Tool: Realtimeboard

I stumbled upon this tool while reading an article on TechCrunch. It’s an online collaboration tool with visual diagrams that users can use to generate ideas and present. Boards can be shared between multiple teammates; which I can will be pretty valuable if you love the power of collaboration and white boards as a brainstorming tool. At my company, the C-suite folks all have white boards inside their office to flesh out ideas. Some whiteboards are also placed in the hallways to keep everyone updated on the status of projects. However, physical white boards are physically limited and it can get tricky to engage multiple folks, especially from different offices.

Realtimeboard is your whiteboard without such limitations. The boards are infinitely large and can be zoomed in or out comfortably. The visual components are pretty straightforward and easy to use. Users can add links, comments and images at will. Furthermore, boards are accessible regardless of where members are.

Below is a board I am working on in a school project.

realtimeboard

As can be seen in the image, comments can be added in yellow boxes and links come with the logo of the website links. Nodes can be moved around or added easily. If you want to mimic the same map in, let’s say, PowerPoint, moving or adding nodes requires taxing extra work on moving the connection lines or arrows around. With Realtimeboard, such a requirement is unnecessary. Therefore, a lot of time is saved.

Export options are plenty: PDF, image, csv and so on:

realtimeboard_2

I am not an investor in this firm. Just a fan that wants to show some token of appreciation to a cool tool.

Survey on scooters in Portland

For the past few days, I have seen quite some tweet and retweet on the recent survey on how scooters are allegedly taking cars off the street.

I am baffled.

If taking cars off the street is the objective, there is a concept called public transits that does quite a nice job in that department in big cities in Western Europe. Public transits work well over short or long distance while I am not sure scooters can be that helpful for a long commute. Plus, it may be decreasing the demand for cars or Uber for now, but the effect may be exaggerated by the recent emergence of scooters. Over a considerable period, there is no evidence for similar effect. At least not yet.

Also, the method mentioned in the article is a survey sent out to scooter users. To actually back up such a claim that scooters are taking cars off the street, there should be more sophisticated investigative method than a survey asking for biased opinions.

Coming from a country where scooters (the real ones) are the main commute method, I am baffled by the love for the American version of scooters here. They may feel attractive at first, especially when people are sick of cars and traffic. But over time, it is not pleasant at all. I’d love to see more public transits in even small and remote cities in the US. I’d love to see cheaper transportation here in the US. It’s not uncommon for people to drive from city to city to avoid expensive flights.

 

Tool: Repl.it

I recently and fortunately came across a very interesting tool called Repl.it. Here is what it brings to the table:

Usually, the normal steps in programming include writing code in a text editor such as Pycharm or Eclipse, uploading to a repository such as GitHub and pushing it to a PaaS like Heroku or PythonAnywhere. However, even a text editor such as Pycharm requires some installation and housekeeping that can seem daunting to beginners.

Repl.it lowers that entry barrier. It allows coding in many popular languages right from a browser. Below is a quick code I wrote to have a dropdown menu from 1 to 49:

repl

All it takes is Internet, a browser and one-minute sign-up.

As of now, Repl.it seems to be focused on students. It’s free and its premium packages are very student-friendly. The Classroom Pro package is only $1/student/month. I think coding is fun and Repl.it seems to be highly useful in making coding accessible.

I am not an investor in the tool or one of its employees. Just a fan. I am glad that the startup recently raised some funding from the VCs.

CaaS vs PaaS and Kubernetes vs PKS

One of my concerns before I hit the “Publish” button every time is whether what I have to say is correct and has merit, especially the entries that are aimed to explain complex concepts. But I learned that public feedback or criticisms are part of the learning process. So even though I am nervous to publish this, I figure I’ll just give it a try.

I have been reading on the difference between Kubernetes and Pivotal Container Service (PKS) and the difference between Container-as-a-Service and Platform-as-a-Service. Below is my understanding put in simple terms so it can be understood better.

