DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGo is a pro privacy search engine that is available on almost all browsers. Unlike Google, DuckDuckGo does not profile you online, meaning that the search engine doesn’t collect your information or track you everywhere so that the information can be used to tailor ads. DDG has been doing pretty well. Here is its traffic report:

Source: DuckDuckGo

I use both Google and DuckDuckGo on my Mac, with the latter as my default search engine. Even though DDG does the job most of the time and gives me reasonable results, it is not as good as Google. I am not even talking about the personalization of searches. Below are the two examples that shows DDG has some work to do.

Search Results

When you look for a location, DDG doesn’t offer immediately a map option on the engine to the location. Here is my trying to find Ted and Wally’s, a known ice cream shop in Omaha.

There is nowhere I can find its opening hours, address or direction to the place immediately. Here is how it looks on Google, with the same keyword

There is a lot more information given by Google. Instead of multiple clicks to find out the basic information, I don’t even have to go anywhere to know the address, phone number and opening hours. Direction is just one click away.

Search Time Frame

With DuckDuckGo, you can only filter searches as far as the past month.

On Google, the options are much more varied.

I love DDG. The team believes that it is possible to have a profitable search engine without profiling users. It’s been killing it. However, I hope that they can bring more improvements to the engine and make it better so that one day I will be an exclusive user of DDG, instead of having both DDG and Google on my computer right now.

If you haven’t used DDG and you care about your privacy online, try it because as mentioned, it does the job.

Book: Norwegian Wood

Feeling a bit tired of reading business, self-help and technology stuff, I decided to pick up one of my favorite novels: Norwegian Wood. Among Haruki Murakami’s works, it’s up there as one of the best in my opinion.

Apart from the beautiful writing, the male protagonist, Toru, displayed an admirable level of nonchalance, indifference to impress too many and a loyalty to those whom he cares about. There is also a brutal honesty from him. An example is when he admitted telling his close friend’s girlfriend to leave the guy. I admire those values from him.

I won’t spoil too much, but Norwegian Wood is a beautiful story about love, lust and the loss of innocence. It may not carry a cheerful vibe, but I found the ending positive. It’s my 3rd time reading it and the satisfaction is as much as the other previous times, if not more.

Some favorite quotes:

“What happens when people open their hearts?”
“They get better.” 

“Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Only assholes do that.” 

“Letters are just pieces of paper,” I said. “Burn them, and what stays in your heart will stay; keep them, and what vanishes will vanish.” 

“No truth can cure the sorrow we feel from losing a loved one. No truth, no sincerity, no strength, no kindness can cure that sorrow. All we can do is see it through to the end and learn something from it, but what we learn will be no help in facing the next sorrow that comes to us without warning.”

Two good things about professional sports systems in America

As a big NBA fan, I have always been perplexed by the hatred towards the Golden State Warriors. The chief reason for it is that GSW has too many All Stars and that it is unfair to compete against them. I just find it hard to comprehend. If you look at football (I prefer football, but you may know it as soccer), GSW’s dominance is nowhere near the dominance that household names such as Bayern Munich, Barcelona or Real Madrid has enjoyed for DECADES, if not years. Real Madrid and Barcelona together have won 58 out of 87 La Liga titles. Bayern Munich won 27 out of 56 Bundesliga titles. Together, those three clubs have won 22 of 64 Champions League titles, with Real Madrid winning a record of 13 and the last 4 out of 5. The odds of these clubs not winning their domestic leagues are just slim. Betting against them is almost as good as throwing money away.

These clubs have infinite finance and resources. They have money, brand name, legacy, scouts and infrastructure to attract any footballer in the world. It’s every player’s dream to play for Real Madrid or Barcelona. Even players at some of the biggest clubs in the world such as Manchester United or Liverpool want to play for the top two clubs at one point in their career. Unfortunately, there is no cap limit in football. There are some financial restrictions that forbid clubs to be in too much debt, but given these clubs outrageous abilities to generate revenue, these rules mean little to them. At one point, Real Madrid consecutively made record transfers with Figo, Zidane, Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.

That’s why I really love the draft pick and salary cap enforced on American sports teams. The two policies level the playing field much more than what happens in football. Draft picks allow inferior teams a chance at future stars. Salary caps ensure that teams cannot buy their way to success. Even if teams want to stack superstars, they run a risk of a hefty tax bill unless somehow they convince some of their stars to take a pay cut. Then, it becomes a management issue, not the money issue any more. If somehow a team can convince the likes of Durant to take a pay cut to help the team succeed, how can you dislike them? If that were your team, would you think that the criticism was fair?

