Experimenting with travel hacking
For those of you that know me probably realize I am overly obsessed with travelling. I would probably the spend the rest of my life doing it forgoing any work to just see everything there is to possibly see. And if you have travelled with me, then you may have experienced what the family has come to know as “pulling a Jeremy” which amounts to taking a detour to a previously unplanned spot simply because there is time, its so close, and why not!
And so my experiment with travel hacking begins. Travel hacking is basically about earning as many miles or points as possible with as little flying as possible. Its about deals, transfers, specials, exchanges, credit card deals, and more. Many people have accrued millions of miles per year doing this, so I look forward to even a little bump in trying it. To set a baseline our miles are fairly low right now as we just used about 200k last year travelling to Europe, so its a great starting point.
Its all about giving the family a chance to travel even more, for less and by the time the kids are old enough, maybe an around the world trip will be in the cards. I will keep everyone updated and pass along anything I find out.
Without Steve Jobs and Apple I may have never met my wife
Like so many people, my reaction to the loss of Steve Jobs was a mix of denial, emotion, regret, and sorrow. Many people have also had a very different response wondering how I could care so much about someone knowing that I never met or even spoke to him. The answer is simple, I would never be where I am today or even have met my wife for that matter if Steve Jobs hadn’t been the person he was. It sounds extreme of course, but it goes further than the fact that I now do some iPhone development and work with mobile and video, etc, etc. It starts a lot earlier than that.
Way back when, I went into college without a clear vision of what I wanted to do with my life. I wasn’t sure if I was a business guy, a tech guy, a philosopher, or something else altogether. I had an old Mac LC under my arm and ended up in the campus computer store looking for some help and ended up getting a job. It also led me to apply to the Apple Student Rep program and then turned into a summer internship at Apple HQ. My experience working for Apple and the passion that I saw from the people there guided me into the computer world. It was more than the systems themselves, it was about vision. It was about connecting people and sharing information. I saw it as clearly a vision of the future and I wanted in and have never looked back.
Now onto for the part about my wife. My passion for Apple also led me into our school’s IT department. As the only Apple pro on a Windows “only” campus, I became a Resident Tech helping student’s with all their computer problems. One of the dorms I was assigned to also contained the room of my future wife. Lets just say I made a lot of trips over to that dorm to help other students and always seem to have an excuse to stop by her room to say hi. One thing led to another and 16 years later we are still together and have two amazing little boys.
To put it simply. Without Steve, there would be no Apple. Without Apple, I would have never gotten into computers. Without computers, I never would have been in that dorm and my wife and I probably never would have met. So thank you Apple and thank you Steve.
In the end it really shows how connected (in the non-tech sense) we all are to the people, products, and companies around us and Apple shaped my entire future from my family to my professional life. So there may be another visionary like him, there may be someone with his passion and creativity, but there will never be another Steve Jobs. I am happy to have lived to experience his vision, I but I am sad to know that my kids may never have that chance.
Thank you Steve, you will be missed more than you know.
Post launch iPhone 4S rambling and musings
So first off, I am a bit disappointed. The why is a little more tricky and I think it has more to do with perception than actual technology. I don’t think Apple needed a new iPhone 5 today as much as they needed a new design. And while the iPhone 4S is technically under the hood “all new” it still looks the same… and consumers respond to that. I didn’t want a bigger screen, just a more refined design, and I honestly think it was doable in this timeframe.
They had over a year to come up with a new hardware design to counter many of the issues people have had with the existing iPhone 4. Antenna issues, shape/ergo issues, multi-glass/breaking issues, etc and nothing changed. I get its all new inside especially as a tech guy, but Apple is not selling to tech folks, they sell to consumers and that typically amounts to design aesthetic.
So what about Siri you ask? It looks cool and I can’t wait to try it, but will you upgrade your entire iPhone 4 for it, most people won’t. I really wish they could have made this iPhone 4 compatible, but this is simply not a compelling enough reason for most people to upgrade.
