Saturday, February 28, 2015

The new podcast era

As a fan of AM talk radio and NPR, it should be no surprise that I am a big fan of podcasts. I have always loved them. Podcasts, not the latest greatest iTunes song, were the reason many years ago I bought an iPod nano. I have since dropped the cumbersome synchronization to my iPod, and switched to using Pocket Casts on my Android phone.

I am very excited about the renaissance of podcasts. Not only are there better applications to listen to podcasts, the quality and number of different formats have increased dramatically.

Here's the list of podcasts I listed to regularly:

Three-star rated - big fan
  • Startup - a podcast by Gimlet Media about starting a company. Season one covered the story about Alex Blumberg (@abexlumberg) creating his own podcasting company, Gimlet Media.
  • Reply all - The second podcast from Gimlet Media, Alex Blumberg's new venture into created a podcasting business. 
  • NPR Planet Money - The economy explained in simple terms. I've been a big fan since day 1. 
  • NPR Wait Wait don't tell me - as I am often unavailable Saturday morning to catch the original broadcast on KQED. 
  • This American Life defined the story telling category. Quirky and interesting stories of our every day lives. There must be a Portlandia episode about us This-American-Life-afficionados. 
  • 99% invisible - Don't get fooled by the boring sounding introduction. This is a great and interesting podcast.
  • Serial - Yes, as many many others, I was listening every Thursday to Serial. Awaiting season 2.
  • The Anjunadeep edition - great focus beats
  • Above and Beyond Group Therapy Radio - party music
  • Sara and Vinnie's secret show - the uncensored version of a morning show on Alice 97.3 
  • The Moth - in a similar fashion as This American Life, The Moth is all about telling stories. 

    Two-star rated

    • The Tim Ferriss Show - at first I was leery of a 1 to 2-hours podcast. The interview with @photomatt  was very interesting and changed my mind. 
    • NPR Invisibilia - fairly new show about the invisible forces in our life. A little slow, though about very interesting topics. 
    One-star rated

    • Art of manliness  
    • 99U The podcast - The website is fantastic with great information for managers. The podcast only happens infrequently. 
    To be ratedI do not listen regularly enough yet to have a strong opinion
    • Art of Charm 
    • Criminal

    Let me know if there should be others on my list. I rotate often new podcasts in and out. 

    Ideally a podcast should be about 30 minutes tops, either to the point with tips, or just plain great story telling, and narrated by a nasal voice. 

    Sunday, February 22, 2015

    Lake Del Valle, Livermore

    I keep discovering wonderful regional parks, right in our backyard. Within less than an hour drive from our house is Lake Del Valle regional park (wiki). It is only 15 minutes from one of favorite wineries in Livermore.

    Lake Del Valle is a man made reservoir, by damming the Arroyo Del Valle river. Even during the winter, this river was not much of a river. Like the rest of California, this area is in a state of drought emergency. "Brown is the new Green", the sign at the entry gate stated.

    This is not a small reservoir. The capacity of the lake is 77,000 acre feet (95,000,000 m3)

    We took the opportunity to hike, along the Vallecitos trail, from our campground into the mountains and then back to the lake.

    Tuesday, February 17, 2015

    Evernote - revisited

    I've written in the past about the tools I use to get my work done or about my quest to find the best outliner application. As some of my colleagues loooove Evernote, I decided to give it another try. Also because I need a place to store larger notes to search later. My Moleskine basic notebook is just for fleeting notes. Creating a Google doc for every little note doesn't work. And Google Keep doesn't hold larger notes well. Hence my need for an intermediate digital notebook, accessible from many devices and searchable.

    Upon installation Evernote migrated all my data to the new version. This seemed to indicate a bunch of things had changed since I originally experimented with it. Indeed, the outliner works well: easy to indent and outdent. It still lacks a folding capability unfortunately. Copy and paste bulleted lists (my favorite), into an email works. I love it.

    However, there are still a few issues:

    1. Evernote was slow as a snail on my 2008 macbook pro. Even with only a few notes. Evernote CPU time hovered between 15-25%. That was strange and unless this improves after a restart of the application will be a deal killer. 
    2. The application lacks a "remove formatting" feature, or it was not obvious to me where to find it. When copy/pasting information from different website, you would think that feature is a must-have-feature to write a somewhat unified note. 
    3. The Simplify Formatting option is confusing. It seemed to split words at arbitrary locations. 
    4. Email note should be a very easy to find option under the Share button. It is however buried a few clicks away. But now we are starting to get picky, I agree. 

    Monday, February 16, 2015

    Hidden Villa, Los Altos

    Los Altos Hills and Woodside provide some spectacular hikes. Here are a few pictures from hiking the trails around the Hidden Villa in Los Altos.