Around 6 or 7 years ago, GSW was nowhere near a mainstream or dominant team that they are today. They used the draft picks to get the players who form the cornerstone of their success today. Curry, Thompson and Green were drafted at 7th, 11th and 35th positions respectively. Teams passed on the chances to sign them and GSW had the foresight to swoop in and take advantage. Plus, Curry signed a ridiculously cheap deal for a star of his stature. Thompson has consistently signaled that he prioritized staying and winning over money. Durant took pay cuts to play and win championships. Cousins earned only $5 million at GSW, a deal far from what he can earn given his talent. GSW is just better at the management than other teams. So don’t hate them for it. Be glad that there are draft pick and salary cap enforcements in the league.

Mattress Shopping

I have been using an air mattress for 2.5 years since I came to the US. It was a gift from two close friends who came here before me. It has done the job and been pretty convenient, especially when it came to moving. I have moved for a total of 3 times and had I had a queen-sized mattress, it would have been much trickier and more laborious.

However, I have been having trouble sleeping lately and back pain after sleep every night, something has to change. Since sleep is one of my priorities this year and moving forward, I can’t afford only 3-4 hours of sleep every night or feeling grumpy and listless the day after. So I decided to do something I hadn’t done before: mattress shopping.

Fortunately, I have a friend working as an assistant manager for a Mattress Firm store. Thanks to him, I learned quite a bit about mattresses:

  • There is quite a bit of science put into mattresses, pillows and bases. In short, a combination of an adjustable base, a reasonable pillow and mattress can help adjust the mattress to your sleeping body form, relieving the pressure, let’s say, from your back. The cooling effect can also aid your sleep
  • Unless you buy mattresses and other stuff out of the box (brand new), you are likely to have quite a considerable discount. Normally, folks can return mattresses in 120 days. When that happens, mattresses can be resold at a significant discount, even though materialistically and practically there should be no difference as the returned goods have to be checked and cleansed before any possible re-sell.
  • Build up your credit score. It enables a finance payment plan at zero interest. Some don’t have that option due to the lack of credit score or having a poor one

Personally, I rarely made any purchase of the size as I did today, but I figure if sleep is of high importance to me and I spend one third of my day on that mattress for some years to come, I’d better have something that I like and actually works. Same thing with almost everything in our life.

New Netflix price surge. Should Netflix livestream sports?

Yesterday, Netflix announced their new price structure. Per WSJ:

Netflix will increase the price of its most popular plan 18% to $13 a month from $11. That plan allows users to stream from two screens at the same time. The most basic plan, which allows a single stream in standard definition, will go up one dollar, or 13%, to $9 a month. The new rates will go into effect immediately for new customers and be applied to the accounts of existing customers in the next few months, according to a person familiar with the plans.

The increase in price is not really surprising in my opinion. Netflix has been investing heavily in original content. WSJ reported that the investment would amount up to $12 billion this year. Netflix needs to enlarge its war chest and the additional revenue from the new prices will help with that. It doesn’t hurt that Netflix has some wriggle room to up its prices, according to Priceintelligently. Additionally, as some content owners such as Disney or Warner Media plan to launch their own streaming services, Netflix will likely have to pay more to retain popular shows or movies.

But there is only so much room for increase in subscription prices. If Netflix pushes too hard, they may lose viewers. Consumers will have more options with the arrival of Disney, Warner Media and NBC, in addition to major current players such as HBO, Amazon, Hulu and Showtime. A normal user should not be expected to pay so much for subscriptions every month. Netflix may need to find another area to grow its user base and revenue.

Should Netflix go for sports?

Sports is a hugely important part of our life and hence it is important to businesses that want our money and attention. To see how important sports become to social media and streaming services, here are a few headlines:

The last headline is very interesting. Coming from Vietnam, I can tell you that football (as millions of people in the world outside the US call it) is a religion in my country and hugely popular in that region. Premier League, in particular, attracts football fans in Vietnam in a way that few leagues do. We have to or at least, used to pay for cable TVs to be able to see the games. The service is subpar, and the fees are slightly cheaper than a Netflix subscription. Vietnamese users pay around $8-9 a month for a Netflix subscription while a cable subscription costs around $5-7. If the fans can stream games from their laptops/computers or project games onto TV through Netflix, it will be a game changer. Fans will strongly consider the service, especially with hours of shows and movies as well.  

