There is Life Outside of the Bay Area (Part #4)

Hello, Friends and Family!

Alas, the last installment of “There is Life Outside of the Bay Area” series of blog posts journaling my family move from Danville, California to the mountain town of Park City, Utah.

And now the next check in! The family and I have reached another milestone — we’ve now been living in Park City, Utah for 15 months!  Holy smokes.  It feels like we’ve been here for longer — the time has flown by.  Park City feels like our little mountain town. My family loves it here and we have not really looked back. We have met the nicest people in our neighborhood, community and school.  Mountain living is definitely full of adventure and creates a sense of peace that is hard to explain. Looking back, the original hypothesis on the move was that the family needed a “change in gear” that would provide adventure and a lifestyle improvement. TLDR; We feel really good about our move to Park City. No regrets.

I decided to throw together a list of things we got right and those that we got wrong through our move.  Consider it a mini-retrospective in software development process speak.

Things that went right —

  • We made the right decision to move. Staying in California was “comfortable” and we found something different someplace else. It was not easy but worth the work.
  • We picked the right place to move. Park City is a super unique mountain town. Small enough to still feel like a mountain town but 30 minutes from Salt Lake City and a major airport. Plus, this town has the best skiing, hiking, mountain biking in North America.
  • We picked the right neighborhood — lots of families, away from the touristy Park City downtown and closer to Salt Lake City.
  • We picked the right house at the time. Housing inventory felt like it completely bottom’ed out after we found our house. I think our time here would have been very different if we were in a rental.
  • We picked the right school for the girls. They are thriving there.
  • We guessed right that things are more accessible in Utah as compared to California. There is lots to do in California but we found it challenging to do those things because it was just far enough or just enough traffic or just too many people. There is less of that here in Utah.
  • We underestimated the wildlife — its amazing. There is a nice family of moose that visit from time to time to watch sports on our TV.

Things that went wrong — 

  • We didn’t anticipate number of tourists in Park City. Wow, every other car is from another state here and from all over the United States. There are only supposed to be ~8580 residents in Park City but it feels much more than that given how many owners have moved into their 2nd homes because of COVID. Keep in mind that Danville, California has ~44,164 residents so it’s still ok.
  • We didn’t anticipate that the restaurant scene was going to be so bad. We were just pampered by having the best restaurants in the greater Bay Area. Our theory is that that the lowered demand and state restrictions on beer, wine and liquor creates a different sort of business dynamic for restaurants. Oh well, nothing wrong with Panda Express.
  • We didn’t anticipate how homogenous the population is — skewed white (see below). We were warned but wow, its true. That being said, Danville California was generally a white community as well but there is a significantly higher Asian community — 3x more Asians in Danville. What does that mean … more Panda Express.
Park City, Utah Population by Race [Reference]
Danville, California Population by Race [Reference]
  • We didn’t anticipate the raising cost in labor, commodities and how the construction labor market is just different here. The home we bought needed some renovations and finding the labor to do that work at a reasonable rate was harder and more expensive than we thought.
  • We underestimated how cool Salt Lake City is as a city. So many fun things to do.
  • We underestimated the proximity of University of Utah and BYU. Very cool schools with great sports programs.

So, will we be here in Utah for the rest of our lives? I’m not sure about that. My recent trip to Boston, Massachusetts to visit colleges with Molly reminded me that there are still some very cool cities on the east coast. I think Park City will always be our mountain town for sure and is going to be a fantastic chapter for us until the kids go to college.

Overall, if you want to try something new — take a chance. You only live once.

Thank you for reading. Please don’t hesitate to ping me with questions, comments or feedback!

There is Life Outside of the Bay Area (Part #3)

Hello, Friends and Family! 

In previous blog posts I outlined why my family and I decided to leave California and the logic behind choosing Park City, Utah.  Now, it’s time for the next installment — how the heck is it going? 

