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.

Book: The Most Important Thing: Uncommon Sense for The Thoughtful Investor

I am in the middle of the book: The Most Important Thing: Uncommon Sense for The Thoughtful Investor by Howard Marks. It looks to be a short book, but 40% in the book, I have been delighted by the concise and thoughtful insights the author shares in his words. If you are a fan of value investing or the investing philosophy made famous by Ben Graham, Warren Buffett or Charlie Munger, this book should not surprise you as many topics touched upon by Howard Marks follow the same philosophy.

One of the best lessons I have learned so far from the book is the difference between first-level thinking and second-level thinking. The goal of investing is to outperform the market and other investors. It’s not easy as information is widely accessible now, making it highly challenging to gain some insights that few others know. Nonetheless, if gained, the contrarian thinking or unpopular but correct insights will enable superior returns compared to the returns of market or other investors.

First-level thinking can be done by almost everyone. It’s “simplistic and superficial”. First-level thinkers have an opinion about the future as in “the outlook for the company is favorable, meaning the stock will go up”. Second-level thinking is deep, convoluted and complex. Second-level thinkers arrive at conclusions and forecasts that are both correct and not thought of by the consensus. But it’s hard to do so.

There are many other lessons offered in the book. I highly recommend it if you are interested in investing. After all, we can’t get rich without making money while we are sleeping, can we?

 

Book: The Messy Middle

The Messy Middle is a new book written by the founder of Behance, a networking platform for designers. He is now the Chief Product Officer at Adobe. The book reflects his bootstrapping years at Behance and great lessons on businesses, career and entrepreneurship. Even if you are not an entrepreneur (I am not), this book has some insights on how tough it is to be one and fantastic lessons on how to advance your career. The book may get a bit mundane as it progresses, but the good thing is that many small chapters aren’t related to one another and you can skip forward or move backward at will. No need to read it in order. Below are a few of my favorite passages:

On self-awareness

Self-awareness starts with the realization that when you’re at a peak or in a valley, you’re not your greatest self. Self-awareness means dispelling your sense of superiority and the myths that people believe about you.

Ultimately, self-awareness is about preserving sound judgement and keeping relatable and realistic. However big your project or ambition, your journey is nothing more than a sequence of decisions: You’re probably many decisions away from success, but always one decision away from failure. Clarity matters. The more aware you are of yourself and your surroundings, the more data you have to inform your decisions, and the more competitive you will be

On authenticity

Nobody remembers or is inspired by anything that fits in

I do the work I do because I have to. I can’t help it. I was born this way – I can’t be false to any man. I know what the current trends and moods are, but I can’t concern myself with them. I also can’t force myself (as many do) to make work that fits within the going commercial style. Trends change and I believe that is why my work is still relevant today, because I am the only one making work like mine.

The idea of being born “weird” means you have a gift – like being born a star athlete. It would a sin to deny my gift. My “weird” is powerful. It stands out. I know that it attracts some individuals and clients, and repels others. I have to be cool with that. I am not for everyone – just the sexy people. Like you.

And as American artist Sol LeWitt once advised, “Learn to say ‘fuck you’ to the world once in a while”. Do your thing.

On doing the hard work

There’s a reason so few people do hard work beyond their job description: It’s hard work. You run the risk of extending energy or falling behind in other pars of your life, but these are the costs of playing at the frontier and having the opportunity to lead something new. You’re either a cog in the system or a designer of new and better systems. Of course, if you aspire to transform your industry and leave a valuable mark in your world, you’ll challenge every system you find yourself confined by. When you see something wrong, take the initiative to fix it.

When you find yourself frustrated or critical, channel that energy into persistent creation. If it’s not your job, pursue it anyway. Do research, run tests, or draft white papers and presentations to prove your position, even if it’s on your own time. It’ll give you a sense of satisfaction that no amount of preordained tasks will.

A shared trait among entrepreneurs and innovators within big companies is defying prescribed roles. The future is drafted by people doing work they don’t have to do. You need to be one of those people and hire them, too. There is too much wonder and talking and too little doing. So don’t talk: do

On how difficult it is to stay positive when dealing with hardships of entrepreneurship. I am not an entrepreneur, but it’s something I feel relatable, as I believe many do.

When I think back to those lost years, I recall a constant somber loneliness, a suffering from the feeling that nobody else could relate. The struggle was further compounded by the optimism I had to exude to my team and potential customers and partners. My hope had to be minded deep beneath the surface of fear and reality. The juxtaposition of the intensity of a start-up and feeling invisible and despondent was soul crushing. Staying positive was exhausting, and there were times when I felt depressed.

