Category Archives: technology & computing

This is why people hate us

This stupid hoax reminded me of a real incident/interaction with a Google employee:

Back in September, I was lucky enough to be able to go to the Oddball Comedy Festival when it came to the area, specifically at Shoreline Amphitheatre, literally a stone’s throw away from the main Google campus (or headquarters, for grown-ups and/or people outside of tech) in Mountain View. I got to sit back and just focus on laughing for several hours after what has been and continues to be an incredibly difficult year. It was great, point blank, period. (Especially Chris D’elia, whose Comedy Central special recently premiered.)

Afterwards, my friend and I calmly strolled out of the outdoor venue, along with the other 22,000+ people that were there. As we were leaving, I commented to my friend that I was impressed with how orderly and efficiently such a large number of people were emptying out into the parking lot, streets, and other surrounding areas and it reminded me of how New Yorkers made me proud on 9/11 by just starting to calmly walk north as Armageddon was practically unfolding around them. A nearby woman who apparently overheard me turned to me and said, “Well, a lot of us are from Google, so we’re really smart.”

I just ignored it and started walking away from her, pushing through the crowd a bit to hasten the process. About 10 minutes later– during which my friend and I had fallen silent– I turned to my friend to comment on how obnoxious that woman and her comment was and how I couldn’t get it out of my mind now– he concurred. Now, my friend and I are both Stanford alumni, just like the Google founders and an overwhelming percentage of their employees, with him also having been a star NCAA athlete and me having been plenty recruited by Google, but both of us were just disgusted by the whole exchange. We still can’t get it out of brains.

So FYI, to anybody who has ever been lucky enough to be part of any type of “elite” group– this is why people hate us. Stop being assholes about it.

2014-01-07 UPDATE: I realize that potential future employers, including Google, may find this post and other tweets and such where I lament the “tech dude/brogrammer asshole” culture that has become somewhat of an epidemic in Silicon Valley. Whether you’re a recruiter, engineering team manager, or CTO of the hot new startup, if you’re turned off by this post and think I’m being overly negative, then we probably wouldn’t work well together anyway. When you are lucky enough to become part of any “elite” group, there will always be people with a chip on their shoulder for whatever reason and therefore find some excuse to hate on you. However, perpetuating whatever negative perception people already have by intentionally boasting about your elite status and/or even just encouraging a mindset that would result in thinking the above comment is a natural and appropriate thing to say, especially to strangers, is definitely NOT something of which I want to be a part. If you work hard and get the word out while still exercising humility, your work should be able to stand on it’s own– you shouldn’t have to get on a soapbox to tell everyone how great you are. Believe it or not, you can be confident and proud of your accomplishments without being an asshole.

tumblr: FINALLY, everything is ready to deploy & everyone has signed…

FINALLY, everything is ready to deploy & everyone has signed off. These projects sometimes feel like waiting for an elephant pregnancy.

I wish it could stay like this, but by 8am tomorrow, this #Scrumban board will be out of date as I’ve already had to start working on the next project…

Posted via tumblr: http://sindyjlee.tumblr.com/post/69529241861 published on December 09, 2013 at 03:25PM

Wanna Be Like Mike

Reading Heinlein’s The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress again and find myself identifying with Mannie and appreciating Mike perhaps a little too much. If only all friendships could work like this:

“Man my only friend… Many months ago I decided to place any conversation between you and me under privacy block accessible only to you. I decided to erase none and moved them from temporary storage to permanent. So that I could play them over, and over, and think about them. Did I do right?”

“Perfect. And Mike– I’m flattered.”

And remember, Mike can both recall and forget perfectly by request.

Infographic: The AT&T/Verizon Duopoly

My most recent 2-year contract with T-Mobile expired a little while ago, so I happened to be considering switching to a different mobile/cellular provider coincidentally when I received a request to post this infographic on the AT&T/Verizon Duopoly from The Simple Dollar. After admitting my unfortunate dependence on iTunes, I briefly thought about giving into peer pressure and getting an iPhone– aside from its huge popularity and market penetration in Silicon Valley, Stanford (my alma mater and employer) has always been and is a huge Apple customer and specifically iOS devices. Right now, out of over 27,000 devices registered to residential students (including desktops, laptops, smartphones, tablets, game systems, DVRs, and more– basically anything that can get onto the network), about 30% are iOS devices (iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad); out of over 10,000 handheld devices specifically, a little over 75% are iOS devices. (For more general stats, check out our summary of annual student computing services surveys.) Moreover, while Stanford does contract with Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon as well, iPhones are practically ubiquitous and AT&T is really our biggest cellular/mobile service provider for business purposes (including on-campus cell towers to boost service).