    Sunday, February 08, 2015

    Hiking Castle Rock park in a downpour

    "I'm hiiiii-king in the rain, I'm hi-iiiking in the rain." Together with a few colleagues, we hiked Castle Rock state park this morning in the rain. It wasn't just a little drizzle either: high winds, huge downpour and only limited visibility. This was a nice, fast pace hike, up and down the Santa Cruz mountains. It was the perfect opportunity to test my rain gear.

    I was disappointed by my Patagonia Torrentshell light-weight jacket. While the hood snaps nicely around my head, my inner-layer got all soaked. It was not clear if it was condensation from the exercise, or whether my jacket isn't really water proof.

    My CHP-style rain pants worked great overall. Although I do plan to use shorts underneath it next time, rather than long pants.

    I did forget my backpack cover for my twenty year old day pack. I did notice that newer daypacks come with built-in rain cover.

    If it rained more in California, I may invest in a good pair of Gore-Tex shoes.

    When we returned to our cars after a few hours of hiking, I was all soaked: socks, shoes, upper body and a little bit my pants. Nevertheless, it was a great adventure and we had a lot of fun.

    Next time, I will however stash a towel and dry gear in my car.

    Friday, January 02, 2015

    Winter break in California: around the Bay

    Every winter, between Christmas and New Year, we take a few days of vacation. In previous years, we have searched for gold in Jamestown, hiked in the desert of Anza Borrego and San Diego, gambled our fortunes away in Las Vegas, ate cheese in Marin, and did some whale watching in Monterey and Carmel.

    Rather than drive many miles, often through the dull Central Valley, we decided to stay around the Bay. Why loose a day on the highway of boredom, when you have some of the most beautiful places in your backyard.

    We stitched together a four day trip within a two hour radius from our home.

    With the luck of some great sunny and sometimes cold and windy weather, we hiked miles and miles up mountains, down valleys and around the island. We rewarded ourselves to some great culinary creations in the evenings. All and all a great "staycation".

    Friday, November 07, 2014

    Starting with why

    A few years ago I got introduced to Simon Sinek. More specifically, I got introduced to his TED talk "How great leaders inspire action". He is a great communicator. His message of starting with why did resonate with me.

    Apple is the obvious example to make his case. Apple is always the example. If I needed to convict a ham sandwich(1)  I would resort to Apple to make my case.

    When I listened to his talk, I wasn't just thinking about Apple. There are a couple of other companies I admire, purchase from, and which have this principle down. Whole Foods, Patagonia and even Volvo come to mind.

    Recently the video started surfacing again in discussions among colleagues and friends. We planned to use it to define why a team exists and why somebody would want to join the team. I decided to watch it again:
    When it comes to marketing your service or product, don't lead with what, lead with why. Love, not diamonds or chocolate. Coachella stage, not guitar or keyboard.
    The video and story from Sinek is interesting. When I watch it, I come back to the same question: so what? What do you do with this? It may be a good intellectual exercise for Simon Sinek to analyze about the why of a company. Why does Apple do what it does? Why did the Wright Brothers succeed? I do not think either Jobs and Woz or the Wright brothers ever pondered that question.

    The why of a company is not something you have a lot of control over (other than perhaps during an interview). It is indeed as Simon Sinek points out, all rooted in biology. Steve Jobs didn't set out to challenge the status quo. That's just who he was: a rebel hippie who attracted other rebels. Yvon Chouinard didn't decide it was time to care about the outdoors and the environment. He was a climber and surfer who wanted to let his friends and people surf or climb with great gear. Joel Cascoigne didn't make a conscious decision that he could more website hits if he was more transparent about BufferApps's finances and salaries. No, all of the qualities which drive their companies are what is in their nature of their leaders.

    It is similarly in my nature to be a product person who cares that stuff works and keeps working. Today the why may be to be enable the power of intelligent machines through infrastructure software for real-time distributed systems. Software which works, which scales, which rocks! Tomorrow, it may be some different product. What makes me tick is not the ambition to change the world. There are other visionaries which can aspire to make a lasting dent in the universe. My ambitions remain more modest: I want to be part of a team building a product which works!

    Tuesday, October 28, 2014

    Hiking Henry Coe

    A few years ago, we had planned a family camping trip to Henry Coe State Park, about an hour from our house. It was a scorching hot summer weekend. The lack of water in the area made us cancel the outing and hide in an air-conditioned living room, drinking a margarita.

    Times have changed. At the last minute we rerouted a backpacking trip in the Sunol Wilderness, to Henry Coe, due to the lack of drinking water in Sunol. We didn't feel like having to hike in all our water for the weekend. On a sunny fall Saturday afternoon, we started our hike into Henry Coe and set up camp at Manzanita camp group. Some of the group hiked to China Hole and ran across tarantulas, water snakes, fish and turtles.

    Here are a few pictures from the outing.

    Rolling California golden hills with oak trees

    Manzanita tree

    Anderson Lake (low water)

    Manzanita tree