Embarrassing

Yesterday evening, I parked my scooter at the entrance to the Marbella boardwalk in order to meet up with my colleague Alex for dinner. Later that evening, we walked back to the boardwalk entrance and Alex jumped on his scooter and headed home. I did the same, but upon turning the ignition key — nothing. Second try — nothing. Great, just what I needed — a dead battery.

Continue reading Embarrassing

Internet access in Andalucia

Ben Brooks referenced a Boston Globe article discussing the poor state of internet access in the USA. For example, in Riga, Latvia (Eastern Europe), average internet speeds are 42 megabits per second, while some receive service between 100 and 500 megabits per second. In contrast, the American Comcast service delivers a standard 20 megabits download, with 5 megabits upload.

By comparison to any of those numbers, living in Spain—or at least Andalucia—is akin to living in a third-world country.

Around the year 2000, I had ADSL installed in my Marbella home and office, delivering about 3 megabit download, and 0.5 megabit upload. What’s astounding—truly astounding—is that fourteen year later, the service hasn’t improved at all. And what’s worse, it seems that over time capacity has been oversold, so that, for example, in the evenings the ADSL hardly works at all.

What I want to know is—why?

Is it an infrastructure problem? If so, why hasn’t the infrastructure been upgraded in the past decade?

Is it a commercial problem? Could it be that Telefonica don’t want to see profits eroded by providing better service at a similar cost? My understanding is that they are the infrastructure holders behind all telcos here; Is it a problem of lack of competition?

Is it a political problem? Could it be that Spanish (or local) politicians are simply unaware of what’s happening in the world around them, or don’t feel it’s a priority?

Is it just a regional problem in Andalucia? I’ve seen ads for 50 megabit service in large cities like Madrid and Barcelona.

One gets used to one’s circumstances, and so I didn’t realize how bad we have it until I recently spent two weeks at a university in the United Arab Emirates, where I had access to internet speeds of 80 megabits per second, upload and download. There were almost 4,000 people at the event (the 2013 World Youth Chess Championship), and it seemed that regardless of the number of people connected to the wifi network, those 80 megabits stayed consistent.

During those weeks, I experienced nearly instant streaming of content from iTunes (no dealing with “This video will be ready to watch in approximately 42 minutes”) and batches of photos could be thrown into Photo Stream in near real time. It was great.

Over the past few months, construction crews have been digging all around Marbella. Everybody knows that the works are related to upgrading of gas lines, but there are also rumors that fiber optic cable is being laid, to provide infrastructure for better internet access. Here’s to hoping that’s true.

The iPhone 5S and chopped off fingers.

I once saw an ad for a fake Rolex that read:

Don’t spend $5,000 for a real Rolex, because wearing that kind of money on your wrist is likely to get your hand chopped off! Instead, spend 45 bucks on our imitation Rolex, which, we guarantee, is indistinguishable from the real thing!

The obvious point this advertiser missed is that if their watch is indistinguishable from from the real thing, then you’re still just as likely to get your hand chopped off. And if that happened, it wouldn’t be that satisfying to know they only made off with $45, rather than a $5,000. You’d be thinking about your lost hand!

I was reminded of this story today when I read on TUAW how a disembodied finger can’t be used to unlock the Touch ID sensor on the now iPhone 5S, since activation of the sensors requires the presence of electrical charges that wouldn’t be emitted by a severed finger.

That’s great, but I suspect your average finger chopping street thief is unlikely to know that. So after he makes off your with iPhone 5S and your finger, I doubt you’re gonna be jumping up and down thinking, “YES! Just wait until he tries unlocking that thing!”

My finicky ungrateful cat

A plastic bag. A backpack. A set of shoes. Even a sweaty old jiujitsu kimono. If any of these items are placed on the floor in our house, my cat doesn’t lose a second rushing over to lay on them.

So thinking she obviously needs some “stuff” of her own, and being generally gracious and generous, I bought my cat what, for lack of a better description, I’ll just call the “Cat Castle”. Just take a moment to look at this, and imagine the possibilities.

So do you think my cat is appreciative of the gesture? Absolutely not.

After two days, she’s not given more than a passing glance at the Cat Castle. I’ve tried flicking the little dangling ball. I’ve tried manually scratching the post with her paw. I’ve even tried shoving her inside that obviously attractive cat-cubby-hole.

All that and… nothing. No interest whatsoever. In fact, in what might be taken as a sign of outright rejection this morning, she actually vomited next to it.

