Amazon Echo Is Sleeper Gadget

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Over the holidays I was fortunate enough to receive an Amazon Echo — thank you Santa Claus and those unionized elves. When I first heard about the Amazon Echo, it sounded completely ridiculous — “order toilet paper from the comfort of your toilet by just shouting in the air.”  Indeed, that sounded intriguing and conjures up the most hilarious use cases — “Alexa, I need condoms delivered via drone ASAP.”  <Barry White music starts to play in response>

However, the Amazon Echo is now my “surprisingly useful” sleeper device.  It has become our “home personal assistant” for my family — somewhat limited in capabilities but it surely has huge potential and could become a gateway for a far a deeper AI based personal assistant. A device like the Amazon Echo could surely own the home in a better way than TV set top boxes could or SIRI/Alexa on your phone could.

The most useful use cases for me, most often used in the morning as I’m getting the kids ready for school —

  • Traffic updates to work
  • News headline updates for the day
  • Playing my favorite radio stations and music
  • Run down of calendar for the day
  • Scores for my favorite sports teams
  • Schedules for my favorite sports teams
  • Control for my IoT devices

The Amazon Echo is also trying to be developer friendly with a developer portal and SDK’s available to extend its usefulness.   And of course, they have a $100 million dollar Alexa Fund to help to drive innovation.  Not quite as “accessible” as other developer ecosystems but what developer doesn’t get excited by new sensors and something new to tinker with. The new advanced use cases can be super interesting —

  • “Alexa, turn up the heat.”
  • “Alexa, turn on the Warrior game.”
  • “Alexa, find my keys.”
  • “Alexa, dim the lights and lower the shades”
  • “Alexa, prepare my bath.”

New features seems to be coming out fast as Amazon announces that you can listen to Kindle eBooks via the Echo and a new portable Echo for your travel needs.  I’m not entirely sure about the portable Echo who knows where that could go.

The digital assistant is a killer use case for everyone. Both Google and Apple have released features for Android and iOS will start to pull out items it can learn from your email and take action on it.  I predict that we’ll see some additional competition for the Echo as companies realize that this is a unique entry point to the living room.

Little Known Self Driving Car Features

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There is so much talk right now of self driving cars a la the Jetsons or Total Recall. Tesla, Apple, GE/Lyft, and Google are all piling on in the news.  It’s all very interesting — but I do imagine a bunch of slow ass cars crashing into each other in the beginning.  But more importantly, as a software programmer — I’m intrigued by features that will be built for the self driving car as the technology matures.  I wonder what those could be …

  • “Back seat driving mode” — passenger can yell criticisms about its driving and the car will then respond “Would you rather drive?”
  • “Zone out mode” — car will day dream and have absolutely no idea how it got to its destination.
  • “Filipino Mom Driving Mode” — jerky driving with frequent unplanned stops at yard sales, Walmart’s or Chinese Buffets.  Will also travel so close to the car in front of them as to be able to to invite them to dinner.
  • Preprogrammed responses to Police Officers when caught speeding — a la “I didn’t know how fast I was going.” or “My other auto driving car is pregnant.” or “My my, you are very handsome.”
  • “Teenage driving loop” – No real destination other than driving up and down the street with increased music volumes. Loop will be determined by leading car with passengers of the opposite sex.
  • “Inability to merge mode” (only available in Seattle cars and required by the state of Washington) — highway on ramps will be complete nightmares as cars will stack up as cars will just stop thinking that’s a wise way to “merge”
  • “Late for Anniversary Dinner Mode” — will run 50 mph over regulated speed limits with frequent lane changes. Optional to include stop at Jared’s for a gift.
  • “LSD Mode” — will drive on the highway at 15 mph but think it’s going 85 mph
  • “Low gas mode” — will take the car as close to possible to running out of gas and will calculate walking distances to a gas station to freak out passengers
  • “Kid mode” — devices, snacks and live clown will be deployed to the back seat with the kids. Optionally, 20 questions game will available where the computer might pick obscure items like “dirt”, “needle” and my imaginary friend “stu” who I’ve never talked to you about.
  • “Auto car lock and protection mode” — when entering a socio-economic area different from the owner, car doors will lock and an arm will secure closest available purse.
  • “Moving a mattress mode” — single arm will deploy out window to secure bulky item on roof.  Highway travel is required for this mode but at far reduced speeds.

Here’s to the future!  As scary as it might be!

