Monday, November 20, 2017

TIL: Traveling with Airbnb and Alaska Airlines

Today I learned (TIL) two things while booking travel to Cupertino.

1. Airbnb hosts are allowed to decline guests based on gender (but only if the host shares living spaces with their guest). In other words, a host can choose to only rent to a guest of the same gender; i.e. women can choose to rent to only women and men can choose to rent to only men in cases of shared spaces. However, a host cannot choose to only rent to a guest of the opposite gender.

2. Alaska Airlines has dirt cheap flights between San Diego and San Jose (<$60 one-way, including fees and taxes). But they’ll charge you an extra $11.95 to pick your seat. Since the plane I’m flying on has no middle seat, it didn’t matter.
Update: I may have made a mistake about Alaska Air; the $11.95 pick-your-seat fee may have been a fee charged by the online travel agent ( I'll let you know if I find out more info.

Le Mobile Feast: An American Adventure

Facebook reminded me that, two years ago, I went shopping with Steve Le as he looked for a teardrop trailer to tow behind his car.

Steve was in the early stages of planning an adventure across America where he would cook a dinner party in every state while writing a book about it. He decided to pass on the trailer in lieu of sleeping in the homes of his dinner party hosts for a more intimate connection. He realized that, while people may keep up their guard at a large dinner party, they lower it in the morning when wearing pajamas, while drinking coffee, in their own kitchen. 

Le Mobile Feast: Dinner Party One
I first met Steve a few years ago at a local Naval Academy chapter happy hour in San Diego. We immediately clicked since we both had open minds and enjoyed writing (the name of his adventure, Le Mobile Feast, is a hat tip to Hemingway's book, A Movable Feast). I've been to about ten of his dinner parties in California and a couple in New Orleans. I clearly recount what's become known as "Dinner Party Zero," on the 2015 winter solstice, at my place in downtown San Diego. That was followed shortly thereafter by "Dinner Party One" at the home of my girlfriend. To add a little mystery... a year after Dinner Party One, we had a "special" dinner party.

Along his journey he's interviewed many people and he has been interviewed on NPR. Steve's still working on the details of his book. Initially, he was considering writing a story about every stop and sharing the recipe. But, since he's become an empirical authority on U.S. citizens, he'll probably focus more on contrasting American politics during the final year of Obama and the first year of Trump.

You can follow his adventures on his website.

By the Numbers
Elapsed time: 21 months
States visited: 42
Cities visited: 98
Dinners cooked: 168
Plates served: 1,353
Dogs: 82

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Target Charging Kiosk

Have you ever walked into Target with a low battery charge on your phone and say to yourself, "I wish Target had a secure way to recharge my phone while shopping."

Lo and behold, Target has a locker kiosk exactly for that. Of course, my shopping list was on my phone (along with Pay). But it's still an improvement from the old days when I'd get to the grocery store and have to guess what I wrote on my shopping list that I left back home. It worked exactly as expected. I entered my phone number, e-mail address, and picked a security image from a list (dog, picnic, fire pit, etc) and then I choose a locker. To retrieve my phone, I entered my phone number, tapped my security image, and the locker opened. Simple.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Fake News, the First Amendment, & Critical Thinking

The challenge with fake news is it is protected by the First Amendment. Even a lie is protected by the First Amendment, in most circumstances (and there are clearly times when lying is OK).

The problem with fake news is "the amount of energy necessary to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it." This is known as the bullshit asymmetry. And this is a rare case when it's easier to create something (the lie) than destroy it.

We commonly see spin and propaganda in business and politics; they're pretty much both the same thing, depending on the context. I like to think of spin as highlighting the lie in a truth or the truth in a lie. Or, to put it gently, spin is about highlighting the positive in a negative or, especially in politics, the negative in a positive.

The solution to fake news is critical thinking. I will not tell you what to think. But, I am willing to show you how to think. And I am willing to tell you what I think. The rest is up to you.

The most important part of critical thinking is to know the source, confirm the facts as best you can, and understand (prioritize) the importance and relevance of arguments and ideas. If it doesn't make sense, then double-check it and avoid confirmation bias because once we make up our minds about something, we tend to stop learning about it.