CaaS vs PaaS

In the fast-changing market nowadays, fast and regular releases of software are crucial to customer satisfaction and gaining competitive advantage. Both tools offer automation of mundane and time-consuming tasks to liberate developers.Both  are aimed to help developers devote more time on real programming and less time on setting up the underlying infrastructure. The difference between the two concepts lies on how much freedom/autonomy each offers developers and how far on the stack each abstracts

Cass vs PaaS

In short, PaaS such as Pivotal Application Service (PAS) all developers to focus on the applications and data. The rest is managed by a service provider. It offers a great deal of automation. With PAS, consistency is emphasized as there are rules enforced on developers by the tool itself and the leaders in the development team. However, it also means that PaaS provides lower flexibility and less DIY, something that may not sit well with developers. A salesperson from the company I am working at shared with me a story that a financial prospect didn’t want PAS because of resistance from its developers.

CaaS such as Pivotal Container Service (PKS) or Kubernetes doesn’t offer Application Runtime. The application networking piece is in yellow because while PKS does offer it, Kubernetes doesn’t. With CaaS, there is a higher level of flexibility and DIY, but less automation, compared to PaaS. Developers tend to welcome it more as they have the freedom to express themselves.

Kubernetes vs PKS

Kubernetes is an open-source container orchestration tool that automates the scaling, management and deployment of containers. Think of a pod (one/multiple containers that share the same task) as a body part that does a specific set of functions. Kubernetes is like a head scheduling & distributing tasks and maintaining the health of all body parts. Kubernetes is for developers, not so much for Operations team who has to maintain the health of the system on a daily basis. While the master node in Kubernetes can orchestrate children nodes and replace them when they are down, who will do the same for the master nodes? Plus, all the patching, installation and upgrades to Kubernetes? The Operational task that comes after deployment can be a headache.

This is where PKS offers values. PKS is an enhanced enterprise-grade Kubernetes. One of its component, called BOSH, automates the installation, patching as well as upgrades. It also does to master nodes in Kubernetes what master nodes do to children nodes. BOSH automates the management, scaling and deployment of the clusters.

PKS and Kubernetes

Another value proposition is related to micro-segmentation. Micro-segmentation in this case refers to the isolation at container, pod and cluster levels. Developers can set rules dictating which container, pod or cluster can communicate with one another. Isolation is made possible with the use of firewalls around the subject at hand. With Kubernetes, developers have to take time to set it up. When the number of nodes increases, the task becomes more taxing and complicated. With PKS, its NSX-T tool is integrated to automate that task, saving developers a bulk of time and increasing the time-to-market release of software.

If a company has an army of developers and prefers fast time-to-market as well as consistency, PaaS such as PAS should be the tool. If the company wants to use an open-source tool and can afford time to manage operational tasks itself, Kubernetes is the choice here. PKS offers the best of both worlds. As far as I know, it’s significantly cheaper than PAS. It complements Kubernetes while maintaining the flexibility that the open-source orchestration tool offers.

 

Facebook & Privacy First Mentality

Quite a week for Facebook

It has been quite a few days for Facebook. First, two days ago on Techcrunch:

Facebook has confirmed it does in fact use phone numbers that users provided it for security purposes to also target them with ads.

Specifically a phone number handed over for two factor authentication (2FA) — a security technique that adds a second layer of authentication to help keep accounts secure.

Then, a bombshell was dropped yesterday. Per Wired:

ON FRIDAY, FACEBOOK revealed that it had suffered a security breach that impacted at least 50 million of its users, and possibly as many as 90 million. What it failed to mention initially, but revealed in a followup call Friday afternoon, is that the flaw affects more than just Facebook. If your account was impacted it means that a hacker could have accessed any account that you log into using Facebook.

Facebook’s track record in data security and privacy hasn’t been particularly stellar recently. 2018 is not 2010. Facebook doesn’t have the same dominant position as it used to in the social network market any more. Users have plenty of alternatives and substitutes to spend their time on. These scandals, coupled with its role in the “free speech vs hate speech” row, don’t do any good to Facebook’s image as well as its appeal to users when privacy has become more and more pressing as a concern to users.

Privacy & regulations

I have been resigned to the fact that there is no anonymity on the Internet and that complete privacy isn’t possible. Yet, when users trust a company with their data, whatever the data is, it’s the company’s responsibility to protect such data. As many important aspects of our lives take place on the Internet, the need to feel safe online is more overwhelming than ever. Without feeling safe, how could users feel comfortable using a service? Privacy and data security will be, if not already is, expected by default of companies. It’s not a nice-to-have feature any more. It’s a do-or-see-your-competitors-get-ahead game.