Now don’t get me wrong, they will sell a ton… bet on it, especially given that we are adding Sprint to the mix and getting a single multi-network device. I just don’t think we will see nearly as many people trading in their iPhone 4s, simply because it doesn’t “feel” like an upgrade visually.
So if you have a 3GS or lower, now is the time to upgrade. If you have an iPhone 4, then it depends on your need to be an “early adopter”.
And yes, I will be getting one.
Qwikster and the state of video for mobile, tablet, etc
So today Netflix announced they are restructuring and spinning out their DVD rental business renaming it Qwikster. I have been talking to them recently extensively about some other employment related items and could sense something coming, but nothing this major. Do know that internally, they are very separate businesses anyway and have been for a while, but its all about perception and I personally like the integration of the two queues, separating them is a travesty. So to me, this is a bad idea.
Next, content… I have been working on content related deals for the last 12 months or so and can tell you that things are very very protected. Also, the networks and studios are greedy as hell and want absolute control of everything. I am guessing we will start seeing more and more apps on many platforms directly from the networks and most will require a cable subscription to use. We are still a ways away from the “hey, but I just want to subscribe to the HBO GO app”. Too much politics out there for that.
The bottom line is this, everyone complains about the quality of content on Netflix streaming, but in the end this is a studio issue and not Netflix’s fault. They control what is released, how often, and where. Its why you wait 30 days for some stuff, why you can find it Comcast On Demand, but not on the Redbox. We are really at the whim of the studios and its not that much different from where the music industry was five years ago. Lets hope it changes for video just as fast.
Taking the kids to Europe
We took the kids to Europe and put together an entire photo blog related to it… to those that say “wow, must have been tough” I say “go for it, your kids will love it!”. It was no more work than being home ;)
So you might have heard…
So everyone has been asking me and a you might have heard, but yeah the rumor is true. I can’t give a ton of details of course, so ask me in person if you see me.
You can read about in the following places if you like, but its a lot of spin. You know you love your Flip ;)
Family history, genetic testing, and a “true” family tree
There is a resurgence of interest in genealogy taking place in the US and it has again grabbed my own curiosity and led me down a somewhat interesting road. While the story is nowhere near complete and maybe never will be, it is the search that compels you to keep looking. Like a present day Sam Spade, you rely on your hunches, facts, and of course a little guess work to form learn whatever you can. As time progresses, you come to the realization that it is more than just genetics that shapes your true lineage which means your search gets even larger.
My true genetic history is actually very split given that on one side, I have a fairly deep and thorough understanding of where my family came from and on the other side, we know nothing but a single name. On the paternal side, my father has done a very thorough and detailed analysis of our family tree which leads back to Slovenia (grandfather) and also parts of Germany (grandmother). On the maternal side as my mother was adopted, we only know the name of her birth mother and nothing more and most tree systems focus on the adoptive parents. I have done a lot of work here researching and will continue, but its really a brick wall after a brick wall. So the search continues!!
I can say the best resource for any type of research you might be doing is Ancestry.com. Seriously, they have a monopoly on historical information in the US which, while annoying, means most of your work can be done in one place online. I used their free trial which was a good start and it helped me fill out a bunch of information, but it can only go so far as well. Here’s a sample:
Genetic Testing - 23andMe
After much research and after constantly coming up empty, I decided to go the genetic route. I don’t want to meet these people really, just understand where they came from and maybe even if there are health issues I should know about and can pass on that info on. I settled on 23andMe as the genetic testing site I would use and quickly ordered my Complete Edition (at 50% off thanks to Oprah). Generally it is very simple. You give them your credit card, they send you a vial, you spit in it (a lot), send it back, and then after a few weeks you can log in and view the outcome.
So here we are 4 weeks later and I have my results and, no real need to go into crazy DNA splicing detail here, but generally my health risks are fairly low and on the ancestry side I am definitely of Northern European descent (French, German) with a possible mix of North African, Middle Eastern, Russian, or Indian (what?).