And, never forget: Snopes and Wikipedia are your weapons in the war on ignorance. Open your eyes, only justice should be blind.

Steal an iPhone, Then What?

My buddy recently spent a couple weeks in Europe, traveling with friends. He went there for Oktoberfest then visited Italy, the Netherlands, and France. While in Paris, someone stole his buddy's iPhone. They tracked it down to a street corner where they found a group of hooligans (there's a word I rarely use); when confronted, the kids ran off.

My buddy and I both used to work at Apple, so we discussed what someone could do with a stolen iPhone. We concluded that a stolen iPhone is useless without the login and password, even if you replace the SIM card. Around 2010, iPhones and iPads were becoming hot items, making them a key item to steal. A common problem on the NYC subway was that a thief would snatch it out of a victim's hand when exiting a subway car as the doors were closing.

In response to the rash of thefts, Apple began making it impossible for an iPhone (or iPad) to be used without the proper credentials. These devices can't be reset to factory settings; so, if you forget your PIN or Apple ID login and password then your device is bricked.

UPDATE 8 Nov 2017: I asked a question at this morning's Tech Coffee"What good is a stolen iPhone?" and an entrepreneur answered with "Spare parts."
Can iPhones be stripped like a stolen car? Perhaps the screen?

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Tips for Getting Back into the Cockpit

Flying to Catalina.
One key thing I learned from Dave Winer about blogging is that its purpose is to narrate one's work. Whenever I type up a long "how to" e-mail, I realize that other's can probably use the info so I post it to my blog.

A classmate from the Naval Academy wrote me, today, saying that she wanted to get back into flying and she asked for my opinion. 

Here's my response...

Hello Melissa,

Great to hear from you.

Head-set, what type do you use? 
I used headset. It uses foam hearing aid plugs which provides excellent passive noise reduction (plus it doesn’t press against your glasses/sunglasses like traditional headsets). When I was learning to fly, a couple of my instructors were using headsets with active noise reduction (i.e. like Bose), but their batteries kept dying making the noice cancellation useless until they replaced the batteries.
If a helicopter uses the same two prong headset connector as a fixed wing plane then it should work.

Ipad? What are you using? Wi-fi, or the wifi plus cellular?
I always fly with my iPad using the ForeFlight app. It is phenomenal. It graphically shows TFRs, weather, etc. I have cellular so I can file a flight plan via ForeFlight  But cellular isn’t required. When you subscribe to the app, you can use it on two devices like an iPad and iPhone, so you could file your flight plane (VFR or IFR) via your iPhone.
You don’t need data connectivity when flying because ForeFlight downloads any VFR and IFR charts that you need, plus it’ll download the approach plates so you can see your position on an approach as well as on a taxi diagram. 
I have a Stratus receiver that I place above my panel and it relays NexRad weather and traffic to my iPad, plus Stratus has WAAS to augment GPS with accuracy down to one meter.

Kneeboard? Type you use?
I have a generic kneeboard that I bought at my flight school. Nothing special about that other than it has a bunch of handy stuff written on it like light signal codes for loss of communications, special transponder frequencies for emergencies, etc. 

Any sectionals or maps you recommend?
The FAA allows private pilots to use ForeFlight as an EFB (electronic flight bag) in lieu of paper maps/charts, A/FD, etc. Keep in mind, though, that technology can fail. I had that happen once, after I landed at an airport, so I pulled out my iPhone and used the taxi diagram on my iPhone to taxi. I still print out my approach plates and taxi diagrams and have them clipped to my yoke.

Anything else you can recommend to help get me back in the air?
I don’t use anything from Jeppesen only because, when ForeFlight first came out, they used FAA approach plates and charts. Now, ForeFlight offers Jepp, but what I’ve been using is great.

Of everything I mentioned, ForeFlight is the most important to me. You can probably download it and try it for free for a month or so to check it out. It’s amazing. It’s revolutionized cockpit resource management for the single pilot.

One other piece of gear that I love is my Brightline flight bag. It’s modularized to be taken apart, but I always fly with the entire bag. It holds my iPad, Clarity Aloft headset, Stratus receiver, clipboard, charts, flashlight, emergency hand held radio etc.

How’s that sound?
Don’t hesitate to let me know if you have any more questions.