I cannot believe that we’re into March 2021.  The Mascardo family has now been in Park City, Utah for 6+ months, we’re 2 trimesters into school and there is only a few more weeks of skiing left this winter.  Around this time last year, California and most of the world was starting to lock things down — more specifically on March 11, 2020 the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic following weeks of community spread from China to the rest of the world. And on March 16, 2020, the Bay Area went into lock down. I vividly remember the city of Danville, California taking down the basketball hoop rims to prevent gatherings. And, being super excited to have find toilet paper at Costco. And, having conversation with our neighbors about them buying a freeze to store food because they were preparing for a huge run on meat products. These are some of the headlines I screen grabbed during that fateful March in 2020.


What has mountain living been like?  I thought it would have been like living in Connecticut because New York/Connecticut got pretty cold and snowy but it has not quite been the same.  Coming from Danville, California — clearly totally different, haha. 

  • So far, I’m loving the seasons.  We had a generally mild winter — bad for early winter skiing but good for my Californian family to start to get used to the cold and snow. We are all looking forward to the summer and a summer with activities now that the COVID numbers in Utah are looking good. 
  • The snow really is “the greatest snow on earth”.  It’s light and fluffy.  Easy to shovel.  Amazing to ski in.   
  • Downside to all the fluffy snow, it is dry out.  More dry than the arid climate of Danville, California.  Managing humidity in your house becomes a thing.  Places here have central humidifiers but if that humidity gets trapped someplace like in the attic, it can create a very bad moisture situations.  Proper air circulation is super important in those cases. 
  • The winter is warmer than I expected here and I think that because its so dry.   A wet cold can really feel super cold. 
  • The sun comes out a lot.  A storm might roll through but then we’ll get sunny blue skies right behind it.  This place is nothing like when we lived in Seattle/Bellevue.  There it was “gray” for more than half of the year.  Awful. 
  • The altitude has not factored much in our day to day.  Our house is at roughly 6600 FT which feels like the perfect altitude for mountain living — anything higher and I think we would have had to deal with it more.  Visitors don’t complain about getting altitude sickness. 
  • There are sharp temperature drops at night so you need to watch for things like frozen hose bibs if you keep the external water running.  I never had this problem in New York/Connecticut for some reason.   You also need to “blow out” the sprinklers at the beginning of the winter or else all those pipes will break. 
  • Snow removal isn’t so bad. Similar to New York/Connecticut but the snow is much lighter. My snow blower is amazing and in those cases when I might be traveling, we have a plow service that is cheaper than what I paid for the minimal yard services in California. 

How about the other aspects of life in Park City?

  • The kids are living their best lives.  Utah is generally open.  The kids go to school, have made new friends, play their sports, are active with skiing and hiking on the weekends. They have thrived. 
  • The pace of life is slower but it’s easy to take the pace from California and just move it to Utah.  Thats what happened to us in the beginning and we are still transitioning out of that mindset.
  • Work for Sarah and I has generally been as expected because most companies are still remote. Access to other work opportunities has been higher than expected. There is high demand for folks in tech and they don’t care where those folks are based. We have both seen an uptick in interest in our skillset despite living away from Silicon Valley.
  • Silicon Slopes is definitely a far cry from Silicon Valley but that’s ok.  I’m surprised to see all the technology companies having an office in the greater Salt Lake City area.  
  • I am amazed by how many out of state license plates are in town. Just the other day, I was surrounded by cars from Maine, Connecticut, Florida and California.  Florida feels super far from Utah for a drive — 2300 miles far.  Folks tell me this isn’t normal but I would imagine there are still many visitors here even during a non-COVID year. 
  • Access to legendary skiing has been amazing.  I’ll do 35+ ski days this year.  Sarah has been doing cross country skiing. 
  • Restaurant selection is bad especially compared to San Francisco and New York City. 
  • I’ve not really noticed the LDS influence except that Sundays are mostly open because lots of places are closer and they there are no kids activities. That has been amazing. 
  • Park City and Utah is definitely very caucasian.  That stereotype if very true. 
  • Pickle ball is a thing there.  Folks are really into it. 