But does it make sense for Netflix to do so from a business and financial standpoint? Let’s run a scenario.

Together, Vietnam and Thailand have 165 million people in population. The total number of Netflix subscribers in the two countries are just 500,000 (300,000 for Vietnam and 200,000 for Thailand). If we just assume that 40% of the two countries’ population are young from 15 to 40 years of age, fitting the target demographic, I presume, for Netflix, the Total Addressable Market (TAM) is around 66 million for Vietnam and Thailand. I don’t have the number of subscribers in Laos and Cambodia, but if we apply the same assumption to those countries, the TAM is 9.2 million potential subscribers. For the four countries, the TAM is around 75 million.

If a subscriber is worth $8/month and Netflix gains around 100,000 subscribers a year each in Vietnam and Thailand, as well as 50,000 each in Laos and Cambodia, the total revenue can be around $230 million in 3 years, $30 million less than what Facebook pays for its exclusive rights. Also, the total number of subscribers should be at least 1.7 million, barely a fraction of the TAM mentioned above (75 million).

If we increase the subscription price by $1 in the original scenario, the revenue will be around $259 million, almost as much as what Facebook paid.

If the number of subscribers in that scenario goes up by 30%, the revenue in 3 years will be around $300 million and the subscriber count in 4 countries for Netflix will be around 2.06 million, still a small fraction of the TAM.

Of course, all of the above are assumptions which can be way off the mark, but to me, it seems that it is an opportunity there for Netflix. Besides the financials, gaining more subscribers can make Netflix more valuable due to network effect and give them more data about the users. Netflix paid $100 million to keep Friends on its network for a year. Given that amount and the potential upside of providing sports to international markets, I believe Netflix should give it a try. Plus, it can’t afford to see competitors add sports to their selection without doing anything.

I admire the consistency and focus of Netflix. They have been very consistent on their long-term view as a video streaming service. Nonetheless, the situation may necessitate some changes in the future.

Book: Black Swan

I’d give this book two stars. The book has some interesting insights, but it is unnecessarily long with a lot of anecdotes, name-dropping and less-known examples. Basically, the idea could have been wrapped up in 20-50 pages. Plus, the flow could have been much easier to follow.

In short, Black Swan talks about the great impact of the outliers, unpredictable events that happen in our life. For instance, if a person somehow were involved in a car accident through no fault of his or her own, the person’s life would be turned upside down. As Black Swans are not predictable, the author urged us not to use the past to predict the future. Yet, it seems that we are prone to doing exactly that, using data from the past to predict the future. I believed he claimed that we humans were victims of asymmetry in understanding random events. He also claimed that there were no experts in a lot of fields.

The thesis of the book seems obvious, but we don’t always have it in mind. As human beings, we love to predict the future and know what is going to happen years from now. I am always astonished by the popularity of fortune-telling. It amazes me how those fortune tellers could see the future. It simply seems impossible to me. Even if they could, why would they agree to earn modest income from that profession? Wouldn’t it be much more lucrative to gamble or pick stocks?

Regarding business, who could have predicted in 2000 that Yahoo would be what it is today? Or Nokia, one of the biggest brands in the world in 2005, would be a shell of its former self today? Or Kodak and more recently Facebook? I agree with him that life is too uncertain to predict. We are terrible at it, yet that’s what we keep doing.

Also, I agree with him that being alive is already extraordinary. I always feel lucky enough to be born without any disabilities or sickness. There is no telling what could happen to a child in a mother’s womb. One DNA misplaced could mean a lot of consequences for the child. In an infinite universe, we are living on a speck of dust millions of years old that has gone through a lot of revolutions and unpredictable events. If we are alive, we are already Black Swans.

Video: Tesla and the nature of disruption

I came across this very interesting conversation between Ben Evans and Steven Sinofsky on Tesla and disruption. When we say Tesla is disrupting, what exactly is it disrupting? Also, who is Tesla truly competing against? Between the electric part and autonomous part, which one is bigger? If you are interested in Tesla, have a listen.

a16z recently started to release their podcast episodes on YouTube, which I truly really appreciate. I learned a lot from them and it serves as an inspiration with regards to B2B marketing/content marketing.

Education poised for disruption

The traditional education system is broken, at least in the US. The thing that we expect to help us land a well-paying job is getting ridiculously expensive. According to Forbes, student debt in the US is $1.3 trillion, behind only mortgage debt.

