Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Being the Product: Google Edition

Fred Wilson uses Gmail for his emails. He gets 700-900 a day. He was complaining this morning that the priority inbox algorithm changed. Seth Godin wrote that it was a key problem of our time. We are the product, not the service. We all rely on Google. Even though I started doing Bing Rewards, I have to go back to Google for News, Finance, and Maps. Bing doesn't come close in those areas. The UI is abysmal for Finance and Maps (Google's isn't tons better, though it is better). News from Google is way better than Bing's News. I am still sore about the shutdown of Google Reader.
Tim Cook
Source: Apple

Tim Cook talked about privacy and encryption with the release of iOS 8. They reconfigured it so that nobody could read your messages, besides you.

I've written about Google a lot. I originally had hotmail, then I had Yahoo! mail, and now I have Gmail. I've stayed with Gmail for probably just as long as I stayed with my hotmail account.

It makes me uncomfortable that Google engineers can read my emails. If Apple offered Mail in a way that had a UI comparable to Google's, I'd seriously consider switching to my iCloud account. Alas, their interface is horrible, so I'm going to stick where I am.

I think that Yahoo! mail has made leaps and bounds since Marissa Mayer took the reins, and I like how they push things into Boxbe. Sometimes, though, I Have to wade into Boxbe to find an email that I need. It's not a perfect solution, but it's where I would go if Google had a huge privacy scandal. I don't know if Yahoo! does a better job with privacy, though.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

One Asian CEO in the Workforce

I read a TIME article about Asian-Americans in the workforce. There are Asians in many companies, and the problem is that they don't get promoted.

Bamboo Ceiling

There remain problems with other minorities and their representation in the workforce, and I understand that. The Asians are trying to find ways to get past the Bamboo Ceiling, which I suppose might be the last mile. I still remember when everyone was abuzz over Wesley Yang speaking about it in 2011. It was so shocking to see that our culture was holding us back, as well as ridiculous prejudices.

Wesley Yang
Source: NY Mag

Model Minority and Learning

The TIME article talked about the model minority and how difficult reverse racism is/was for Asian-Americans. People ignore that slackers don't get A-s. There are Asian kids who are failing out, and it's harmful to always assume that an Asian child is automatically good at school. It makes it so terrible t be a child who isn't doing well. I do not know any Asian-American kid who has dyslexia or any other learning disability, but it's hard because people expect you to be someone you are not.

Being My Own Boss

There are people in my family who are better suited to leadership positions than I am. In the coworking space where I spend some of my days, I can hear the interaction of a boss with his employees. It's something that I've escaped by working for myself. I have effectively promoted myself to the CEO position of a one-person business.

Tony Hsieh graduated from Harvard with his Computer Science degree and wait straight to work at Oracle.

Working From Home

Yesterday, when I was at choir, someone asked me if I was working from home. I told her that I didn't, but I could. She replied that she couldn't, because she'd never get anything done. I retorted that I'd never get paid if I didn't work. That is true.

Societal Expectations

It's not easy all the time, especially when family members are aghast at the low amount of hours that I do per week for paid employment. I'm an entrepreneur, though not at a startup, and I identified with this Medium post.


It's a major concern, and it was one of the first questions from my family. I'm currently covered under COBRA, because I like no co-pay, no deductible coverage. When it runs out or I move out of state, I'll be eligible to switch my health insurance. I can also enroll during any open enrollment period for Obamacare.

Obamacare is a tremendous leap forward, and it's integral to the sharing economy. Without the possibility of health coverage, many freelancers like me would stick to their 9-5 jobs and not leapfrog to the CEO spot. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Voting in the Upcoming Midterm Elections

So election season has come around yet again. There's a lot of campaigning and pushing and shoving in Wisconsin over the gubernatorial race, so there's a lot of posters and such around the community. I was interested to see Lil Jon in a video about turning out for the midterm elections. He said that he was showing up to vote for the legalization of MJ. There are a lot of reasons to show up to vote, and there's a huge list.

Millennial Voters in Midterms

Whoever made the video did a good job of listening to Millennial concerns. Even though less than 25% showed up for the last midterm, Millennials have a lot of opinions. It's ok to do a big push for presidential elections, where about half of us vote, but it's worth it to target us for midterms. If that means that I'll see a lot of candidate ads on Youtube, so be it.