LEGO Education Releases WeDo 2.0 @ CES 2016

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As I explore platforms to teach my daughters hands on problem solving and programming — I’m intrigued by the recent release of LEGO WeDo 2.0 coming out of their LEGO Education department just announced at CES 2016.  It’s a bit less expensive than the LEGO Mindstorm set and has a clearer angle towards education — more specifically 2nd to 4th graders.  I had a great experience using MIT Scratch to teach my daughters class the beginning of programming and I’m looking to build upon that.  I’m looking forward to its release for my 5-year old.

After extensive research and vigorous discussion with my 9-year old this weekend — I’ve decided to get a LEGO Mindstorms EV3 kit for my daughters and I to tinker with.  Additionally, my 9-year old wants to use it as a foundation for her Maker Faire project.  There are so many super cool examples of projects out there and it really got us fired up.  Will keep folks posted as we explore the world of Lego robotics!

Stupid Things That Would Happen If I Won Powerball

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Powerball mania has taken over the country!  The jackpot is currently at $900 million dollars.  (For whatever reason, I’m reminded of that scene from Austin Powers)  Now — lets do some math — after taxes, if you live in the state of California you could walk away with a lump sum of $418,500,000 or 30 payments a year of $22,500,000 for a total of $675,000,000.  More money than a majority of folks would see in a lifetime unless you are Oprah.

I’m sure everyone is day dreaming of what to do with all of that money — but more importantly my mind ends up wandering about what stupid things that would happen if I won.  Here we go —

  • Go into work naked — just because I can.
  • Write a book on the detailed strategies for winning lotteries.
  • Promise a big trip to a bunch of people and hate it because I actually didn’t like those people.
  • Probably buy a boat and then hire people to use it because I hate boats.
  • I would try to Facebook friend other rich people because we would have something to talk about.
  • Have a ski lift installed from my house in Danville to the top of Squaw
  • Build a Safeway as an extension of my house so I never have to go grocery shopping ever again
  • Convert to Judaism so that can have Phish play at my bar mitzvah I never had
  • I would buy Costco so that I’d never have to excuse myself to get past  someone trying to feed their entire family via Costco samples.
  • I would hire the cast of “Full House” to work on my farm to care for my alpacas
  • Would buy two 17k Apple Watches — one for my arm and one for my ankle. Ya never know how often i might need to know the time as I tie my shoe.
  • Build a Scrooge McDuck money bin and then realize its super hard to swim in gold.
  • Buy many billboards on 101 that says “Renato is One Hella Cool Dude”
  • Buy the New England Patriots so you can fire Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Then make the team play all their games in Manila, Philippines all season long.
  • Build a Lego Star Destroyer the size of an airplane.
  • Hire Steph curry to do his warm-up drills every morning as I drink coffee.
  • Hire a Starbucks barista to follow me around.
  • Hire Harrison Ford to drive me around in a car that looks like the Millennium Falcon.
  • Play basketball with Obama and then we take my ski lift to Squaw
  • Go to Las Vegas with the cast of The Hangover.
  • Hire Kramer from Seinfeld to be my neighbor.
  • Put caviar on my In and out burger.
  • Eliminate daylight saving time.

I’ve acquired my tickets because — well, because why not?

Good luck to everyone!

Observations of a BART Rider

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I’ve been commuting on Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) into the city for about 5+ years now.   BART is a rapid transit system serving the San Francisco Bay Area. It connects San Francisco with cities in the East Bay and suburbs in northern San Mateo County.  With an average of 422,490 weekday passengers, 211,288 Saturday passengers, and 158,855 Sunday passengers in September 2014,[7] BART is the fifth-busiest heavy rail rapid transit system in the United States.  And with that, its full of joy.

I’ve probably had 1000+ trips over the past 5+ years and have a accumulated some observations and lessons learned about my favorite “silver chariot”.  It’s been quite a journey.