Do we miss anything specific about living in California?  Friends and family for sure.  The beach.  The food. But, given the California COVID lockdown still in effect — I’d say we didn’t miss much in these 6 months.

So far so good.  We’re all looking forward to summer in Park City as the winter season starts to wind down. I’ll provide a 12-month update post-summer when we get there.

Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear your feedback. Please post or share.

Interview with Authority Magazine on Digital Transformations

Hello, Friends and Family! 

I enjoyed my interview with Authority Magazine on the topic of Digital Transformations — here is a link.  I have no idea why they used such a large photo of me.  It makes my forehead look like its two stories tall but that’s a different problem.  It’s amazing to think that at every place I’ve worked, regardless of the size of the company there is always some element of Digital Transformation — it comes in all different shapes and sizes —

  • Start ups trying to transform an industry
  • Start ups trying to transform into their next stage of growth
  • Existing companies trying to transform their existing customers
  • Existing companies trying to transform themselves into something new
  • Any size company trying to transform themselves out of technical debt

Digital transformations are a constant for technologists.  On that note, technical debt is a constant for all companies.  Things are moving so fast there just isn’t any choice.  “Transform or die”.

Folks think its just a technology challenge but I’ve found it more about the people than anyone ever imagines.  Digital transformations require have the organization doing things its never done before.  It can hurt a lot.  Many think they want it but don’t realize the cost.  Failure is required in the leaning process and most don’t like that. 
Here are two of my favored questions & responses from the interview —


None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I could write a book on this topic. I owe so much of my success to my parents. I’m a first-generation immigrant; both my parents were born and raised in the Philippines and were also both doctors. My mom is a Plastic Surgeon, and my dad is an Endocrinologist. They both had successful practices in the greater New York and Connecticut area. They taught me the value of hard work. They would leave the house at 6 am and come back home at 10 pm. Watching them taught me perseverance. We worked through issues because there was no other choice but to get through them. I also learned a sense of perspective. I take nothing for granted and value everything their hard work had afforded me in my career.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I have so many favorite books, but my utmost favorite is Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. It’s the story of Hari Sheldon, a mathematician developing a theory of psycho-history, a new and effective mathematical sociology that allows him to predict the future. When I first read it in high school, it felt so different than anything else that I had read before. When I re-read it as an adult, it felt prescient on topics like artificial intelligence, software, and robotics. Isaac Asimov wrote the first book in 1951. How in the world did he predict some of the things he did? My favorite thing is “zooming out” in search of a broader perspective. The Foundation series forced me to zoom out and think about the holistic impact of building things. Also, it broadened my definition of innovation throughout my career. There exists a level of innovation that does break how we are doing something.

If you missed it, here is a link to the interview. Enjoy the read! 

Apple Needs to Buy Sonos

Hello, friends and family!

Ok, so let’s take a break and talk about some consumer products.  I started writing this post back in April 2020 right around the time I took a stock position in Sonos but never quite finished the post mostly because I was distracted with evaluating a move.  At the time, I was re-reading the Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham and enamored by value investing. 

“Why not invest your assets in the companies you really like? As Mae West said, ‘Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.’”

Warren Buffet

So, I went out looking around for a companies that I very much “liked”, were sold off and that I wanted to hold for the long term.  Thus, Sonos.  Sonos has it figured out.  I love my Sonos setup in my home and always excited to think what new products or services they are coming out next.  Here is my current setup:

  • Two Sonos Three (since discontinued) for my office
  • One Sonos Soundbar (original), Sonos Subwoofer and Two Sonos Ones (original) for the basement home theater
  • One Sonos Move for the kitchen and on the go

I’m very interested in taking advantage of the Sonos Upgrade Program to get some of the new equipment such as the Arc or Beam.   Sonos really has their ecosystem figured out —

