Tuesday, May 28, 2019

My Latest Thoughts Are Not Here

I used to post here frequently, but I'm now mostly limiting myself to 280 characters - visit my Twitter page to read my latest musings.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Mobile Key - Great Concept, Perfect App Execution, but... It Doesn't Work (yet)

I really like the concept of unlocking hotel room doors using my iPhone: one less thing not to forget when getting ready for a day of meetings, when hitting he hotel's gym, or visiting the lounge for a late drink.

So I was quite excited last week when the Marriott Mobile App informed me that the Marriott Marquis Washington D.C., at which I had booked a room for three nights, offered a "Mobile Key" option. At the hotel, a large banner touted its benefits.

Upon checking-in, I asked the clerk about the Mobile Key option. He told me they were "still working the kinks" and suggested I do take the hotel's standard plastic keys. A good call!

As far as app design, Marriott did a perfect job: the screens are informative, well-designed, and make the experience seamless. You can see for yourself below (click each screenshot to enlarge). However, one tiny little thing ruined the experience: though I tried multiple times, the phone consistently failed to open the door. Once it works, and does so reliably and consistently, I'll be thrilled to use Mobile Key. Until then, I'll still carry a plastic key.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Keiser Indoor Cycle Sucks

The Palo Alto JCC, of which I'm a member, and where I cycle indoor a couple of times a week, recently "upgraded" its stationary bicycles – switching from old Schwinn equipment to "state-of-the-art" Keiser M3i bikes. The problem is that these new bikes are horrible.

Let me count the ways the Keiser M3i sucks:
  • The bike's computer is a piece of junk
    • Power (Watts) and Energy (kCal) share the same display field, and the computer alternates between them. If you are trying to maintain a steady power output, you are left guessing every few seconds; if you just want to glance down to see your current power output, you might see the energy you spent instead.
    • Every now and then, the computer spontaneously resets, all counters are set back to zero, and you lose all your session's data. This might happen when you rapidly shift gears, or (as it happened to me today) for no reason at all. 
    • After 99 minutes and 59 seconds, the computer freezes. I occasionally take two one-hour classes back-to-back; after learning, the hard way, about this stupid design mistake, I'm now forced to reset the computer between classes.
  • The old bikes had two steady bottle holders; the M3i has only one ridiculously designed holder
    • Every class, multiple participants drop their bottles and are forced to dismount their bikes
    • There is no room to place a phone or any other device
    • When I go for two back-to-back classes, I need to dismount between classes to fetch a second bottle
  • The old bike was compatible with both Polar and Garmin heart rate monitors. Keiser is only compatible with Polar. As the owner of a Garmin monitor, I'm out of luck: doomed to see Todd's heart's rate on my bike's computer.
  • OK, this is subjective, but I find the new bikes to be less comfortable and less stable than the old ones.
On the positive side, the Keiser M3i bikes look sleek, and we can at least hope that they will wear down at a slower pace than the old creaky Schwinn bikes.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Shakshuka - an Israeli Recipe

My colleague asked me where she could get a good Israeli Shakshuka in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Oren's Hummus, with locations in Palo Alto and in Mountain View, serves a pretty decent one.

But it's quite easy to prepare a shakshuka at home.

Here's the family recipe:

  • 6 ripe beefsteak tomatoes
  • 2 large onions
  • 2 large bell peppers
  • Tabasco, salt, pepper
  • 2 to 4 Eggs
  • Optional: garlic, basil, oregano

  • Dice the onions and peppers and fry them in a pan with olive oil.
  • Place the tomatoes in a boiling water pot for a few minutes, so you can peel their skin.
  • Peel the tomatoes, dice them and add to the pan. 

  • Add Tabasco, salt and pepper to taste.
  • Cover the pan, lower the heat, and stir occasionally – until the vegetables are soft and cooked.
  • Add the eggs without stirring (you want them sunny side up, or over easy) – don't cluster them: they should be distributed across the pan.
  • Cover the pan, the eggs are poached with the steam.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

How I Lost a Bet on QR Codes

Mowingo is running a cool promotion at McDonald's: guests are invited to download Mowingo's application (available for Android and iOS), enjoy a free milkshake and get access to other cool deals.

As you can see in the picture above, we have large posters hanging on the walls at the Embarcadero McDonald's in San Francisco.

The poster invites guest to download the app either by typing a URL on their smartphones, or by scanning a QR code:

Unlike my co-founder, Ehud, I was skeptical about the effectiveness of QR codes.

Boy, was I wrong!

