my bathroom.

I was wrong. 

Having it in my bathroom resulted in a display not unlike this one:

And this one:
3. The lack of support was awful. You're encouraged to go to the forums to get help. That's fine for Tier 1 support (how do I turn it on?). It's not good for anything really complex. They could've outsourced customer service and tech support to someone like ZenDesk rather than basically lack it entirely. But they chose the latter. 

4. The Pebble app crashes constantly, which has been noted by a lot of people. There was a high profile buggy version. Every time I opened it, it crashed at some point or another. They finally started collected bug reports, which I was grateful for, but they didn't make it more stable.

5. This is the least important out of all the reasons, but they didn't deliver the watches when they said they would. They sent us a lot of updates showing us the work that they were doing. And I understand that they had a lot of watches to print. Nonetheless, they didn't deliver on their promises.
Source: Tech Crunch

So while the Pebble Time looks beautiful and cutting edge, I won't buy one. I already got sucked down that rabbit hole. The watch and the watch strap will break, and the experience of being a Pebble user is poor.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Dijkstra and the War for Programmers

I follow Marc Andreessen on Twitter, and he sometimes posts interesting things.
I of course was interested in that statement. Dijkstra founded programming languages, in a lot of ways, and it was fascinating to me that he was known to not really use computers.
Dijkstra in 1994
Source: Wikimedia

From the University of Texas Austin memorial:
Almost all articles in this series appearing after 1972 are hand-written. Having invented much of the technology of software, Dijkstra eschewed the use of computers in his own work for many decades. Even after he succumbed to his UT colleagues’ encouragement and acquired a Macintosh computer, he used it only for e-mail and for browsing the World Wide Web. He had no use for word processors, believing that one should be able to write a letter or article without rough drafts, rewriting, or any significant editing. He would work it all out in his head before putting pen to paper, and once mentioned that when he was a physics student he would solve his homework problems in his head while walking the dark streets of Leyden. 
The archives of his EWD papers are online. There was one where he talks about becoming a programmer, and he ends talking about the programming industry as a whole.

What I found fascinating -- and I'm sure that there will be a lot of people who focus on other things -- but he talked about the problems with teaching children how to code, even though it clearly was a growing industry.
There may also be political impediments. Even if we know how to educate tomorrow’s professional programmer, it is not certain that the society we are living in will allow us to do so. The first effect of teaching a methodology — rather than disseminating knowledge — is that of enhancing the capacities of the already capable, thus magnifying the difference in intelligence. In a society in which the educational system is used as an instrument for the establishment of a homogenized culture, in which the cream is prevented from rising to the top, the education of competent programmers could be politically impalatable.
He said that in 1972, when he was still in the Netherlands. However, it holds true for the US as well. I've talked about Neil Fraser and the political fight to get more kids to code. And this is today, so much later. It really should be presented to parents in terms of job prospects. There is a gaping hole for programmers. Even 10 years from now, I think that America will struggle to have enough computer science people. That's why I'm encouraging the younger generation to do it.

And for many of them, CS is not the right choice. And they'll go into the undifferentiated workforce, and they'll find other jobs, jobs that don't have as high of a demand as CS.

From an earlier post of mine:
 In Average Is OverTyler Cowen's new book, he talks about the bifurcation of the job market into software and not-software. One is growing rapidly and the other is losing ground.
I want my family to be on the right side of the divide, but they've chosen the 2nd side. Programming is boring, they tell me.

And they'll go on to have middle-class lives, so they'll be ok. But there'll always be a war for programmers.

War for Programmers

In a broad spread of industries, from carmaking to aerospace to domestic appliances, products have ever more lines of code embedded in them. These firms, too, are struggling to hire enough developers. Ford advertises as many jobs in software as many a midsized tech firm. As they seek to serve their customers via smartphone apps, all sorts of service businesses, from banking to retailing, need more people with software skills.
If the battle for programming talent is not just being fought among the titans of tech, that is where the front line lies. To a greater extent than makers of hardware, software-based firms are dependent on the hard-to-replicate talent that walks through their doors each morning. Hence the effort they put into recruitment and retention. Tangible rewards in the form of large salaries and attractive share options are part of it. But there is more to their human-resources strategies than generous compensation and perks such as on-site yoga classes and free gourmet meals.
Like other creative types, the best software workers strongly believe that caring means sharing. All-hands meetings are not just for tiny startups; staff at even the largest tech firms expect their bosses to appear frequently in person or by video link, to be grilled about everything from corporate strategy to the quality of the office coffee. The prospect of such radical openness makes buttoned-up executives in other industries quake in their boots.
Having worked in the software industry, I know that dramatic transparency is important. It makes the company work faster, and it encourages contributions from everyone.