Without a steady stream of rewards, you will feel empty. You must supplement this void with manufactured optimism. You will have to endure anonymity and a persistent state of frustration. You’ll have to generate a unique and intrinsic sense of belief in yourself as you manage the blows to your plan and ego.

 

Ecstasy after toiling

My background is mostly in marketing. It can get very subjective. What looks beautiful to you may not to others. Some copy that may sound appealing to you may not to others.

Coding is different. Either your code works the way you want it to or it has bugs or malfunctions. Unfortunately, coding is hard for me. Without a technical background, anything related to programming such as installing software, setting environment, missing a comma or colon and getting the code to work is hard for me. But at the same time, whenever I get some code to work as intended, I am overwhelmed by a burst of joy. A heavy dose of pride and fulfillment. Ecstasy after toiling.

In 2017, a few friends and I participated in an M&A case competition in Nebraska. We had to work long hours every day for 2 weeks for each round (there were two rounds). On top of our daily life and schoolwork. Only after we advanced in the 1st round were we allowed to go the other round. I remember in the first round, we put a lot of effort in our case and presentation. Every comma, dot, word or even the order of annotations were looked over. We finished our proposal at 2:30am, 6 hours away from the deadline after a marathon weekend. After we pressed the “send” button, the feelings were indescribably awesome. Full of pride and fulfillment. Whether we would win didn’t matter at the time at all. Ecstasy after toiling.

In the second round, we dropped the ball. We didn’t have the same level of effort and intensity. The day we submitted the 2nd proposal, nobody felt good. We actually fought between us because I didn’t feel the others put in enough effort.

We are often told to be patient. Things worth having take time. Or something along that line they usually say. The potential ecstasy at the end of the tunnel may give each of us the motivation to try harder and again the next day. But for sure the road is hard.

Tipping Culture

One of the things by which I have been amazed is the tipping culture in the US.

Whenever I go to local coffee shops, I feel that I am pressured and shamed to give tips. And for no reason that I can understand. My go-to coffee is just purely black coffee. No fancy “pumpkin latte” or even a mocha. Just black coffee. However, I always feel that the modern technology and current practices make me feel ashamed if I don’t tip. In some stores, after a payment is made, there are several options popping up on the counter iPad ranging from probably 10% to 30% or something. Of course, there is a “no tip” option, but it guilts you into doing it. And 20% tip for what? For handing me a black coffee 2 feet away? Don’t we already pay for the combination of the goods and services?

Last week, I was out for a dinner with a friend. The waitress sat us down and quickly ran through a menu with jargon and names that we didn’t fully understand. No biggie. Around 30 minutes in and we were in a middle of an engaging conversation, she showed up and asked: “if everything is ok?”. I was annoyed. If we had had trouble, we would have let her know. Being interrupted when you are in a conversation is just annoying. A bit later, when we still had around 20% food on the plate that we fully intended to finish, she came and asked if we wanted to get a check. We said no. We were still eating. It was unbelievable. Our whole meal lasted around one hour, not like a marathon session or anything. And we are expected to tip for all that?

I understand that service workers rely on tips as their salary isn’t enough. But that’s not on users/consumers. That’s because businesses pass on that part of employee compensation to the end users while still maintaining their margin. That’s insane. Suddenly, end users are pressured by guilt into tipping, especially given that in many cases, the service doesn’t warrant for tips.

We don’t have tips in Vietnam. I didn’t see it while in Europe. What you see in the bill is what you pay. But it’s never the whole story here in the US. Most things are advertised at the lowest possible price with a lot of strings attached. While I understand that this tipping practice has been around for a long time and likely isn’t going anywhere soon, I’d love to see business owners pay employees more so that they wouldn’t have to rely on tips. Like I would love to have a meal in peace without being interrupted and pushed to leave.

 

 

Indifference

I was told by one professor at school that I was conscientious. I used to think that it was a good thing. A compliment. I am not sure I do now.

Naval Ravikant was right when he said that indifference was freedom. Indifference meant that you did whatever you wanted without caring too much what others thought. To what was outside of your control.

I tend to care. Too much and unnecessarily. I care about how others perceive my actions, my statement, my emails, my work, my look and so on. I give too much attention to whether others will think the next thing coming from me is stupid. To whether I am acting as an idiot even though they likely don’t care that much. To my aesthetically challenged look.

I know what to do now to improve myself and my life. A lot of work ahead to train myself to be indifferent or more indifferent. It’s one of the reasons why I have this blog. Besides practicing writing and giving back what I have learned, this medium is one way I think I can train to be more indifferent. I used to have lots of edits and entries I wrote but deleted out of fear that I would sound stupid. I probably still sound stupid. But I don’t do edits much any more. I just write it down and hit the “publish” button. It feels more liberating. And I have gained more confidence.