Saturday, November 4, 2017

Daylight Saving Time: A Coders Achilles' Heel

Good news – tomorrow's a 25 hour day! Most of us get an extra hour of sleep.

It's also a day when date/time bugs are discovered in code. It's an easy mistake for software engineers to make: thinking that there's always 24 hours in a day.

"When it tomorrow?" asks a coder. Well, I'll just add 24 hours to midnight – a common error that I've seen. Adding 24 hours only works if you add it to, say noon, but not midnight. 

When I worked at Wyndham, a business analyst (BA) reported a bug in our hotel booking website. He told us, in our morning meeting, that QA booked a weekend (three nights; arrive Friday and depart Monday). At checkout, the system was reporting only two nights even though the correct Friday – Monday days was displayed. As soon as the BA said it only happened on one weekend, I immediately knew the problem. I said, "See if that weekend coincides with daylight saving time." Sure enough, it did. It made me look smart, but, truth be told, I had not only made this same mistake myself, as a WebObjects developer at Apple, but I had seen this bug deep in the inner workings of WebObjects prior to version 4.5.

It easy to think that every day has 24 hours and it's hard to test for all the edge cases in software.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Do Not Call Registry

I think the phone company and our federal government's Do Not Call registry ( are letting us down.

The cell phone network is a closed system, with gives the phone companies complete control over who accesses it; so, I'm thinking that it wouldn't be too hard to block calls displaying a caller ID from a disconnected/out of service phone number in the same way that Gmail blocks or filters spam. 🤔

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Entrepreneur's Pitch: Keep it Tidy

Keep your pitch tidy.
I've mentored many entrepreneurs over the years – they usually come from a "maker" background in that they make things. Typically, they make physical products or they are software engineers. Most of them are in the midst of their careers as individual contributors. They usually work quietly at their desks without much interaction with others. While this is great for their productivity, it doesn't give them the soft people skills to communicate clearly when interacting with other people.

I've listened to some entrepreneurs take 15 or 30 minutes to explain to me what their product does. That's 60 times too long. For a conversation opener, it should take a couple sentences to tell someone what your company or product does. Longer than that and people lose interest and they're not going to want to work with you.

If you don't know how to do this then practice. Start off with telling the listener if your "thing" is a product or service. "We manufacture an LED light that's an alarm clock for your nightstand which is more effective at waking you up compared to an alarm clock."

That single sentence is how I'd describe TheUplight. Most importantly, it leads with the benefits, not the features. From that sentence, the listener can follow up with their own questions, i.e., "Why is it more effective?" which the entrepreneur behind The UpLights responds with, "The UpLight gently prepares your body for waking up to reduce morning stress and increase productivity throughout the day."

The problem with listing a litany of features is that customers then have to figure out how those features would be of benefit. I know this sounds simple, but it can be very difficult to focus on what's marketable. For example, "it's patented" isn't marketable. While that tidbit is marketable to venture capitalists, it's not a buying decision factor for consumers. I don't care if I buy a patented or patent pending product. Big whoop. So, knowing your audience is important, too. But, regardless of your audience, make your point succinctly. There's a lot of noise out there.

Here's one of the best example I know of about succinct marketing, "1,000 Songs in your Pocket."

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Student Learning in the 21st Century

A few years ago, I heard about some teachers who were "reversing the classroom" by posting their classroom lesson videos on YouTube. Students would watch the lessons at home and then do their "homework" in class. This gave the teacher a more effective opportunity to help students work through the lesson's problems, rather than the students' parents. It seems like a good idea for more affluent school districts. However, one teacher I know, with ties to the Kibera slums in Nairobi, quickly pointed out that it wouldn't work in all areas.

The Gouge

I went to a military college which had a tightly organized student body where we maintained file cabinets of past exams and quizzes. If a professor gave the same test as before then students would have a leg up. When I brought this up with a friend, he pointed out that a well know textbook rental company started getting into a similar business. When I hear of business ideas like that I ask myself, "Why didn't I think of that?"

Communal Note Taking

With apps like Google Docs, where multiple people can edit a document at the same time, students now use it for collaborative note taking during lectures. Brilliant.


Students can't cite Wikipedia as a source. But any decently written Wikipedia article will cite sources – so students can cite the original source.