To everyone that tells me that there are no jobs, I normally say that there are two paths: working in the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota (no longer as lucrative with the sharp drop in the price of gas) and software. I point everyone to https://angel.co/jobs, which has tons of jobs for people looking in the right place.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Perception and Reality of Feminism

It's been a while since I wrote a post only about feminism.
From Society Pages
I got in an Internet argument today, and someone said, "If you're a feminist, close your eyes now." And other people got angry and said, "How dare you say, 'If you're for women's equality, ignore my ill-conceived diatribe.'" And the first person got angry and said that the second person was twisting their words so that they were unrecognizable.

There's a gap between perception and reality when it comes to feminism. I didn't consider myself a feminist until taking my Psychology of Women class.

I have a two-question test for feminism:

  1. Do you believe that women have the right to have an education?
  2. Do you believe that women should have the right to vote?
Yes to either of those questions qualifies you as a feminist.

From Wikipedia:

Feminist movements have and continue to campaign for many women's rights, including the right to vote, to hold public office, to work, to fair wages or equal pay, to own propertyto education, to enter contracts, to have equal rights within marriage, and to have maternity leave. Feminists have also worked to promote bodily autonomy and integrity, and to protect women and girls from rapesexual harassment, anddomestic violence.[7]
Feminist campaigns are generally considered to be main force behind major historical societal changes, particularly in the West, where they are near-universally credited with having achieved women's suffragegender neutrality in Englishequal pay for women, reproductive rights for women (including access to contraceptives and abortion), and the right to enter into contracts and own property.

Feminism certainly covers a lot more, but if you believe that women should have the right to vote, you are a feminist. It seems crazy, but it really wasn't that long ago that women couldn't vote at all. There are a lot of places in the world today where women aren't allowed to go to school or to own property. That's why I'm a feminist.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Chipotle Sofritas Review and Cinnamon Snail


Chipotle has a vegan option called sofritas. On January 26, they did a promotion where you could buy sofritas, and they'd let you get a free burrito on the return trip for about a month after.

My family likes burritos, and free burritos are never going to be turned down. So we found our way into Chipotle on January 26. One of us refuses to eat any vegan food, but the other two of us ate sofritas. We had it for dinner.

It tastes like chunky salsa. It's barely noticeable at all. It just tastes like someone ladled another bit of salsa onto your bowl. It's not bad, but it's not filling. Both of us eating sofritas agreed that we were not satisfied after eating it. It'd be fine alongside something more substantial, like steak or barbacoa.

Sofritas is also a really generic term, but I'm ok with that.
Source: Wikipedia

Cinnamon Snail

I've never eaten at Cinnamon Snail (from Cinnamon Snail? What's right with a food truck?), even though I've been in NYC since they opened.

I was interested to see that they were closing, but what was more interesting to me were the thoughts of the owner.
One of the reasons I think the Cinnamon Snail thrived is that it embraced ingredients like tofu and tempeh, but didn't try to mimic meat. You celebrated what they actually tasted like.
I agree. It’s never been a goal of mine to make it taste just like you’re eating meatballs. I find that to be a morbid obsession that some people have with vegetarian cooking — trying to make it taste like a dead animal, except it’s not a dead animal. Nor do I find that kind of food to be very nourishing, and that, in my purpose of cooking food, is a very important thing. I want it to be food that leaves you feeling satisfied and good. I don’t want it to be stuff that clogs up your colon and looks like a piece of meat.
Though the vegan doughnuts turned out to become a huge hit!
Yeah, the doughnuts were like the gateway drug for people. I don't want people to be eating deep-fried dough that much, but if it's going to lure them in and the next time they're like, "Oh, let's try this seitan breakfast burrito," and then, before you know it, this food doesn't have to become the stereotype that it's health food-y or fake.
I've been vegan, and it's a common misconception that all vegan food is healthy. This is a restaurant owner who is trying to push people towards a healthier diet, and he's doing it with delicious food. Granted, doughnuts as a way to convert them is not going to win him points with any doctors, but it's a start.