I personally do not at this time identify with either party. If anything, I am part of the Far Center. I'd like more moderate candidates, but the primary process does not allow centrists anymore, as shown by the ousting of Senator Richard Lugar, who was one of Indiana's senators for most of my life.

Asians in NoVA

I was interested to see that people are trying to get the Asian vote. Asians make up about 5% of the American population, but apparently there's enough of them in Northern Virginia to tip the scales. I've gotten random robo-calls from campaigns in Los Angeles touting Chinese or Korean candidates.
Superstar Eric Liu, former Clinton speechwriter
Source: CNN

It's interesting to see a growing wave of Asian-American influence (sorry, Eric Liu) in politics in some of the larger cities/metropolitan areas. I'm not sure if the Asian community is actually united in platform.

The Hispanic community of Florida is divided. Most of the Cubans (such as Marco Rubio) are Republicans, in response to the communism in Cuba. Others, who still subscribe to the more collectivistic cultures of Latin America, are more likely to vote Democrat.

I see Asian voters going the same way. There's such a diversity in the Asian community that I can't imagine truly uniting under one banner. That means that political outreach to the Asian community relies on having a flexible platform with open ears and responsiveness to feedback.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Weekly Use

I was reading this old post, and I was wondering which sites that I use on a daily basis, a few months later. One of the Google cofounders said that there's a toothbrush test: what is useful and is used once or more a day? My test is what is used at least once per week, according to my browser history.

  • A bajillion news sites
  • News.Ycombinator.Com
  • Feedly
  • Twitter
  • Gmail
  • Kindle Cloud Reader
  • Bing (because of Bing Rewards - I've found that I still have to use Google for Finance and if Bing can't serve up satisfactory results. MSN money is better for hardcore investors. Google Finance is good for casual dilettantes.)
  • 750words
  • The Wordpress site of my new business
  • Google Voice
  • Wikipedia
  • AVC
  • ERE
  • MMM
  • TechCrunch
  • McKinsey
  • Amazon
  • MOOCs: Coursera and NovoEd (sometimes Udacity)
  • Kboards
  • Youtube (especially JennaMarbles)
  • Startup where I work as an independent contractor
  • Blogger (obviously, ha)
That list summarizes probably more than 80% of my Internet usage. I have a bunch of Google products listed, as well as two separate Amazon products.

It's not a smooth segue between the China article and this one, but I was really looking at what I use on a daily or weekly basis. Most of these services are free, with the major exception of 750words. I use Feedly more often than NewsBlur, but I do always revert to NewsBlur when Feedly goes down or errors out, which it occasionally does. For a few days, I may have to switch back to NewsBlur. I couldn't deal with their reliability issues, but I still believe in open source work, and I had no interest in hosting it myself. It made sense then and makes sense now to pay someone for the work that he does, because it does help me. I just don't use it normally.

You know what sites aren't on the list? WSJ and NYT. I still probably hit them weekly or slightly less frequently (they fall under the bajillion umbrella), but they aren't daily sites for me. NYT doesn't allow basically any traffic from Google Chrome. WSJ is always full of interesting news, and I love it; however, it's far too expensive. It's actually cheaper to get the paper version. However, I just read it when I'm at the library. I also try to backdoor into it, and I normally fail. The WSJ paywall is extremely strong. The NYT's isn't as porous as it used to be. That's why we direct traffic away from the paid sites into the ones that can still tell use what's going on. See an example of Fred Wilson doing it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Review of Jarvis, the AI plus College-educated, US-based assistant

The Beginning

I got curious about Jarvis when I read about it in TechCrunch. I am not in a position to hire a full-time assistant; in fact, I rather suspect that my part-time job is as an AI augmenter, frankly. 

You can see a quick demo of where they were in September 2013. You can also reach even further back to January 2012. There seems to be a Jarvis OS that can integrate with your home, so there may be crossover with the January 2012 post; it could also be an independent project.

I did get interested enough, after an exchange with a bestselling author's sweet and responsive assistant, to sign up on the wait list. I thought that it would be like BankSimple's wait list, where I waited for a really long time before the service went live to outsiders.

I was wrong.