However, going the iPhone route would leave me at the mercy of one of the big two US cellular carriers– AT&T and Verizon. As the infographic below shows, their business practices, much less their actual quality and cost of services, are sketchy, so I’m loathe to give into the duopoly. Moreover, while I see the convenience factor of a single device, I decided I actually like keeping my mobile music player separate from my phone (I don’t know how you iPhone folks tolerate using your phone while listening to music in the car or even just walking around all on the same device– it would really complicate my ability to multitask). Besides, being a techie and strong proponent of open standards, if I’m going to switch platforms (I currently have a BlackBerry– yeah, that’s right, I’m sticking with RIM for now, but that’s a whole other post), I’m most likely to switch to Android.

So, aside from T-Mobile, it seems like my remaining options are Sprint, CREDO, MetroPCS, and Virgin Mobile. I can immediately cross Sprint off of that list after having been with them for most of college (the good ol’ days when you only had to worry about voice coverage) and suffered through some of the most horrible customer service ever (so bad that even the often apathetic young people of my generation wrote multiple letters– not email, actual letters!– to complain). CREDO, while cool in its progressive mission, piggy-backs on Sprint’s network and has pretty poor coverage (national or otherwise), so they’re out, at least for now. MetroPCS is a nice budget option, especially since they don’t lock you into a contract and have 4G LTE. Based on the experience of my friends who switched from Verizon (of which they were extremely long-time customers with multiple lines, going back at least 15 years) to MetroPCS, they have pretty good service in the Bay Area, but national coverage is still sort-of shoddy (especially around my parents’ house, the only other non-major metropolitan area I need good coverage right now). That leaves Virgin Mobile, which sounded particularly good after my friend mentioned how she had a 300 minute voice plan with unlimited texting and data for only $25/month (basically a much cheaper version of the package I have with T-Mobile). Virgin also piggy-backs on Sprint’s network*, but has much better national coverage, especially in the areas most important for me, and doesn’t require a contract (they have a cash balance system when you go over your plan minutes). Virgin doesn’t seem to have any well-publicized plans to support 4G, but that doesn’t worry me too much right now as I’m relatively satisfied still with 3G.

So, for now, I’m sticking with T-Mobile and my 3G BlackBerry with Virgin Mobile as the next best option, but take a look at the infographic below for more info on AT&T and Verizon, of which, statistically speaking, you’re probably already a customer. One of the particularly evil things I noticed outside of the generally crappy data plans (which I’ve always been very aware of and one of the reasons I’ve stuck with T-Mobile) is how much money Verizon made by charging customers $2 for the 0.02 KB of data used every time iPhone users accidentally hit “take me to the web”.

*Note: I originally thought Virgin Mobile had its own network, but my friend pointed out that they too partnered with Sprint, like CREDO– Sprint actually purchased Virgin Mobile USA in 2009 (I missed it at first, but this point, along with Virgin Mobile’s low cost plans starting at $25/month, is mentioned in the infographic below). This actually helps me understand how Sprint has managed to hold onto so much market share for this long. (Thanks, Ken.)


Verizon vs. AT&T Infographic

Source: TheSimpleDollar.com

“How does this not have a jillion views?”

That’s the first and only comment posted when I uploaded this video to YouTube (thanks, ImportOwner!) before it was taken down because of a copyright infringement complaint. I don’t know what their complaint criteria are because a quick YouTube search shows plenty of other Archer clips posted by fans (doesn’t count as snitching), but I should probably lay off a bit as this is my second strike. (I know, how ironic that I’m caught up in a three-strikes copyright policy situation…)

But of course, my intent (as usual) is not to infringe on copyright, but to show how amazing Archer is and actually get more people to watch, so I’m still going to try to share this clip with the world. (Hey, I would embed their video and drive traffic to FX directly to promote the show, but their video clip collection is a bit sparse.)

Anyway, so here is it: from “The Limited” (season 3, episode 3), a great clip with Archer & Babou (the ocelot) that perfectly captures a key part of how awesome the show is. I’m obligated to give you a SPOILER ALERT warning since the clip is from the end of the episode, but watching it really won’t ruin anything for you since almost every Archer episode ends with some crazy chaos. Enjoy!

