Book: How the Internet Happened

If you are interested in technology, the intersection of business strategy and technology and the history of the Internet, this book is for you.

It is a succinct chronicle of how Web 1.0 (connecting computers all over the world) and Web 2.0 (connecting all people) happened. Accounts of some of the most iconic and important technology companies in the world were told without lengthy anecdotal details. The author walks you through how Netscape, Yahoo, Google, eBay, Paypal, iPhone and Facebook, to name a few, came into beings and shaped the personal computing. It’s fascinating to read about the bubble in 2001. The fact that companies could raise tons of money regardless of the lack of business models and revenue, let alone profit, is surreal.

Arguably, the biggest point that I get out of this book, in addition to nice history lessons, is that success greatly stems from serendipities. Without an enabling technology, infrastructure or business environment, we wouldn’t have had the household technology names that we do today. For instance, without Netscape developing the Navigator and SSL, who knows whether we would have had different browsers, online payments and arguably the Internet? Without the existence of broadband connection, it’s likely we wouldn’t have had Web 2.0.

Timing is everything. Being early is equal to being wrong, as many companies which went out of business for being ahead of their times could attest. If you doubt the role of luck in success, read this book.

After this book, I can’t wait to read a similar one on the rise of cloud computing and everything that it enables.

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.

Informative newsletter and tech sources

Where we get information matters. As there is so much information/noise floating around, a good curator and/or a great content provider has become increasingly important, at least to me. Here are a few of my go-to sources every day. Keep in mind that these are related to business and technology, two areas I am invested in. 

CBInsights

It offers deep-dive reports into technology and business. There are many free reports that can be downloaded or consumed immediately on site. What I like about CBInsights is that their researchers really roll up their sleeves in their work and offer great insights, sometimes from a surprising angle. Their use of visualizations such as tables, graphs or mind maps is pretty rad as well

The Hustle

It’s a newsletter on business and tech. Apart from offering what news you should know at the beginning of a day, The Hustle has a great team of copywriters. Their witty and funny writing is what hooks me up. The newsletters don’t have the same level of deep investigation as CBInsights does, but if you want a skim of what is going on out there in business and technology, it’s pretty good. Oh, if you want to do some B2B marketing, it can be a promising channel. I have seen Airtable, Microsoft and Salesforce sponsored content by The Hustle

Morning Brew

Same as The Hustle. I consider The Hustle a tad better & funnier. Still it’s worth giving Morning Brew a try

Ben Evans newsletter

His newsletter is on a weekly basis. It’s a collection of articles in technology and business that he thinks are important. 

Ben Thompson’s Stratechery

It’s a highly regarded website on strategy and technology. There is a paywall to his daily content, but his weekly content, I believe, is free. You will learn a lot from Ben as many others, including some famous names in technology, do. 

ARK

A friend suggested this one to me a few weeks back. I am still pretty new to it. But if you are a fan of cryptocurrency, AI, machine learning, industrial innovation…it is worth a read

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.

 

Equifax fined by UK and GDPR

A couple of days ago, Equifax was fined by the UK’s authority for its data breach last year. The fine is the maximum possible penalty that could be issued, but it is still only half a million pounds, an amount that I think is trivial to a company of Equifax’s size.

John Oliver did a great piece on Equifax here. For a quick summary, I’ll let the FTC explain it:

If you have a credit report, there’s a good chance that you’re one of the 143 million American consumers whose sensitive personal information was exposed in a data breach at Equifax, one of the nation’s three major credit reporting agencies.

Here are the facts, according to Equifax. The breach lasted from mid-May through July. The hackers accessed people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers. They also stole credit card numbers for about 209,000 people and dispute documents with personal identifying information for about 182,000 people. And they grabbed personal information of people in the UK and Canada too.

Almost half of the American population had their sensitive data breached by the negligence of the credit agency. If you think that a breach of that size might have resulted in dire punishments and financial damages for the company, you are sorely mistaken. Per Quartz:

The credit agency kept news of the hack quiet for a month after its internal discovery, giving executives time to sell almost $2 million in shares. Once the news went public, Equifax first insisted that customers waive their right to a class-action lawsuit before accepting any credit protection; after an outcry, it backed down. A typo in a tweet from Equifax’s account directed customers to a phishing site instead of the actual website the company set up to tell customers if they’d been affected, which didn’t really work anyway.