Less Meat

These are both part of the trend of people moving towards eating less meat. I don't think that Chipotle has hit the right note with their sofritas, and I don't think that it'll last. The person who ate sofritas with me is a former vegetarian. Chipotle would be better off serving seitan than shredded tofu. I like eating vegan meat that tastes and feels like dead animals, but that's me. During Lent especially, I focus on fish and non-meat for meals. It looks like I'll be heading to Whole Foods to look for some soon.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Mobile Banking

I was interested in Fred Wilson's post on mobile banking. It says that this is the new revolution. And it is, to some extent.

From The Verge:

IN THE VILLAGE OF Sori along the banks of Kenya’s Lake Victoria, fishing has long been the lynchpin of the local economy. Jobs here are largely divided by gender: men catch the fish, and the women process the meat, take it to market, and handle finances.
As detailed in a 2012 study from the SIT Graduate Institute, residents of Sori traditionally kept their money at home. Theft was a constant concern, and many of the women interviewed reported their husbands misappropriating their savings. For many, traditional banks were either too far away, or demanded minimum deposits the villagers could not afford.
All that changed in 2007 with the introduction of M-PESA, a mobile service that allows Kenyans to store and transfer their money using only a cell phone. Funds can be exchanged over the network using SMS messages, meaning it works on almost any mobile phone. M-PESA agents spread throughout the country allow users to convert their credit to cash and deposit or withdraw from their accounts. The majority of Sori women interviewed for the study now keep their savings in M-PESA accounts, safe from criminals and wasteful purchases.
M-PESA also revolutionized how the women sold their goods. Prior to M-PESA, the women worked only in cash. To sell their fish, the women would have to travel by bus to markets, trips that cost them money and time. Since the adoption of M-PESA, the women send the fish to market by bus and receive payment remotely. "Where it may have taken a woman a week to sell two bags of fish in Nairobi, she now spends one morning buying and sending the fish on a bus to Nairobi for sale by her customers," reports the study. With their newfound savings, women reported being able to make long-term investments: sending their children to better schools and building themselves more durable homes to withstand seasonal floods.
There is unequivocal proof that M-PESA has a positive impact on people’s financial health."
Those financial benefits convinced many, including the Gates Foundation, that mobile money was a powerful tool in the fight against global poverty. "People being able to participate on their phone, no matter where they live, even if they’re in a remote rural village in Tanzania or Kenya, they’ll be able to save small micro-payments," Gates toldThe Verge during an interview in New York. "They can participate on the economy through their phone, but also in the fall when it’s time to pay the school fees, they’ve saved the money for the year. That’s transformative for their family." 
Does that sound good to you? It does to me. But it's harder to get there than you think. A lot of mobile banking experiments have already been tried; it's harder to launch than it looks like. It is the next frontier, and the people who can make it easy to transact with a cell phone will win the game.

This isn't all about African nations. In the US, after the financial crisis, 2k bank branches shut down, 90% of which were in poor areas. It wasn't cost effective for the banks to serve the poorest people. However, that can change with mobile banking.

I thought about it a lot, and I realized that I do a fair amount of mobile banking. I love the convenience of depositing a check to Chase or Simple remotely; I never have to go to a location. It's good to have at least one bank account at a brick and mortar, but I'm already doing a lot of my banking online. One of the strengths of Simple is how good (and necessary) their mobile integration is. As soon as I swipe my card, it shows up on my Simple account. It's almost as good as a receipt. When I temporarily didn't have the Simple mobile app on my phone, I didn't use my card -- there was no differentiation from any of my other cards.

In the Simple mobile app, you can transfer money and pay bills. You can move money between your Goals and your Safe-to-Spend. In a lot of ways, that's the future. It's so much more convenient than really going into a physical bank.