Naval is right. “Indifference is freedom”.

Going above and beyond

One of my Capstone project’s requirements is to match an address input by a user with a legislative district in Nebraska on a map visualization. Unfortunately, neither Google Map API or Mapbox API, two of the most popular map APIs out there, has that feature.

I read through their documentation and decided to email them both, hoping that I might have missed something or that their specialists might have some advice. Both came back with a response. The Google customer service agent simply said that there was no such feature from Google Map API and that I might go to a designated link to make a suggestion. Meanwhile, the Mapbox agent confirmed my suspicion that Mapbox didn’t offer that feature. However, he suggested a way to accomplish it by using turf Javascript package.

Even though both don’t have the feature I am looking for, the extra effort by the Mapbox agent delighted me. I like the brand even more now. In the future, if I have to look for a map API service, Mapbox, for sure, will be up there at the top of the list. It goes to show how a going-an-extra-mile customer service can leave a lasting positive impact on users and potential customers.

Potential new features for Mapbox and Google Map

I found two small players that offered legislative district mapping and census data: Cicero and US Geocoder. Surprisingly, Mapbox and Google Map do not offer such features. It shouldn’t be difficult for them to do so, I imagine. So I hope that they will take a suggestion from me and add those features to their already awesome products.

Paperwork Nightmare

The name convention in Vietnam is LastName – MiddleName – FirstName, the opposite of the Western name convention. The name on our passport is displayed in our convention. So when the folks at the US Embassy process a visa application, the name on the visa becomes MiddleName – FirstName – LastName. That’s what happened to me.

To apply for a student visa in the US, one is given a paper called I-20 by his or her school. I-20 is a must when the student applies for an American student visa. My name on I-20 is correct as in FirstName – MiddleName – LastName.

Upon landing in the US, immigrants have another form called I-94, which records the last time one enters the US. My name on I-94 follows the name on my visa and as a consequence, is incorrect. Somehow, my name on Social Security Card is correct as in FirstName – MiddleName – LastName.

Two days ago, my school updated my I-20 to match the name on my visa and I-94. Now, my name is consistent on I-20, visa and I-94…in an incorrect way. The only one odd out is my Social Security Card in a, ironically, correct way. Moving forward, I will either have to change names on visa, I-20 or I-94 or I will have to change my name on Social Security Card. I know my choice. Not much. Still a choice. But going to a Social Security Administration for anything is never a pleasant experience. A friend of mine had the same trouble. It took him 6 months to get it fixed.

From now on, my First Name in the US is my Middle Name. Imagine the inconvenience. And none of this is my fault.

Update on OPT

While we are talking about paperwork and bureaucracy, I want to talk a bit about the OPT process. As a STEM student (who studies science, technology, economics or maths), I can have 3 years of OPT after graduation. Within those 3 years, I will have to get either a working visa or a green card. Otherwise, I’ll be kicked out of the country.

Students cannot apply for OPT earlier than 90 days before graduation. But the process takes at least 3 months and sometime much longer. It means that international students may not have jobs in the meantime and hence income. Their chance of employment can be put at risk if the process takes too long. After an OPT is approved, a student can work for one year. STEM students can apply for one year extension. However, the STEM process is even more difficult as the student and employer have to work out a training plan with goals and how to achieve those goals. Goals have to relate to STEM degrees. During the OPT time, students have to send a report every 6 months, detailing what they do at their job. And there are a bunch of other requirements.

My intention is not to complain. This is to shed light on a frustrating process that should have been easier. International students are here to make a career and pay taxes. We are supposed to work and contribute while staying here. But even that is made very difficult.

Poor User Experience on CRN

If you go to crn.com, you will come across some articles with pretty annoying design and poor user experience. Look below

CRN Web Experience

The article is split into multiple parts and pages, forcing users to navigate to other pages to read it in its entirety. The first page features one photo and 5-6 small paragraphs. It’s a very annoying experience for audience. I don’t know the real rationale behind this design, but I think it is aimed at increasing page activities and lowering bounce rates. Obviously only the folks at CRN can tell whether this design does whatever it is aimed to do, but as a user, it is the sole reason why I don’t read CRN. Even though it’s a known brand in the technology media sphere, but I prefer siliconangle.com, or lightreading. There is not much on CRN that can convince me to click 5 or 6 times to read an article.

Cost of user acquisition keeps rising. It’s not easy to acquire users and it’s damn sure not easy to retain them. If you already convince people to read your site, at least make it a pleasant experience.