A year after the hack, the lack of penalties for the company’s failures is equally laughable. Stock prices bounced back. Former CEO Richard Smith retired with his full $90 million package. No US federal agency has made any move to punish the company.

In Vietnam, we don’t have such a concept. In Europe, there isn’t an equally concept either, as far as I am concerned. I never encountered anything like that while in Finland. My European friends are baffled by the concept as well. Having been in the US for two years, I don’t pay much attention to the score nor can I understand how it works. I set up all payments automatically to make sure I am not late ever on credit payments. Yet, my scores have fluctuated significantly for absolutely no reasons that I could understand. All they could give me is that my credit profile has only been one year old!? I don’t think that the credit agencies don’t add any value to the society and yet, they are extremely profitable entities. They have access to consumers’ sensitive data and look what they did with the data.

Regarding the small fine due to the fact that the breach took place before GDPR was enforced, I have heard criticisms of the data privacy regulation from EU. Although the regulation isn’t perfect (the same goes for almost any regulation), it is a good start. The primary criticism is that the regulation is too expensive and difficult for SMEs to comply with, meaning that the big corporations can increase their competitive advantage further. My argument is that regardless of the size, any company can have consumers’ sensitive data leaked, easily in the hundreds or thousands of records. GDPR gives the users many rights and much needed power in the conversation. It is true that smaller firms may see their costs rise due to compliance with the regulation, but innovation should start from having higher standards, not lower ones. Would we have more environmentally-friendly cars by raising emission standards or lowering them?

Had the Equifax breach taken place after the enforcement of GDPR, the company would likely have faced a fine worth 4% of their global revenue. Since Equifax generated $3.362 billion in revenue in 2017, it would have amounted to a fine of $134.5 million. Wouldn’t it be worth having such a law to protect users/consumers?

 

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.

Senator Sanders vs Amazon

In addition to the President vs Tech Companies feud, there is another going on between Senator Sanders and Amazon. The Senator voiced his criticism of the company here while you can find Amazon’s response on this page. Here’s my thought on it.

I believe that Amazon brings value to the society. It gives consumers what we need: a variety of goods at reasonable prices in a short amount of time and especially a lot of convenience. The marketplace also helps small businesses as well. I believe that the company has earned its standing today in the society and should be credited for it.

Amazon is criticized for low pays and keeping temporary workers on “temp” status for a long time to avoid higher costs. According to this study, the median wage at Amazon’s fulfillment center is $12.32 an hour, 9% less than the industry’s comparable work. On the other hand, Amazon’s response claimed that “the average hourly wage for a full-time associate in our fulfillment centers, including cash, stock, and incentive bonuses, is over $15/hour before overtime”. I am not sure how much stock and incentive bonuses make up of that hourly wage of $15. Nonetheless, I don’t pay much attention to it. I don’t know which side is correct. Both may have a point, but it would be very difficult to have a definite answer.

What I think is missing in the conversation is that apparently, none of what Amazon has done is illegal. Sure, some people are upset about Amazon doing what it can to maximize revenue and profit. But, who wouldn’t? I certainly would myself if I were managing Amazon. Put yourself in the shoes of people running the company. If what you are doing is perfectly legal, would you change? Companies are in business to make money, not to please EVERYONE. They can tell beautiful stories about vision and mission, but at the end of the day, revenue and profits matter.

Instead of criticizing Amazon, I think politicians and the public should look at themselves first. When it announced the intention of having a second headquarter, states went an extra mile to get the love from the Seattle-based behemoth. One state proposed to give them a $7 billion tax cut. In May, Seattle unanimously passed a law that required companies in the city to pay an amount of tax for every employee to fund affordable housing and services for the homeless. A month later, the city government reversed the decision under pressure from corporation-led opposition. Last but not least, there was the tax cut last year aimed to help big corporations.

The point is that Amazon plays by the rules and they do it better than most. To change the situation, the government has to change the rules. If every state requires a minimum wage of $16-17/hour without any caveat, what else could Amazon do but comply? They may use more automation or innovate to find cost savings somewhere, but it’s another topic. They would have no choice but to pay workers more.

But it would drive the goods’ prices up?

Well, we are partly to blame for it. We as consumers want goods at low price fast and conveniently, but at what expense and who is paying for that expense? The workers may be the ones paying for it now. If we as consumers want to criticize the company or its peers, we first may have to look at our part. I personally want cheap goods. But if the minimum wage increases and so does the price for everything, then so be it. What choice would I have? On the flip side, my wage as an office employee would increase as well.