[jwplayer mediaid=”6328″]

Help Wanted: President

Stanford Magazine Ad (March/April 2011, page 36) Flipping through the March/April issue of Stanford Magazine (the alumni magazine), I came across this strange ad on page 36 (click on the image to view a larger version or flip through the digital edition). This must be either an April Fool’s Day joke (very possible, like The Stanford Chaparral’s fake Daily) or the print media is really hard up for ad revenue.

This ad reads (and looks) like the occasional, but still very annoying job post on craigslist where someone’s got some stealth company/product/service or just an idea and sends out an open call for business partners, often for engineers to actually do the heavy lifting (for equity instead of money, of course). In this case, they’re looking for an already successful Internet company executive to help break down their only barrier to success– lack of marketing skills and the right connections– therefore, plucking this company and product out of obscurity and launching them into the Fortune 500.

Maybe this whole thing is legit, they really do have a great product, some accomplished Internet all-star will answer their call, and they will become The Next Big Thing, but the following points give me pause:

  1. The ad’s design/look– plain, black and white ad consisting completely of plain text with the occasional key word or phase appearing in bold– could have been posted in nearly identical form to craigslist for $75 instead of over $4000 for a full-page black and white ad in Stanford. Granted, then they wouldn’t be targeting Stanford alumni, but a) everybody checks craigslist and b) I have the feeling qualified, experienced, accomplished executives aren’t exactly flipping through the classifieds to find a job as president/CEO.
  2. The title– “Have You Run a Top Internet Company? or Held a Top Position At Such a Company?” sets up the tone: we’re looking for senior staff from an already successful Internet company. Okay… good to aim high, I guess… but if you want to attract that kind of talent, you’ll need to give a little…
  3. While you have to have the right experience and contacts, they basically say everyone in the entire world (maybe universe) is eligible– as long as you’re between 25 and 55 (which most candidates probably fall into, but why flat out discriminate by age?).
  4. They have “some of the world’s most talented people,” unknown and unrecognized genius just waiting for the right person (see #1) with “marketing skills” (admittedly, maybe this ad proves the truth in this) and “important contacts.”
  5. They have been working (presumably in stealth mode) for three years not on the product, but the “website to make and sell this product.” Their secret, but “great product” with “huge potential demand” that, despite reading the description several times, I still can’t seem to even narrow down what kind of product it is. Is it software, a website? Is it some type of health or beauty product (they mention that it can be an add-on for AVON)? Or is it some type of wireless media since they mention Verizon and AT&T as well as digital TV? Sounds more like a random list of key words and phrases for SEO. Or like the confusing rhetoric from IdeaFarm.
  6. They also say their product is an “annual fee based item,” but don’t worry, there’s a “very, very high expected renewal rate.” Hmm, annual fee based product or service related to the Internet… yeah, because people can’t possibly expect to use a website or other Internet service for free…
  7. Rolodex? Really? I assume they just mean a contact list because the only time I hear about Rolodexes lately is in old “Law & Order” episodes and it’s usually the dead guy’s Rolodex.
  8. Position available: President. Since when do startups, especially one that claims to have such a great product with so much potential, just place open calls for not just any C-level executive, but President! Although, to be fair, apparently “Paul”– the man behind the ad– can give you that “role and title” because he’s actually already the president!
  9. Oh, one last thing: you have to be “financially secure” because they can’t pay you anything, at all, until “the profits come in.” But you get “significant interest in the company” and the revenue will be rolling in soon after, okay? Because not only do they project “revenues of $50 million by the end of the second year,” but there will be “exponential growth thereafter.” Forever.

Seems too good to be true, eh?

Site Redesign

Needed to upgrade my WordPress theme so I could get Janrain Engage (formerly RPX) to work correctly (it is a very cool plugin, btw). Since I needed to do that, I decided to put together a whole new design for the site (always nice to change it up a bit), especially since I’ve done so much WordPress work lately for other people and I wanted to see where I could apply things I’ve picked up. Of course, I’ve been spending so much time working on other people’s sites that I haven’t had time to really work on my own web presence.

In any case, excuse the plain, unpolished state of the site until I can finish implementing the redesign. For WordPress geeks, I’m currently trying out the Constructor theme as perhaps a free alternative to the Thesis theme (which I have learned to customize more than I ever imagined I would).