Here are the results for the first week:
  • Download via URL: 41.3%
  • Download by scanning QR code: 58.7%
We will see how things develop over the next few weeks, but I must admit I was wrong. QR codes do work!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Startup or Hip Hop? 10% Luck, 20% Skill, 15% Power of Will

You might be as stunned as I was to discover, courtesy of Fort Minor, parallels between hip hop and tech startups:

This is ten percent luck, twenty percent skill
Fifteen percent concentrated power of will
Five percent pleasure, fifty percent pain
And a hundred percent reason to remember the name!

It’s an almost perfect image: Mike Shinoda has got the ingredients right, but the ratios feel a bit off. I would increase luck and concentrated power of will, at the expense of pain. Watch the clip, listen to the lyrics, tell me if you feel the same, and most importantly: remember the name - Mowingo!

Friday, May 06, 2011

Startup – The 2011 Capital-Efficient Model

Starting up a tech venture in 2011 is cheaper and easier than ever. My co-founder and I were able to self-finance Mowingo for a long while. Here is how:

Capital Expenditures: the cloud is your friend. My previous company, which I co-founded back in 2003, buried over two million dollars in data centers: we had to buy, install and maintain servers, routers, storage systems, load balancers, backup devices, etc. Mowingo uses the cloud: costless at the start (Amazon Web Services offers a no-fee starter plan,) infinitely scalable, and very inexpensive as your traffic grows. Our only capital expenditure so far: a laptop. Repeat after me: No CapEx!

Software: this is not really a 2011 thing; open source software has been around for a while. Thanks to a variety of open source projects, we can deploy database systems, utilize bug tracking software, enjoy rich development environments, etc. – all at virtually no cost. But in 2011, the wealth of free possibilities is indeed staggering: we use Google Docs for collaboration, shared directories on Dropbox as our Intranet, Skype for all our communications, and as a WebEx substitute we use Adobe’s ConnectNow (free for two participants, extremely cheap if we ever need more.)

Development: get a super-talented technical co-founder and encourage him to burn the midnight oil. Need to hire some extra help? There are offshore companies, with local liaisons right here in Silicon Valley, which offer reliable low cost developments services. Be careful here: selecting the right offshore partner is critical, but once you found it, you’re golden.

QA: finally a justification for procreation: nothing like a teenage daughter to spot bugs in your alpha/beta smartphone application.

Sales and marketing: if neither of the co-founders can sell… you should reconsider this whole entrepreneurship thing. Get a job.

Legal: be your own lawyer (or like me, marry one.) The web has a wealth of standard forms you can use as a starting point: not only templates for sales contracts and employment agreements, but even standard investment documents, such as Ted Wang’s Series Seed Financing Documents. Terms and Conditions? Privacy Policy? That’s what competitors are for. Visit their websites and plagiarize away. Once you are funded, you need to swim with the sharks and get a top-tier law firm; I can say only good things about Fenwick & West. Hire them.

Office space: given the recession and the excess supply in commercial real estate, you can find real bargains. Mowingo went one step further: a friend of mine is hosting us free of charge.

Smartphones for development and demos: they are cheap to buy, but when you have friends in the right places (I do) and you aren’t above begging (I am not) they can even be free.

Recruiting: need a temp sales rep? Post your gig on Craig’s List – they don’t charge you anything for that.

Banking: that’s an easy one: Silicon Valley Bank will offer you a lot of services for free, invite you to countless (free) networking events, and even feed you time and again.

Meals: you don’t need to rely solely on SVB’s food. Turns out angels and VCs can buy you breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Why pay for your meals, if you can pitch while eating at a potential investor’s expense? OK, maybe I’m stretching it a bit too far here…

Friday, March 25, 2011

Netflix Ruins My Evening and then Insults Me with a $0.24 Credit

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

False Alarm

I am the Email Insider Summit, held at a posh hotel in Utah.

Entering my suite's bathroom, I noticed a red dot staring at me from the mirror on the wall:

Not losing any time, I rapidly ducked down and swiveled back to locate the sniper aiming at me.

There was no sniper.

Turns out there's a TV embedded inside the bathroom's mirror; the red dot signals that the TV is currently off. Here's how it looks like, once you turn it on:

Bottom line: (fortunately) my life is not an action movie.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Don't Use a Do-Not-Reply Email Address

I hate it when a company or an organization sends me an email from a do-not-reply address. It's stupid and counterproductive. Don't they want to hear back from their customers or audience?

If I could, I would have sent the author of the message below a discreet reply, suggesting that having three typos in a single paragraph does not reflect too well on the school district. But since they don't want to hear from me, as evidenced by the use of a DoNotReply address, I'll vent my frustration on this blog.

My older daughter, now at UC Berkeley, graduated from Gunn High School. My younger daughter is still a student in the Palo Alto Unified School District. They were taught to write better than that.