And herein lies the problem with genetic testing. First, the system really has no concept of true geography and instead has to rely on what are called haplogroups. Simply put, a haplogroup is a genetic marker. Every time the marker is mutated via cross-breeding a new mutation forms. Doctors use this to trace the migratory patterns of cultures throughout history. By knowing your group, you can see where “your ancestors” were at 500 years or more ago. Mine where fairly refined and they were…
Maternal (X): U4a1b - Indians, Europeans
Paternal (Y): G2a3b2 - Palestinians, Ossetians, Georgians, Moroccans
So while this is interesting and educational, it is actually fairly useless given the broad nature of the regions and the nomadic tendencies of people thousands of years ago. It may help you understand why you carry some of the physical traits you do (hair color, complexion, etc), but in the end there is little more. There may be a corollary on the paternal side between the Caucasus region and my paternal ancestors inevitably settling in Slovenia/Germany, but still speculation nonetheless. Also, you have to remember you are a blend of your parents so this does not mean they will always match you. The more people in your family that do it, the more you can refine it, but you will never reach a “complete” picture.
In the end, I found the health portion to be much much more interesting and actionable.
The “Real” Family Tree
The one thing I took away from all of this was really the definition of the family tree. Most people are very focused on their genetics and their lineage, but we are much more defined by the people in our lives and our experiences than by the blood in our veins. When I step away from the genetics, I find that my family tapestry is much broader and much deeper and much more interesting. I have been blessed in that I have two families including brother and sisters and all of this is really discarded if you focus only on DNA. I am much more a product of these people than I am of the nomads wandering the mountains of Eastern Europe over 25000 years ago.
People have asked me why I wanted to do this and my answer was really just to understand where I was from culturally. I still want to know the truth and won’t stop searching, but now it has become more about the stories, the struggles, and the people. Our experiences define us more than anything else and learning and sharing this about your own family can be a very enjoyable thing.
Clearing up the misconceptions about Portland
Note: This could also be called my “RA RA RA Portland’s Awesome” Blog Entry
"It must be really rainy and gloomy up there."
After hearing the statement for the fifth time yesterday during another work phone call with folks in LA (who were getting rained on might I add), I thought it about time to clear the air about Portland. I know that some locals will hate me for telling the “truth”, but this city really needs to stand up and take its place. You see what irked me about the statement was the fact that it wasn’t a question, it was stated as general fact. To many people, Portland and Oregon in general raises the picture of pot smoking, beer drinking, nature loving, commune living, bicycle riding, and very very wet, hippies. Some of that is definitely true and who doesn’t love a good bike ride after a micro-brew or two, but this state has come a long way baby… time to get educated.
It is always raining up there in Portland, it must be so depressing…
I figured I should tackle this first as it is the most commonly asked thing we get. To put it in a nutshell: yes it rains here, it snows here a little, and we have cloudy days. We also have beautiful summers, some of the best falls around, and in general… we have seasons.
On the rain question, we are not even near the top of the list. We are actually ranked #36 for rainfall in the US. So while Astoria, OR (Goonies!) on our NW coast is one of the wettest cities in the country, the state in general is actually pretty mellow. Here are the top 10.
9. North Carolina
Yes, Portland is wetter than the rest of Oregon given our location, but still much lower than you might think.
As a California native, I grew up in an environment where we really had two seasons, the hot/warm season (Spring/Summer) and the warm/cold season (Fall/Winter). Trees didn’t change and snow never fell and you had to worry about droughts. I definitely have times when I miss the heat, but then you look around and see the green of the trees, the rivers flowing, snow-capped mountains, and you realize it is worth it.
So what do you guys do for fun?
The better question is what don’t we do. Portland in general is located in an amazing location providing access to the ocean and the mountains. This means spectacular surfing, sightseeing, and incredible skiing/snowboarding almost year round with hardly any traffic in under an hour.
Couple that with kayaking, mountain biking, hiking, backpacking, snowshoeing, and more all in under 15 minutes. Basically if you can dream up a sport, the chance is someone here is already doing it… ultimate frisbee leagues, parkour, the skies the limit. And if you go east a few hours to Bend you have some of the best climbing and rafting around.