But companies are not in the business to lose money. If they are not legally required to bolster their security, don’t expect them to. That’s why companies fought hard against GDPR or privacy laws passed in California this year. And this is where I don’t understand the criticisms of some towards regulations such as GDPR. Yes, no law is perfect, especially in the beginning. That’s why we have amendments. GDPR is not an exception. It is a great first step to give power back to users and force companies to be liable for their actions/inactions.

A common criticism that I came across towards GDPR is that it makes it too expensive for small companies and startups to comply, widening the moat or competitive advantage gap between giants such as Google/Facebook and SMBs. Well, if a company with a deep pocket and better security measures has 10% of its 500,000 in user base breached, the impact is 50,000 users. If a small company with fewer recourses and much weaker security measures loses all of its 50,000 users, the impact is the same as in the first scenario. Hence, breaches at SMBs can have significant damages and ramifications as well.

Sure, the best case scenario is to have different levels of compliance applied to companies of different size. I’d love to see that happen. Nonetheless, without privacy regulations, imagine how much companies would care about our data and how much of a mess it would be. Despite having HIPAA in place, every year has been a banner year of cybersecurity in healthcare in the US and healthcare organizations spend 3% of their IT budget on cybersecurity. Verizon reported in their 2018 Payment Security Report that only 40% of all interviewed companies in North America maintained full compliance with PCI. Despite all the scandals related to data security in the past, Facebook still lets more unfortunate events happen. To be fair, I don’t imagine having impeccable security is easy. However, would companies even try to secure your data without any legal requirements?

Progress happens when we raise standards. Would cars be more environmentally friendly if we hadn’t enforced regulations on emission quality? If a university wants to raise its standard for incoming students, will it lower or raise the requirement for GMAT/SAT? Will a drug be safer for patients if the FDA enforces more or fewer tests? Big companies have the means to comply with stringent privacy regulations. Small companies/startups, though difficult, have more access to capital funding. Plus, public cloud providers are investing to have their infrastructure compliant with many compliance regulations (See more here for AWS compliance and Azure compliance). Regardless of size, companies have to take privacy seriously and consider it an integral piece of the puzzle, a competitive advantage if done right or a threat to their competitiveness if ignored.

Exciting updates to Microsoft Excel

Almost every office job involves using Microsoft Excel. It’s useful. It’s versatile. Yet it can be frustrating at times. We use it to get things done, but I doubt many of us would claim to love it. That’s why I am excited about the changes Microsoft announced that it would bring to the iconic tool in the near future. Disclaimer: I own some Microsoft stocks, but this post stems from my genuine excitement as a long-time perennial Excel user who, like most, suffers the pain of some mundane tasks for years.

Click on the headlines to see more details and demos from Microsoft

Stock quotes and geographic data

Input the names of stocks or companies that you want to analyze and Excel will provide built-in information & data related to the companies such as number of employees, shares outstanding, P/E…No more going to other websites and painstakingly gather such information.

If you are interested in geographic data, Excel will enable the same capability as it will for stock quotes. Type the list of countries’ names and related information such as population. gas price will be provided.

Data entry from a screenshot

Good news for Android device owners (not so much for iOS users). Soon, Android phone users will be able to take a photo of a data table and quickly have it converted into Excel table. How much time would have been saved if this feature had been here for the past 5-10 years? When will iOS folks have it Microsoft????

Ideas 

Prepare a clean data table and Excel will do the preliminary analysis for you. Charts will be drawn. Outliers will be identified. Summary will be offered. No need to waste more time clicking around.

I really look forward to these updates. Life would be much easier to have some mundane tasks automated. This is what computers and machine learning are great at and should be used for.

 

iOS12 and Time Management

I have been on iOS12 since it was first released and much satisfied with this new version even though my phone is just an iPhone 5S. In addition to the speed and the UI, one feature that I am very happy with is Screen Time.

Only does it allow users to keep track of how much time is spent every day on their phones, but it can break the time down into app categories such as productivity (emails) or social networking (Twitter, Facebook, Slack…). Moreover, users can put a time limit on each category and application’s usage. Once a limit is applied and reached, the categories or apps in questions are temporarily unavailable. It means that users have to manually remove the limits first in order to activate the apps again.