Jarvis Contacts Me

They sent me an email that I had just signed up on their wait list 18 hours ago, which was pretty prompt. Because my Internet was out (important detail), I signed up using my phone. Surprisingly, their interface was good enough to be responsive on mobile. They integrated with Stripe to take my number, and of course the UI of Stripe is gorgeous and easy.

I figured that I could stay there for the 7-day trial at least.

Day 1, which became Day 2

I had zero idea of how to use a personal assistant. I've never had one, and I'm a very DIY person, thanks to reading ERE for more than 5 years. Most people put me in the shade (all the others really do everything on their own), but I'm probably the weakest person you can be and still consider yourself an EREr.

The first SMS I got said hello and asked me what I didn't want to do today. It also said that I could ask for ideas, if I didn't have any.

I asked for ideas. I wanted to sound out the service and its uses.

Jarvis gave me the list which is on the FAQ page. That they could wait on the phone to talk to customer service interested me, since that's a major pain point for almost everybody. I've waited an enormous amount of time on the phone for someone to pick up, and if you could outsource it, it would be well worth $99 a month, which is the cheapest plan that you can get. You can have unlimited 15-minute tasks, so I asked how long they would stay on the line. I've definitely called customer service and waited longer than 15 minutes. They said that they would do it for an hour.

As I said above, my Internet was out, so I started to ask questions that you could Google. I was interested in response times. I know that there's a person behind the computer, which means that the answers I would get might be even better filtered than Google can do (an impressive feat).

Exchange with Jarvis
All of these times are EST. Even though I'm now living in Wisconsin, my account is primarily still in EST.

Their starter plan says that Jarvis will respond instantly and that tasks will be completed in 8 hours. According to one test case, that's not true. I got pretty quick response times initially, but the coworking request took them a relatively long time. My question was sent at 5:28 PM EST, and I got the answer at 10:57 AM EST the next day. When I checked in at 7:18 AM EST, they responded more than 3 hours later.

I've never had a personal assistant before. However, and maybe this is because I have a background in Quality Assurance, I'd like for things to do what they say on the box. The lag is inconsistent with what their marketing materials say.

I'm already in freight class because I'm going with their cheapest plan. Executives get tasks done in 4 hours while Jetsetters get them in 1. However, they aren't even keeping up with freight class waiting 8 hours for a 15-minute task. If Jarvis is available 24/7, then why did one question that can be easily researched online take that long?

More than anything, it made me question the processes that they are using to keep their promises. What QA are they doing? What kind of end-user feedback are they collecting?


They tell you upfront that it's easy to cancel. You can text Jarvis that you want to cancel. There's also a place to do it on the account page on I just did it online, after Jarvis got back to me on the Bowker question. When I hit the cancel button, they asked me if I was sure and wanted me to call them. I did click through, and I did cancel it during the 7-day trial.

Target Market: Time-Crunched Professionals

I'm not their target market. Jarvis is catering to the kind of person who exists in Silicon Valley and/or executives. Their plans which allow scheduling TaskRabbits are really meant for the kind of people who can afford and use TaskRabbits. I'm not one of those people. I'm probably most likely to be a TaskRabbit. I'm solidly on the serf side of the new inequality.

Jarvis is like Alfred, except Alfred is basically the housekeeper you wish you had. Jarvis is an interface which insulates you from the small annoyances of life. You'll never have to wait on the phone to talk to customer service again. You'll never have to answer your deluge of emails from random weirdos. (I have never read Mark Cuban's inbox, but I'm guessing part of it looks like the comment section of his blog.) If you go with the 2 more expensive plans, they'll answer your emails for you.

I feel weird about someone else answering my emails, even if I ever get the level where Fred Wilson is with 700-900 emails per day. I don't use Yesterbox yet, because I have little to no email where I need to respond via email.

I checked my sent messages over the last few months. In the last month, I primarily emailed my roommate, my family, the apartment managers, and my cover designers. That's not a long list of people, and it's unlikely that I'd need to outsource email responses to a third-party service.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Quick Lessons from 6 Weeks of Entrepreneurship

I'm an entrepreneur, and there are a lot of lessons learned just in the past month and a half.

1. Time is an artificial construct. When you work for yourself, you can get the job done when you want to. Results are all that matter.

2. It's very easy to do low value things. I learned this from Ramit Sethi early on. You need 3 customers, not Twitter, Facebook, or business cards.