I talked about Maurice and privilege. It's easy for me to bank online; it's much harder if you don't have a real computer or Internet connection. However, with the prevalence and affordability of smartphones now, people can transact on their phones. Security is going to be an issue, just as security is always an issue around money, but it will be a good thing. People in poorer neighborhoods can deposit money from their phones. They don't have to go to a sketchy check-cashing place when they get their paychecks. There will always be ATMs to make sure that you can withdraw cash, but all of us are moving away from operating in physical money, from the bottom to the top.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Toyota's Ha:mo System

Toyota is piloting small motorbikes not unlike Lit Motors' C-1. Under Toyota's model, you ride a small bike for short distances. The battery lasts 3 hours, which is way longer than you'd expect an intra-city journey.

Source: Fortune
Unlike the naysayers, I believe that Hamo (it is really annoying to type the colon) will work. There's a reason why Toyota piloted in Grenoble, France, rather than the more obvious choice of Japan. Japan doesn't need these vehicles. Grenoble does. We're not targeting huge megacities like NYC and LA.  You're looking at midsize cities where this kind of approach would be practical and much cheaper than actually owning a car. Toyota should be targeting places that are at the outskirts of a city; dense enough for people to walk to a charging station to pick up a Hamo, far apart enough for a car to be practical. It will work in suburbia. Think about it: what if you put a set of Hamo in every major neighborhood? People could use them to get to work in the morning; I wouldn't be surprised if there was a little bit of surge charging. Obviously, nobody wants to go as far as Uber, but there's definitely an increase in demand during rush hour if people drive these into the city in the morning.

There will always be people who want their own cars. The prototypical example of someone wanting their own cars (particularly Millennials) is a baby. You don't want to have to take the car seat in and out every time, but you need it to stay in the car. You also need room for a diaper bag.

Nonetheless, these cars are excellent for one-person navigation. The C-1 can hold two people, and I wouldn't be surprised if these can as well. 

Friday, February 6, 2015

Tech and Privilege

Until today, I really thought that anyone could learn how to code. I reasoned that I had, and I'm not the sharpest when it comes to coding.
But I was wrong.

I read an incredibly thought-provoking Medium article about teaching an underprivileged kid to code. He didn't really have a working computer. He didn't have Internet at home. These things are considered normal, basic things in middle class households, but we have to think about working class households and the resources they have.

For $349, you can buy a fully functional Chromebook with 200 MB/month free WiFi for life. Anyone can code if they can save up that much money. The problem arises when someone can't. Someone, say, who lives in Brooklyn and is a teenager.

It reminded me of the guy who taught a homeless man to code. That guy got a Chromebook, and the teacher stopped by every day to work with him.

NYC should go the way of South Korea by providing free wifi for everyone. It really would help a lot of people, and it's not too much to ask. There'd still be premium Internet providers, but people like Maurice would have an easier time of it.
Source: Medium
This kid's a go-getter. He looked for more, and he found it. And he's faced a lot of barriers just to get to where he is, but I think that he has the tenacity to keep going. And I admire that.

We need to knock down the barriers that prevent motivated kids like him from moving forward.

White and Asian Women

If you’re in the tech industry and truly care about diversifying the workforce, and not just by hiring more white and Asian women, you can help.
I was offended by that as an Asian woman in the tech industry. I actually found this article via Tracy Chou.
I've known of her via Quora for a long time (and was a follower there), as she used to work there, and now she's at Pinterest. She got featured in Vogue for her initiative to bring more transparency to diversity in tech. She made a big splash with her Medium post, including this write-up in the WaPo.

It's still really challenging to be a woman of color in tech. Erica Joy did an AMAZING post about her experience as a female minority in tech. And there's some of it that's unique to being a black lady, but there's some of it that really applies to all women and the nasty tokenism that pervades tech. "We need more diversity" means that "we need to look like we're diverse", not that they actually value the different perspectives that each person brings. It's people who fight the good fight who bring sexism and racism to light. It does seem backward to me that Gerard O'Neill would sneer at one kind of diversity while trying to ask for more diversity.