One feature I really like is Downtime. Applied to a specific time span in a day, the feature locks down the phone applications, barring some that are specifically spared by the user (see below)

IMG_8251

I tend to apply Downtime from 7-10am to avoid distraction and maximize productivity (I let YouTube through to listen to work/focus music videos that are usually hours long on the app). In this Internet era, focus is a luxury. Everybody’s attention span is destroyed and distractions are everywhere. This feature, though reversible, helps us avoid that reliance on our phones and regain some productivity.

 

 

Government or Tech Corporations for our data and privacy

I had a brief conversation with a few close friends on Whatsapp on how to remain anonymous on the Internet and the role of governments and technology corporations in the fight to protect our data and privacy from being abused. As much of our life involves Internet, whether it is for work or personal use, the issue of our personal data and privacy becomes more overwhelming than ever. The question is who we can trust with our data: the governments or tech corporations.

Regarding governments, it’s safe to say that they haven’t done much to generate confidence. Many of my peers express lack of confidence in the governments to handle a huge amount of data and protect it from breaches. Worst, some said that data could be used to violate their privacy. For instance, the US government requested Apple to build a backdoor to iPhone. The Australian government wanted to build backdoors into encrypted communications apps. Even though I am convinced that having access to encrypted content may be required in some extreme cases (investigation, terrorist threats), the fact that the governments forcefully want to build backdoors to our device/data doesn’t really feel so good.

On the side of technology corporations, there needs no introduction. They are motivated to acquire as much of our data as possible. In some cases, they know about us more than we know ourselves. But they don’t actually protect our data well, to say the least.

Personally, I don’t think it is possible anymore to remain anonymous in this day and age. We are past the point of doing anything about the technology companies having our data. As long as we rely on their services for productivity and social purposes, we cannot avoid them. The same goes for the governments. When served with subpoenas, corporations have no choice, but to surrender our data.

Both have motivation to go against our wishes. Both don’t have our full confidence. Nonetheless, it’s not possible to choose one over the other. I believe that governments can keep technology companies in check with regulations such as GDPR, HIPAA or PCI. Citizens can elect officials who care about consumers/users to the office. On the other hand, technology companies can push the governments to evolve and not to slack off.

DFD_Unroasted-3

Each has a role to play in this check-and-balance system. It may sound idealistic, but I believe that it is our reality. Governments and big tech corporations are not going away any time soon and from our perspective as citizens/consumers, we need both to keep the balance. How will it be achieved? I don’t know. But I don’t think that it’s a zero sum game and that it is in our interest to favor one side over the other.

 

Apple Event

I have always been a fan of Apple, but the admiration for the company grows every year.

The company often draws criticisms such as lack of innovation, predatory practices and pricey products. While some of their practices such as expensive accessories or making features obsolete after only 2-3 years are good points (I am on my 3rd Mac charger that costs $85 more or less each), I wouldn’t do it any differently if I were in Apple’s management team. The same goes for high prices. If my company had such a degree of inelasticity (demand isn’t much affected despite higher prices), I’d do the same. Plus, Samsung increased the price of its flagship phone to $1,000 too but it hasn’t sold as well as its Apple counterpart. Granted, Apple is rarely the first to introduce stuff. They prioritize in doing it right and I like that approach. What’s the point of introducing new stuff if it doesn’t work well? Ask Samsung 7.

Instead, innovation from Apple is the ability to deliver more performance and add more features to a small device year after year. Imagine the yearly tasks of coming up with the design of the hardware, getting it right so that customers are so happy, deciding on what features to add, manufacturing the chips, rewriting the software, integrating the hardware and software, planning the distribution, strategizing the line-up to avoid cannibalization…It sounds exceedingly complex and difficult to me. The result? They are the first American company to reach a trillion dollar market cap. Their average selling price for phones increased after the introduction of iPhone X. Revenue and profit keep rising. And customers are happy. I have a mid-2012 Mac and an iPhone 5S. They are still working well and I don’t imagine I’ll come back to Windows or Android any time soon.

This morning, Apple did it again with a plethora of updates to their Watch and iPhone. A lot of new features and performance are added to small devices. Some enhanced products come at more or less the same price as last year’s new-then arrivals. I was impressed by the Apple Watch. It is now FDA-approved and can detect irregular heartbeats, ECG as well as falls. At this rate, I’d not be surprised in a 3-4 year time that their Watches will be instrumental to people’s health tracking and safety.