3. Keep track of receipts, and make sure that you have an accounting system. I always thought that I'd be so good at this. When I entered college, I was going to be an accounting major. I definitely have kept track of trip and business expenses when traveling for my old job. It's harder than it looks, but I started using Zen99 very early on. Zen99 is my source of truth, and it doesn't even charge me to export my data! Hurray. Even though the interface is primarily geared towards self-employed drivers, it is still a godsend for someone just starting out. At some point, I'll need to find an accountant to get sorted out. For now, just keeping track is good enough for me.
Source: AndroidPit

I keep copies of physical receipts in Shoeboxed, which can automatically recognize how much the receipt is for. It also has better categories than Zen99 for expenses. I needed to pay a professional to make a logo for me, and Shoeboxed has the capability to recognize that sort of transaction. On Zen99, all of my transactions are Other or Office Supplies.

I'll be sure to post about new lessons as I move forward.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Sharing Economy: Perspective of an Uber Driver and TechCrunch columnist

I'm increasingly interested in the sharing economy. San Francisco is a microcosm of income inequality.

Peter, Uber, and the Sharing Economy

I read a Quora answer today about one person's experience in the sharing economy as an Uber driver. He was someone who lived in San Francisco and grew up in Berkeley. He grosses about $72,000 but makes about $45,000 after expenses. Other answers to the same question indicate that it's difficult to make it as an Uber driver; there are no sick days.

Someone asked him why he wouldn't move. He had an interesting answer. Looking at his other answers, he has worked in a variety of places. My immediate thought was that he could make more as a Kitchensurfing chef (8 people at $100/night would mean working two nights a week and still exceeding his current gross of $1500 per week), but they aren't in SF.

Jon Evans and the Sharing Economy

People have recently been writing about the sharing economy, and one is Jon Evans, who I referenced when I talked about the new feudalism in the technology companies.

He's identified the inevitable slide into an Extremistan world. There simply aren't enough 9 to 5 jobs for everyone in the American economy. I personally have a part-time job, too, though it's by choice, partly because my former job was more like a 7:30 to 7 job.

I don't think that it's a terrible thing to have additional small jobs for everyone. It does mean that everyone gets a piece of the pie; would you rather have two families barely able to afford housing and food (rooffood), or one completely destitute family and one middle class one?

Sidejobs and Employing SAHMs

There are those who have spare time and do TaskRabbit jobs in their spare time. Peter says that in Indianapolis Uber was hiring soccer moms, as if that was a bad thing. I grew up in the suburbs of Indianapolis, and Uber might be a good answer. 

Etsy is already facilitating the slide of the cottage industry; women who are stay-at-home mothers can make side money on their own time. Uber allows them to do the same.

Barbara Ehrenreich talked about how impossible it was to make it as a pretend single mom. Anything with mother's hours tends to have horribly low pay for very hard work.

I don't think there's anything wrong with Uber recruiting soccer moms. A job that would fit into the 9-2 slot when the kids are in school is a good job for mom, and it helps pay for the extras, like extra flute lessons. Soccer moms also tend to have the new cars that Uber requires. You can work as little or as much as you like, so if you want to stay at home with your sick child, you don't have to check in with your boss or use your sick leave. You just don't work that day.

Peter from the Quora example grosses about $33 per hour, if you take the high range of his hours at 5 9 hour shifts per week. That's really not bad for a job that lets you set your own hours, especially if you have a husband who already has a job that provides health insurance for the family.  It's a local job, and you'll never need to move for it. It won't conflict with your partner's career.

Controlling Costs: Tesla and Uber

You can also diminish some of the costs of driving for Uber that Peter mentioned. If you have a Tesla, you can pay around $378 per month after savings for a Model S. You might be driving more, but it's also crazy that you'd pay $251 per month for gas for a normal person. They figure that a normal person drives 30k miles per year. Peter says that he pays $800 a month per gas and gets an oil change every month or so; those are costs that are nearly eliminated with a Tesla. You will have to pay for electricity, especially because Tesla hasn't yet opened its Indianapolis SuperCharger station; however, the cost isn't $800 per month. 
Former CEO of Boloco

It's not a perfect job, but you get better ratings when you drive a Tesla S.

Complete sidenote: Apparently Tesla has partnered with Uber in Shanghai.