And for pro/amateur sports we have the NBA’s (Trail) Blazers, the Beavers (AAA), the Winterhawks (WHL), and the Timbers (new MLS team).
What about food and drink?
We have some of the greatest chefs in the country in the Portland area and we have been recognized by most major food publications as one of the new hotbeds for cuisine. Most chefs focus on local/sustainable ingredients and work with local farms to ensure quality cuts of meat and the freshest vegetables and fruits. If you are vegan or vegetarian, then know that we are consistently voted the #1 Vegetarian city in North America. Food Network has made us regulars and Anthony Bourdain just loved us, which is all I really need to hear.
On the drink front, we are the #1 micro-brew city in the world with more brewpubs and breweries per capita than anyone else. This typically means there is always something new on the menu to try and always something to your liking.
If you don’t like beer, then look to the Willamette just 20 minutes from downtown to some of the best wineries in the country. Oregon may be an up-and-comer in the larger wine world, but is now consistently seen along side Napa as one of the best domestic regions. Oregonians have known this for a while of course.
Ah, you guys sound really healthy…
We are actually, we have some of the lowest obesity rates (adults and children) in the country and AARP has consistently rated us one of the top cities to live for people over 50. We also have some of the best hospitals and specialists around.
On to the environment, do you guys bleed green or what?
Saying that Portland is conscious of the environment is an understatement. We have been named greenest city in the US multiple times and in the top 10 in the world. We have more people who commute to work on bike everyday than anywhere else in the country (despite the weather!). The bottom line is people here care about the environment they live in. We want to keep enjoying this beautiful state, so we take care of it.
So yes… we bleed green. I don’t need to say much more.
You guys ARE super liberal, it’s a little weird
We do end up looking like a very blue state at most elections, but this comment is probably better generalized for Portland itself and not for Oregon. We have roughly ~3.8M residents, but roughly 1M+ of those people live in Portland proper or the surrounding suburban cities with another ~400k in Eugene and Salem. When you look at the 2008 election coverage map, you can see how the major metropolitan cities drive elections. Results: Obama: 57%, McCain: 41%, Nader: 1%.
So while I may fit in really well, there are many conservatives who find Portland to be a little too blue.
People are starting to take notice
From Outside Magazine, Men’s Journal, Men’s Fitness, Money Magazine, Travel+Liesure, to Dwell, Popular Science, Dog Fancy, AARP, and more Portland is consistently rated as one of the healthiest and best places to live in the entire US. We are the #1 bike friendly city in the US (#2 in the World), we are the #1 greenest city in the US (by a big margin)
Commercially, you are seeing more of our restaurants on the Food Network, more of our chefs up for James Beard awards, more of our designers on shows like Project Runway, and more mainstream bands that got their start in Portland clubs.
So whats the bad news?
First, our economy is hurting and our state government is having a hard time fixing it. Any type of tax measure is met with public outcry, but the lack of funds is equally a problem. We are a sales tax free state which can be a plus, but our income tax and property tax isn’t much different from most states with sales tax. This means we aren’t making up for it and thus the budget shortfalls. Schools are suffering and more and more kids are being put into private education.
Jobs are also suffering as a great majority of our state is composed of blue collar workers. They have been hit the hardest during the last several years and our unemployment rate is one of the highest in the country. This does seem to be changing, but it is slow going. The good news is, the housing market is still solid and affordable so people aren’t losing their homes and new people coming in aren’t pushing prices too high for the “normal” citizen.
We are not a racially diverse state which I view to be a bad thing, especially when raising a little one. The state is 81% white and while we are an incredibly open city where 1 in 7 relationships are same-sex, our cultural demographic is lacking a bit. The number is changing, but we are well below the national average. Religiously, we run the gambit and are widely represented.
A final note..
We moved here because when we first visited the city we felt something. It was a feeling of a city in transition, a city that was moving from one stage to another, and we knew we wanted to be a part of it. Between old converted warehouses to some incredible new modern design, there is a connection between this town and its people. There is passion here, people take risks, they LIVE their lives instead of watching it from the outside.