Looking for a simple, menubar-based todo list

At the end of each day, I go through my open tasks and identify the handful of todos that I plan to work on the next day. In addition, I also note any scheduled activities or appointments I have on the calendar.

I use Things as the central repository for all my tasks, and am very happy with it, but I’d love to find a menubar-based super simple task list to maintain this “daily list”.

It doesn’t need a hierarchy, it doesn’t need to sync with anything and it doesn’t need alerts. In fact, I’d prefer it not have any of that. It just needs to provide super-efficient editing of a list, the ability to open instantly with a keystroke, and the ability to display checked off items in strike-through (all, hopefully, in an elegant looking interface).

If such a utility existed, then each evening I’d update it with the next day’s tasks and appointments, and then I’d frequently refer to it throughout the day, without having to leaving the current app in which I’m working.

Update:

Looks like I’ve found a good candidate, Taskdeck.

AdRoll

Have you ever noticed that when surfing around the web you’ll often see big banner ads to websites you’ve recently visited? That’s due to this company—AdRoll. AdRoll-enabled sites set a cookie when you visit, allowing AdRoll to later display banner ads from those same sites when you visit other sites. (The notion is that repeat exposure is instrumental to conversion.)

In my own experience though, I most often see AdRoll ads for services I’m already subscribed to; obviously a waste of impression.

Dafacto—new name, same blog (or, why I don’t suck any more)

I’ve always been interested in well-designed experiences, perhaps because behind all well-designed experiences are people who care. In the business I’m in—designing products and services—we often speak of the “user experience”. Since this blog chronicles my life, I thought a meaningful name for it would be “This User’s Experience”, and thereafter thisusersexperience.com was born.

That was a long name though, and having to spell it over the phone a few times (in Spanish) convinced me something had to be done. In a stroke of brilliance, I had it — ThisUX.com. You see, in our business, user experience is usually abbreviated “UX”.

You know those drawings where you see a beautiful woman but the rest of the world sees an old hag? Well, where I saw “This UX”, the rest of the world saw, “This SUX”. And that did suck, but I couldn’t think of a better option.

One of Makalu’s first customers, some fifteen years ago, was the City of Darmstadt, Germany. We designed their online news publication and implemented the CMS behind it. The name they chose was Dafacto, which I thought was really cool.

A few years ago, the City decided to centralize all their online activity around the more city-branded domain darmstadt.de, and initially they kept the dafacto domain dormant.

Perhaps due to the excellent service we’ve provided over the years, or more likely out of pity, the good folks at the City of Darmstadt recently decided to let me take over the domain I always admired, and today I’m excited to announce I’ve relaunched my blog at:

https://dafacto.com

(And I hope all four of you continue following along here.)

Bodega Marcelino Serrano

We were recently invited to attend the Christmas lunch of the “Hockey Alcalá” mountain running team, at the Bodega Marcelino Serrano in Alcalá la Real, in the Jaén region of Andalucia.

In addition to a great day spent with family and friends, it was also a wonderful wine discovery. The bodega is owned by Marcelino Serrano, the father — and now business partner — of none other than Blanca Serrano, one of the top female mountain runners on the planet!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/matthenderson/8301647554/

Blanca and her father run the small, artesan winery in Jaén, started some 15 years ago. Today, they have an annual production of only about 15,000 bottles, but the product is high quality and the prices are very economical — between 4€ and 10€ per bottle!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/matthenderson/8301651338/

Before leaving, I purchased a case of the Marcelino Serrano black label red, and the Blanca Maria rose Cabernet-Sauvignon. When I asked Blanca where I can purchase their wine in the future, she said I’d need only email her, and they’d ship wines to us by courier.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/matthenderson/8332412889/

What a great find — fine, artisan wines, economically priced, and delivered conveniently!

Be sure to check out the Bodega Marcelino Serrano.

Drive Slowly

The way I’ve always driven my scooter around town could best be described as “hurried”. I drive fast. I usually accelerate through yellow lights. I zip between cars.

Why? Impatience, I suppose.

Recently, my wife signed us up for a swimming class in the wee hours of the morning. Since she never accepts any of my lame excuses to skip class, I’ve found myself driving from home to the pool as slowly as possible; any time I can kill driving there is time I don’t have to swim laps!

I drive the speed limit. I slow down at green lights in the hope they’ll turn yellow, so I can stop. And I never zip between cars.

But you know what’s interesting? It doesn’t help! All that slowness, and the trip is maybe prolonged by maybe a minute or two.

That got me thinking. When you consider the risks involved in driving fast and the small amount of time actually saved, it’s pretty obvious that it’s not a smart tradeoff!