I think Apple is a brilliant example of focus, product-centric design, strategy and execution.

Thought on VMWare Strategy

I want to share my thought on VMWare’s strategy on hybrid/multi cloud. Disclaimer: I owned a tiny number of VMWare and Dell Technologies stocks personally. As a student, the investment is just the skin I put in the game. I am doing this to share my opinion and see different opinions that you may have.

Software-defined data center

Let’s think about your phone for a second. Your phone, no matter how powerful or new it is, is limited in its storage. After taking enough pictures or videos, the phone cannot store any more data. You either buy a new phone with bigger storage or move the existing data somewhere, either to a hard drive, a desktop or the cloud (like iCloud in the case of iPhones).

The example shows the limitation of being coupled with hardware. Now, think about that from a corporate perspective. When a company accumulates enough data, its infrastructure will need to be upgraded and expanded. Ordinarily, new hardware has to be bought, in addition to the purchase of software licenses. However, the process of buying hardware is time-consuming and can be costly. On top of that, there will be effort spent on configuration, maintenance, patching and updates. All these mundane tasks take away attention of IT staff from developing applications and innovation. To move with speed in this age of data, corporations need to automate and rely less on hardware. Everything needs to be software-based.

Enter Software-defined data center (SDDC).

Software-defined data center is a growing trend in the technology. Simply put, it refers to  an architecture in which compute, storage and network are virtualized and delivered as a service. This video from VMWare does a good job on explaining the term.

Some of the benefits of SDDC include automation, quick provisions of resources, switch from capital expenditure to operational expenses and scalability.

Focus on hybrid & multi-cloud

For the cloud &SDDC to work, virtualization is indispensable and VMWare has been the leader in virtualization. Now that everything in a data center such as compute, storage or network is virtualized in SDDC trend, VMWare is in a perfect position to grow and dominate the market.

Each cloud provider has its own unique offerings and is suited for a particular set of workloads. There is no one-cloud-fits-all. Hence, the best cloud strategy for a corporation is to have a hybrid or multi cloud architecture, taking advantage of each cloud’s strengths. The diversity in cloud platforms may help with the workloads, but put pressure on the task of cost and operational management. It’s not easy to manage multiple platforms, especially when some of them offer complex pricing and services. Imagine that you are a purchasing manager taking care of many vendors. The diversity of vendors brings the best product/service in each category to the fold, but it also brings the headache of vendor management. The same goes with hybrid cloud and multi-cloud strategy.

Plus, security is a big issue nowadays. The hybrid/multi cloud structure requires even more focus on security than usual.

3-Set Venn Diagram-9

VMWare practically pioneered the virtualization of x86 servers. It had some success with the private cloud, but not so with the public cloud area. Realizing that it would be an uphill battle to compete with the likes of AWS, Azure or GCP, VMWare sold its vCloud (its version of public cloud) to OVH.

How has VMWare been doing? Here is a diagram that took into account their M&A and announcements in the past two years that I think are related to the hybrid/multi cloud trend

Blank Diagram (2)

By partnering with big public cloud vendors and divesting its own public offering, VMWare killed two birds with one stone. It avoided a head-on competition whose result was already predictable for VMWare. By partnering with AWS or IBM, VMWare could leverage their global footprint to sell their software. If corporations already used and loved vSphere and vSAN, why not making it easy for them to use such software on public cloud?

To make its new strategy more sticky to customers, VMWare, as the diagram shows, invests heavily into cloud management and security. I believe that it’s going to continue in the future. At VMWorld 2018, the company announced their initiative in IoT and blockchain, as well as their partnership with AWS on database. Regarding the new initiatives on IoT and blockchain, it makes sense to me. That’s where the industry is heading towards. If the foundation infrastructure is already there, the logical move is to offer companies with the tools and software to build blockchain & IoT applications to solve their business issues.

VMWare is not strong in database. Why not working with AWS’ Relational Database Service to complete the full stack?

All in all, I love what VMWare is doing strategically in terms of hybrid & multi cloud. I agree with what VMWare’s CEO said in the earnings call: “We believe no other enterprise software company is as well positioned as VMware. Customers are increasingly turning to VMware to partner with them to accelerate their digital journeys. Our interoperable cloud mobility, networking and security solutions form a powerful digital foundation for delivering the apps that drive business innovation and business success.”