Our city is growing at an incredible rate to the point where it almost can’t handle the load. So after reading this, just forget everything I said and remember again that we have a ton of rain and stay where you are. We are very happy to keep it as is :)
Thoughts on the iPad
Like most of the Apple faithful, I took my place on the morning of January 27th in front of my screen. I then dialed up one of the faithful live bloggers that were in attendance at the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco for the big announcement (my choice was Ryan Block from Gdgt) and sat back to enjoy.
As I balanced flipping between work and watching the updates stream in, I also found myself chatting via Skype with an old high school friend (who now lives in Spain) who was also watching the updates. I marveled at what a small world it was and also what a testament it was to Apple to have an announcement like this bring people together from all over the world. Love them or hate them, there is something about Apple that elicits such a strong reaction and you have to agree, not a lot of other companies in our lifetimes have really ever been able to do this.
And with a wave of his hand it came, Jobs strode out in his usual garb and showed off Apple’s latest creation, the iPad. A collective moan (and lots of cheers) rose among the followers and within seconds people speculated at what it could and couldn’t do. Others laughed it off as if this was an SNL/MadTV skit and Steve was pulling our legs holding up a giant iPod Touch. Our greatest reaction was probably to the name, but here are my thoughts on things after having a week or so to digest it all.
How bad is the name really?
All feminine products jokes aside, the name iPad has grown to make sense and not something that will make or break the product. Calling it the iTablet would be a misnomer because the computer market has a “Tablet” category and this product does not fit into that. iSlate dates the product as it conjures up images of a little red schoolhouse. iCanvas puts the product into an “art” or “design” category and isolates it from everyday users. iPad is simply an extremely generic term for something that Apple believes can do everything for everyone. I think it will grow on us and no one will decide not to buy one because they don’t like the name.
Why Apple didn’t make this a true standalone netbook/tablet?
This is very simple and is lost on everyone for some reason. First, netbooks and tablets are simply small/cheap laptops. This falls totally outside the brand image that Apple has created since its inception. Expecting them to create a cheaper/smaller Macbook goes against everything they have ever done, as this would serve to kill their own product line. What they did accomplish was to create another product category altogether that extends their product line instead of cannibalizing it. People can potentially own an iPhone, a Macbook/iMac/Tower, and still want an iPad. From a marketing perspective, it was genius.
Its not the ultimate browsing experience because it can’t run Flash?
Seriously, boo freaking hoo. I simply don’t buy that Flash is the future and I come from agencies that work primarily in Flash and companies that focus on Flash applications. I know Flash is installed on 96% of computers out there and lots of sites use it, but the bottom line is it is not an open standard and it places larger hardware requirements on devices to support it. Flash is processor intensive and (sometimes) a memory hog. It diminishes battery life tremendously and for the new fleet of smaller, slimmer, and utility based devices it is simply not a feasible platform. Flash Lite is a possibility, but then you are just providing a dumbed-down Flash experience… so why bother?
I don’t also believe that HTML5 is the second coming and heck I even spent part of yesterday on an animated SVG demo (yuck), but putting all your eggs in Flash/Silverlight/etc over the long term is a major problem. This proliferates accessibility issues, which now has legal repercussions, and place unnecessary requirements on the hardware.
I am sad I can’t view Flash on the device and I understand it produces some beautiful interfaces, but the lack of support won’t stop the general consumer from buying the iPad.
So will it take down the Kindle?
I sure hope so. The Kindle reminds me of a product that you might have seen 10 years ago except now it runs something fancy called E Ink. Basically you have a premium priced device that is running on cheap hardware, running an embedded OS that supports multiple levels of grayscale. And when you buy this device, you don’t really get a discount on books, so you paid a premium for a device that lets you pay the same amount for what you were doing before. And yes I have used one and we have even given them as gifts, but I would have given an iPad instead had it been available.