  • BART smells are unique and confusing
  • Be prepared to get really close to passengers, really close
  • Somewhere to lean on is priceless when there isn’t a seat — find that wall or pole or whatever!  If it’s a door, be ready for it to open — I actually fell out on the platform once.
  • There is usually one guy a week that brings his own folding chair on the train — at first you feel jealous but then you realize he looks like an idiot.
  • Getting a BART parking permit is like winning the lottery — I was on the wait list for 6+ years and started out as number 10,893. Seriously?
  • I now crave elevator updates at home — “This is the home authority. The stairs are still functioning.”
  • Bikers on Bart confuse me — first, how the hell are you getting that bike on this train now when I can’t even take a deep breath. Second, why didn’t you bike to where you were going!
  • The BART map comforts me — not sure why, it must be the colors and hope that those dash lines to San Jose will be filled in one of these days.
  • People can die on BART — yup, that has happened on my BART train and someone took his seat when they were done taking him away.
  • People barf on BART — yup, that has happened to me. Now close your eyes and imagine the hilarity on a completely full train.
  • BART toilets scare the poop out of me, which ironically make them more effective
  • It’s possible to park so far away from Bart that you forgot why you needed to get on BART — that’s happened to me, and then I lost my car but still remembered my stall number.
  • You will get angry at those that eat on Bart — yes, the woman who ordered double the sweet and sour chicken from Panda Express but couldn’t wait to get home. I’m going to barf on you.
  • Don’t be angry at the Asian family with the large florescent luggage ever taking up 8 seats on their way to the airport during rush hour. They are more afraid of you right now. And yes, the largest bag will have wheels and run people over as they get on the train.
  • 91% of those getting on BART after midnight are so drunk they will miss their stop and need to Uber from Dublin home
  • Making the train as the doors are closing is the closest thing you get to being Indiana Jones but then you will realize that there is a train 3 minutes behind this one and you feel dumb.

Here’s to 1000+ more trips ahead!

CrossFit and Being Paleo(ish)

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About three year ago, I was 50 pounds heavier, was sick every few weeks, consumed about 6 diet cokes a day, was winded climbing the stairs at home and I didn’t have a visible neck. I still snore like a banshee on a cold day but ya can’t fix everything!  I made the decision to start CrossFit and adopted Paleo(ish) — and I haven’t looked back. My primary motivation was the goal of “mastering” my body and fitness. I love the concept of constantly improving, “leveling up” and “mastering” things — be it technology, management, music, being a father, whatever. Plus, I surely wanted to be able to wear a t-shirt without thinking my “man boobs” might knock someone out or having my stomach start eating my shirt as I would just sit there. To be honest, I’m surprised I’ve been able to sustain my commitment to my fitness — it’s truly just part of my life now.

I started slow — one CrossFit class a week and started to cut out bread from my diet.  Those first 8-12 weeks were super hard.  It was such a humbling experience — I was one fat, out of shape old man.   The one CrossFit class would crush me — I wouldn’t be able to move the entire week and it hurt to sit down on the toilet.  As things progressed, I got strong and I was able to do more and more.   

Here is a list of observations and lessons I’ve learned through my journey.

  • Baby steps.  Start small and work your way up.  Transforming your way of life doesn’t happen overnight or after listening to a Tony Robbins seminar.
  • Write down the things that motivate you and revisit that list every few weeks.  That becomes your inner motivation to keep going.    
  • Be pragmatic as you level up and know your body.  Having been consistently going to my box for multiple years now, I’ve seen so many people cycle out — push themselves too hard and then hurt themselves.  Its usually a 50/50 shot if they come back.   
  • Don’t drink too much of the CrossFit cool aid — its fun but doing a WOD isn’t the only way to get a good workout in.  Diversify with other activities.
  • There are no silver bullet supplements. Just be pragmatic about the things you consume that you think gives you an edge.
  • Tracking what you eat and your workouts is key to progress.  I use an app called MyFitnessPal to track my food — its fairly popular and hooks up nicely to my FitBit Surge.  The library of cataloged foods is quite good.  Additionally, my box uses Wodify to keep track of personal records (PR’s).   
  • Alcoholic drinks are the biggest waste of calories and you don’t realize it until you track your intake of them.
  • One of the best aspects of a CrossFit box is its community.  I’ve met some great people at my box and find myself exploring other boxes when I travel.
  • Olympic lifting is hard and so much of it is technique, flexibility  and practice.  It so fun to try to get good at.   
  • Partner workouts are the best, way harder to cheat.
  • CrossFit sneakers are essential for a good rope climb.
  • Wrist wraps are the best.
  • I hate double enders, muscle ups, snatches and anything involving me being upside down.  That list will grow and you will love it.

Looking forward — I’m still the older, slower and fatter guy at my box but that’s what keeps me motivated to keep pressing hard.   I have a long way to go and I’m up for the challenge.  I’m going to try to do a WOD 4-5 times a week and combine it with other activities such as skiing, weightlifting, etc.  I’m currently investigating jiu jitsu as an interesting martial arts to augment my fitness.    

By the way, kudos too all the coaches at CrossFit San Ramon — they are awesome.