I guess this is common sense, but it’s probably worth at least reminding ourselves from time to time — Drive Slowly!

Financial intelligence—not off to a good start

With a desire to improve my understanding of corporate finance, I picked up a copy of Harvard Business Review’s recommended, “Financial Intelligence: A Manager’s Guide to Knowing What the Numbers Really Mean”. First sentence of the book’s preface contains a mistake:

We have worked with thousands of employees, managers, and leaders in America companies, teaching about them about the financial side of business.

No unforgivable, but you’d kinda expect better editing in a professional publication.

But that’s not the real issue. The real issue is that maybe half of the words in the book could be removed. I just want to learn about finance as quickly and efficiently as possible, without having to spend my time consuming filler like this:

If you read the papers regularly, you have learned a good deal in recent years about all the wonderful ways people find to cook their companies’ book. […] As long as there are liars and thieves on this earth, some of them will no doubt find ways to commit fraud and embezzlement.

When I wrote Money for Something, my goal was to be concise. I spent a lot of time looking for words that could be removed, and sentences that could be simplified. I worked hard to increase the signal to noise ratio.

Why did I do that? Our of respect for my reader’s time, and with the objective that they learn as much as possible, as efficiently as possible.

Having gone through that process has affected my own response to books I read. The feeling I have now when reading a book full of fluff is that in a certain way the author and/or publisher doesn’t respect my time.

Strangest failed payment notification ever

Pingdom is a great service, and we use them to monitor all of our sites and apps, but I gotta say — they just sent the strangest failed payment notification ever.

So let’s figure this thing out:

  • It’s not a notification, it’s a “status update”

  • It’s begins by letting me know that, “an idea I voted on has been closed.” An idea that I voted on. What on earth does that mean?

  • Doesn’t matter, really; I’m encouraged to go spend some more votes! On more ideas!

  • So which idea did I spend my one vote on? “Problem with payment”. (That’s a good idea, or is it?)

  • Something’s been completed. What has been completed? “(No Status)”, that’s what.

<

p>Weird. weird. weird.

I just confirmed with my credit card provider that no failed charge attempt happened, so let’s just chalk this one up to them, hopefully, beta testing something?

Could Twitter better support conversations with a special @all address?

There’s a couple of problems I’ve noticed with Twitter conversations:

  1. As the audience of the conversation grows, the number of characters remaining available for the message gets reduced, making it increasingly difficult to say anything.

  2. To make room for the message, recipients are sometimes removed, and then end up missing out on a part of the conversation.

I was thinking that Twitter could solve this with clever use of the special @all account, which Twitter would use to track the participants of a conversation.

Each tweet in a conversation would then show two address — that of the person tweeting, and then the @all address. When you reply-to-all on such messages (so that they appear to go to the speaker and the @all address), Twitter would add your own address to the internally-tracked conversation list.

Recipients on the conversation list would see the tweet from you, with cc to the @all account. Most importantly, everybody on the conversation would receive these tweets in their @replies list (helping to ensure they don’t miss anything.)

Open issues and drawbacks:

  • How do you know who’s on the list? (Not a big deal..)

  • How to unsubscribe from the conversation? (Maybe a bigger deal…)

Spain not interested in productivity

Spainish president Rodriguez Zapatero has been meeting with German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, to discuss reforms necessary to address the battered Spanish economy. One of Merkel’s suggestions, is that Spain adopt policies similar to those in Germany, which tie salary increases to productivity and profit, rather than inflation.

That suggestion, of course, didn’t go over too well in Spain. In particular, I love this quote from Arturo Fernández, vice president of the CEOE:

“Productivity is more a German interest, than a Spanish one.”

Launch of JaviCarretero.com

Javier Diaz Carretero, of Andalucia, is one of Spain’s top marathon, half-marathon and cross-country runners. He’s also role model for those willing to take risks in order to follow their passion. Makalu decided to become the exclusive sponsor of Javier in his 2010 season, during which he’ll attempt to become the Spanish national champion, for the second time, in the marathon event. As part of that sponsorship package, we recently designed and launched his personal website.

Continue reading Launch of JaviCarretero.com

Spanish quality

When possible, I try to spend my money in the local economy. For that reason, I decided to try buying my nutritional supplements from a Spanish provider — masmusculo.com — instead of the UK provider I habitually use. (You’d think it’d be cheaper to order in Spain, but it’s not; even including shipping from England to Spain, it’s cheaper to buy in the United Kingdom.) Today, my order arrived…

Continue reading Spanish quality