If we pay so much for the education, is it worth the time and money? I recently graduated with an MBA and MIS. To be frank, the MBA degree at my university offers little in value, yet it costs $10,000 per semester. The MIS is much more helpful, especially given that I didn’t have much technical background. Nonetheless, some courses are repetitive, but since they are part of the degree, I had to waste my time on them. I am pretty sure I am not the exception in this.

A college degree used to represent the credibility a student had. The more famous the school that issued the degree, the more credibility. It is still true to this day. Besides that, going to school does offer certain values in several cases. Some people learn more effectively from listening to a professor. Team work at school prepares students for team work and communication in real life.

Technology today allows all of those to take place in the digital world. Online courses are usually cheaper than in-class sessions at universities. Sites such as Lynda, Udacity or Coursera let learners absorb skills and get certified by a fraction of the tuition fees. With MOOCs, which is used to refer to those websites, students can study at their own pace and become qualified for employment without breaking their bank. That’s improvement. If employers only worry about skills, then what is the reason for going to a traditional college?

MBA applications have fallen for years in the US. Some universities even abolished their MBA. It goes to show that having an MBA and the debt that comes with it is not appealing or beneficial to students any more.

Recently, I learned about another innovation in education: schools such as Lambda. Lambda offers live online classes that are structured in specific curriculums, mostly in IT. Introduction classes are free, while advanced classes are not. The cool thing about Lambda is that students are not required to pay upfront (only for US citizens, US permanent residents and EU citizens). Students only need to pay 17% of monthly salary for two years if they get a job that offers higher than $50,000 in salary after taking graduation. The cap payment is $30,000. If you don’t get that salary or you get fired, the payment stops.

It is an innovative approach to education. It is designed to specifically help students get a better-paying job without worrying about student loans. The freedom from thinking about paying installments after graduation is huge. In the current system, if you have a significant amount of debt, your freedom is much limited. Regardless of whether you have a job or not, you still have to make payment. Student debt is not written off in bankruptcy. Everything you do in life, you have to take into account the debt you have. If you don’t like the job, you still have to suck it up and keep on going.

With Lambda, you still have to pay installments, but the total is capped. More importantly, you have more freedom. If you somehow get fired or sick and can’t work, you don’t have to make payments.

I am not affiliated with Lambda in anyway. I am excited about what the school has to offer. I wish universities would take note of this trend and rethink their approach.

Book: Bad Blood

This book – Bad Blood – is an exhaustingly reported account of how Theranos lied and deceived hundreds of people, from employees and investors to the patients. The lies not only cost investors millions of dollars, but also put the patients at potential threats.

I was shocked and amazed by the lack of due diligence some companies showed in doing business with Theranos. Despite all the warning signs and delays, they kept going full force ahead with Elizabeth Theranos. Even more amazing was the list of high profile and experienced individuals such as Rupert Murdoch, Henry Kissinger, Jim Mattis, just to name a few, who bought into the lies and deception by Theranos.

I was really angry when reading about an employee taking his own life because of stress from work and another who had several years of his life, a family relationship and hundreds of thousands of dollars wasted by Theranos. In the end, I felt glad and relieved that the fraud of Theranos was put to an end.

I am highly appreciative of this kind of reporting by the author. Theranos resorted to aggressive intimidation and legal bullying to bury every threat that might expose the company in public. Yet, the author was dogged and exhaustive in his reporting. I am glad his editor and Murdoch, who had a financial interest in Theranos at the time and owned the parent company of Wall Street Journal, let the author follow the lead to the very end. In the times of relentless attacks to the press (some is justified, to be fair), this kind of reporting is much needed.

There has been a lot of pushback regarding the impact from regulations on business. Admittedly, there is certainly a lot of unnecessary red tape. However, if you read the book, without regulations, Theranos would have done a much bigger damage. Too many regulations is obviously bad and so is too fewer regulations. Don’t take the extreme. Seek for reasonable regulations.

Final thought is that don’t be evil. Theranos resorted to Non-Disclosure Agreements, top notch lawyers, surveillance, bullying and intimidation to keep quiet those who wished to reveal information on it. Nonetheless, the truth finally came out. In this age and day, access to information is frictionless and so is scrutiny. If you do something bad, it’s just a matter of time when it is revealed.

Easy read. The first half of the book may be a little bit dull, but stick with it. Around 50-60% of the book, the author switched to his investigation of Theranos. It is then more dramatic. If you are looking for a book to read and have no other prioritized books, take this one.