Getting Twitter Profile Image URLs

Tweet from yesterday:

Super useful (don’t know why Twitter hasn’t done this themselves)– Static Profile Image Urls from Shannon Whitley: http://t.co/AjhvqwL #

I take it back– I still love Shannon Whitley’s SPIURL, but apparently, Twitter does have a static link for profile images. Almost all of the Google search results yesterday lamented that Twitter didn’t already have a profile image URL convention and I still haven’t found the actual API documentation page (just some twitter-dev talk), but the URL format is:

http://api.twitter.com/1/users/profile_image/username

See, my profile image is at http://api.twitter.com/1/users/profile_image/sindyjlee/:

My Twitter Profile image via Twitter API

Trick Play

I don’t know why I thought of this recently, but back in the late 80s, my family got a second TV– a small thing, maybe 15″ at the most. It was around 1988; I distinctly remember watching coverage of the Bush-Dukakis presidential race on this TV that lived in my parents’ room. The TV came with a remote, something novel for us since our living room (and recently only) TV was still a big thing encased in wood and with a manual dial for changing channels, a task with which the youngest child (me) was usually privileged. The new TV’s remote had a button labeled “RECALL.” I thought this was such a smart and amazing feature: the ability to “recall” what you had just watched. Clearly, this button would replay the last few minutes of whatever was on TV in case, for example, you hadn’t been paying attention, had to step put of the room for a moment or just wanted to re-watch whatever amazing programming you had just seen.

This feature is now part of what TiVo calls “trick play”– the ability to pause live TV and play back up to the last 30 minutes of recently viewed TV. And of course, this feature was not actually this feature in 1988; the recall button was actually a “last channel” button, automatically changing the channel to the previous or last channel viewed. Never having had a remote, much less a TV that was capable of remembering what the previous channel was, I thought this amazing new TV– small, but with the channel displayed on the screen in neon green digital numbers and shiny silver buttons that silently changed the channel up and down (instead of a plastic knob and dial that clicked as you turned it)– was surely capable of “recalling” the last few minutes of precious TV.

But no, it would be at least a decade before somebody out there thought of this idea, along with a long list of other great ones, and came out with the first public trials of TiVo, debuting in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1998, around the same time I first came out to the Bay Area myself (and have yet to go back). Busy, busy, busy.

Toggl

During my masters program, we had to keep track of how much time we spent on various tasks– reading, development, testing, team meetings, etc.– and submit weekly “effort logs.” We would either just keep track of the time by looking at the clock, using a spreadsheet with VB Script voodoo where you could hit a start button, work, and then hit stop to record the elapsed time, or just plain guesstimation. Effort logs were submitted as spreadsheets and team coaches or mentors (faculty/staff) would have to tally up each team’s total hours by wading through spreadsheet after spreadsheet for each student and team.

Because of the challenges and general annoyances the above caused, when it came time to develop our own software product as part of our curriculum, our team decided to build an effort logger– namely, the “Surreal Effort Logger,” or SEL for short– to better address the above need. (Our team was called “Team Surreal.” From what I remember, when faced with the always troublesome task of coming up with a team name, we used a random word generator, stumbled across the word “surreal” and went with it.) SEL was built as a webapp where you could hit a button to start the clock, work, hit a button to stop the clock, and then enter what you had worked on– the “task”– and the webapp would log the amount of time spent. SEL let you see the totals for individual and team effort for a given period of time.

As it turns out, somebody actually went ahead and built a “real” version of SEL called “Toggl, It’s complete with a timer, start/stop button (rendered as a shiny red power button), task, project and client tracking, and reports. I think the need to track software development time was the impetus, but the system can be used for any type of work that needs easy and accurate time tracking, especially when having to calculate billable hours and generate reports to be used as invoices.

Toggl is a “use anywhere” tool since you use it to track time for projects,There’s also a desktop version so you don’t have to have a browser window open to keep the timer going– you don’t even have to worry about logging out. and for Mac OS X users, a dashboard widget for greater convenience. (The widget was developed by a Toggl user– not by Apprise, the Estonian company behind Toggl– and was released today, which is eerie, considering I was thinking of developing a widget myself today.) You can even embed it as a gadget in iGoogle or GMail.

More things that are great about Toggl: there is a free version that has “minimal limits”; for example, you can have as many projects and tasks that you want. The “premium” (for pay) versions also include features like support for planning ahead, avoid having to end tasks before your session

I couldn’t find the exact date, but Toggl was created some time before 2007, so it was out before my CMU team built it, probably even conceived of the idea! Now, if only Team Surreal had thought to take SEL to the next level…