  • Sounds great or good enough for me
  • Easy setup and configuration
  • Intuitive and effective mobile integration 
  • Seamless integration with all my streaming services including Apple Music, Spotify, Nugs.net, MLB.com.   
  • Central control of every room 
  • High quality and reliable hardware  
  • It just works 

The Sonos Move was my latest addition and it travels with me in the backyard or in the garage when I’m working on my Jeep.  It’s a bit too big for me to take to the park and use via bluetooth but that’s an option as well. The Sonos product family reminds me of Apple products from a technology and design perspective. It’s probably where the Apple HomePod or the Amazon Echo’s wants to go long term but Sonos owns the wireless home speaker space in my mind.  I can’t think of a competitor that is close.  The Apple HomePod never really captured my attention but I’m sure its a good product. It will be curious to see how the smart speaker market and the home speaker market come together. Sonos does have a Sonos One with Google Voice and Amazon Alexa integration but the value of Sonos to me is the mesh of high quality audio speakers throughout the home.  I own separate, lower cost, lower quality Amazon Echo devices to fill that need.  

On top of all of that, their integrations and services are killer.  All my music services — Amazon Music, Apple Music, Audible, MLB.com, SiriusXM, Spotify, LivePhish+, Nugs.net, Calm and TuneIn.  Yikes — all of that at the tip of my fingers from any of my home speakers.  There is also Sonos Radio / Sonos Radio HD — Sonos Radio is an internet radio service available exclusively on Sonos. It features 60,000 radio stations from around the world, including a curated selection of original stations.  With a subscription to Sonos Radio HD, you can access premium features* such as high-definition audio quality, access to more exclusive original content, unlimited skips, and ad-free music.  Clearly, Sonos is expanding their ecosystem play.  

Sonos feels like they are innovating faster than Apple in this specific home theater speaker space.  It would strike me as a perfect complement to the Apple eco-system and push Apple ahead of Google and Amazon. 
There are others that think this as well as news of such a move pushed the stock up in Nov/Dec 2020.  Regardless, I’m a huge fan and stock holder — keep up the good work Sonos. 

There is Life Outside of the Bay Area (Part #2)

Hello, friends and family! 

My previous blog post outlined why my family and I decided to leave California.  Now, I will try to answer the second question folks commonly ask me — why did you pick Park City, Utah?

Sarah and I don’t have a tremendous amount of history with Utah or Park City.  We are not Mormon. We don’t have family there but I did do several ski trips to Park City in the last decade.  On our trips to Wyoming, we would drive through Park City and say to ourselves, “this town looks super cool”. Here is the wikipedia description of Park City, Utah which I actually thought was a pretty good description —

Park City is a city in Summit CountyUtah, United States. It is considered to be part of the Wasatch Back. The city is 32 miles (51 km) southeast of downtown Salt Lake City and 20 miles (32 km) from Salt Lake City’s east edge of Sugar House along Interstate 80. The population was 7,558 at the 2010 census. On average, the tourist population greatly exceeds the number of permanent residents.

After a population decline following the shutdown of the area’s mining industry, the city rebounded during the 1980s and 1990s through an expansion of its tourism business. The city currently brings in a yearly average of $529.8 million to the Utah Economy as a tourist hot spot, $80 million of which is attributed to the Sundance Film Festival.[6] The city has two major ski resortsDeer Valley Resort and Park City Mountain Resort. Both ski resorts were the major locations for ski and snowboarding events at the 2002 Winter Olympics. Although they receive less snow and have a shorter ski season than do their counterparts in Salt Lake County, such as Snowbird resort, they are much easier to access.

In 2015, Park City Ski Resort and Canyons resorts merged, creating the largest ski area in the U.S. In all, the resort boasts 17 slopes, 14 bowls, 300 trails and 22 miles of lifts.