Plus, the UI for iBooks is nice (and to the Classics folks, its just a bookshelf and we know you are mad, let it go)…
I do get the argument that your eyes might get tired with the iPad, but I don’t read for more than a few hours maximum and I already stare at a computer screen all day so how much worse will it really be. Plus, you now have the option of beautiful full color artwork from magazines, comics, graphic novels, etc. I can’t wait to see the Panelfly app alone when the iPad comes out. I mean come on, its beautiful.
If I was Barnes & Noble, then I would have pulled the Nook from the market and figured out how to partner with Apple to compete with Amazon.
This is hit or miss with me, when you watch 95%+ of people use their Touch or iPhone they would never know the difference because most apps are single utility. Power users miss it, but the general consumer does not and even finds it confusing. I do think the iPad needs it a lot more than the iPhone or Touch does.
Are Google/Adobe/Microsoft/Nokia lazy like Jobs says?
Abso-friggin-lutely! Let me break this down for you very simply, none of these companies are innovators. You can argue this up and down, but if you look at Apple historically they take risks, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but they give it a shot at least. They have lots of failures in their past, but they learn from them and evolve. That is what makes a company innovative.
Google is a company built on acquisitions and throwing stuff into the “Labs” area is not innovation. Its a way to say “hey we are trying this, but aren’t committed to it”. Gmail might be a great product as are the other apps and this by no means says they aren’t doing good things, but they are playing the catchup game. Nexus One = not innovation, its an HTC phone running a new version of Android, not a Google Phone.
Adobe hasn’t done much except when it comes to Flash/Flex/Air. Photoshop and Illustrator seem to just get UI improvements, but functionality hasn’t changed much in the last three versions. Dreamweaver and Fireworks haven’t changed much since they bought it from Macromedia except to make it more Adobe-like. The bottom line is they are resting on their old product lines. Innovation at Adobe could come in the form of workflow management, document sharing, and source/design control. They simply aren’t doing anything new.
Microsoft is the king of wait and see. The only truly innovative product they have is really the Xbox at this point because everything else (Windows 7, Zune, Bing, etc) is just something else you have seen before with a new design. The Xbox itself is now also playing catchup as PS3 gains market share and the companies solution is an “innovative” motion controller (Wii much?). As a company, it is killing them…
And Nokia… seriously? The most innovative thing to hit the domestic market is the new netbook and really, a netbook?
Anything you didn’t like, you freaking fan boy?
I wish it had a front facing camera, oh and put one on the iPhone and Touch as well while you are at it please… also, there is a lot of bezel on there.
The bottom line..
The day after the announcement I was flying back from SFO to PDX and got into talking about it with a guy from Digital Trends (a great PDX based tech news site) and another guy from Sharp. We each had a different feeling about the iPad, but we all agreed that once people got it in their hands and used it, then it could be a game changer. If developers start building apps that extend the iPad, then it becomes a platform in itself.
Many people have had the same experience with the iPhone and Touch. It was hard to figure out the market at first and people were skeptical. Now, it is hard to walk two steps without seeing one. Will the iPad achieve this, who knows? I will definitely be one of the first to try it out though.
Venturing back into blogging
With the the growth in popularity of Facebook, Twitter, and countless other social networks, the old school blog has definitely gone by the way-side. That being said, I think there is still room for commentary and it really acts as nothing more than a cathartic outreach for its author, then it still fills a need. Too many times there are things that cannot be said in 140 characters or less. If you do try to condense your emotions, facts, and general thoughts into that tiny medium, then you end up sounding trite and many times small minded.
So with that statement (tiny mediums=small minds), I am venturing back into the world of blogging. I won’t make any grandiose statements on the frequency with which I will do so or claim to try to write things that are unbiased (definitely not), but I will try to keep them interesting when I do.
I am sure my initial statement about the micro-blogs is already irking people, but realize that I am not alone in this. Many of the “converts” to the micro-blog have fallen back into their old ways simply because they are a lot more interesting in a larger medium and 10 tweets to make a point is simply annoying.
And with that, I am back. I don’t care if anyone reads it, but sometimes its just about having a place to say it.