The city is the main location of the United States’ largest independent film festival, the Sundance Film Festival, home of the United States Ski Team, training center for members of the Australian Freestyle Ski Team, the largest collection of factory outlet stores in northern Utah, the 2002 Olympic bobsled/skeleton/luge track at the Utah Olympic Park, and golf courses. Some scenes from the 1994 film Dumb and Dumber were shot in the city. Outdoor-oriented businesses such as backcountry.comRossignol USA, and Skullcandy have their headquarters in Park City. The city has many retailers, clubs, bars, and restaurants, and has nearby reservoirshot springs, forests, and hiking and biking trails.

In the summertime, many valley residents of the Wasatch Front visit the town to escape high temperatures. Park City is usually cooler than Salt Lake City as it lies mostly higher than 7,000 feet (2,100 m) above sea level, while Salt Lake City is situated at an elevation of about 4,300 feet (1,300 m).

In 2008, Park City was named by Forbes Traveler Magazine as one of the “20 prettiest towns” in the United States.[7] In 2011, the town was awarded a Gold-level Ride Center designation from the International Mountain Bicycling Association for its mountain bike trails, amenities and community.[8]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Park_City,_Utah

So, what criteria did we use to guide our decision?  Here is our list of strategic criteria for a new home. I’m sure there were others but at this point I don’t remember them anymore.

  • “Not California” — I love California and have really enjoyed living in California, we still own property in California but the struggles are real. And looking ahead, it feels it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
  • “Smaller” — we wanted a smaller town feel, slower paced and more manageable day to day life.
  • “Up and coming” — we wanted a broader metropolitan area with a bright future
  • “West of the Mississippi” — we wanted a place within striking distance of the Bay Area for the purposes of work and to be close to Sarah’s parents
  • “Better school situation for the girls” — we didn’t want to go someplace that would be a step back from the schools in California. COVID influenced this criteria as it heavily impacted the school situation in California. Public schools were ill prepared for the remote learning and private schools, be it better prepared, were all waitlisted and very expensive.
  • “Seasons” — we wanted a place with four seasons.
  • “Adventure” — finally, we wanted a place that would line up an adventure for the entire family during the final years the girls would still be in our home. New experiences for all of us to do together.

The short list of cities that we considered over the years was long – the ones in bold were in heavy consideration towards the end:

  • Denver, Colorado
  • Boulder, Colorado
  • Fort Collins, Colorado
  • Austin, Texas
  • Eugene, Oregon
  • Portland, Oregon
  • Park City, Utah

A fun list of cities; and I’m sure I forgot some of them we evaluated.  Ultimately, we have huge interest in moving abroad to Europe or Asia for a period of time but that was not in the cards for us this time around. That felt like too much change during a pandemic. We’ll consider those opportunities later.

Sarah and I realized quickly how hard of decision it was to pick a new place.  It very much felt like the unsolvable problem.  There just was not the perfect place but we soon realized that if we were going to actually make a decision, we needed to pick a place that checked off enough of the boxes for everyone.  And I’ll be honest — I was the big hold out.  I was/am too much of a workaholic to think that I could move away from Silicon Valley and all the start ups I love. Well, the stars aligned and we took the leap in a very condensed and hectic summer during one of the craziest years on record. 

I want to say that COVID didn’t impact our decision making but it surely did.  COVID seemed to created an intense need for change and at the same time loosened standard life constraints like “living near an office for work”.   I think that these new  dynamics just helped push over the top our existing interest to do something different.  Plus, Sarah and I are both of the belief that change is good. At the end of the day, we were going to come out of this with new experiences and friends that should broaden our outlook.

Park City, Utah won out. Hazzah!   It checked off more of the boxes than any of the other city on list.  Below were some of the reasons —

  • Duh, Park City Utah.  Park City is such an awesome little city.  Beauty.  Quaint.  Hiking.  Skiing.  Mountain Biking.  Cross country skiing.  Fly fishing.  Sundance Film Festival.  Moose. 
  • Quality of life. Holy smokes, it’s a fun town. It’s smaller and slower paced.  There are no kids sporting events on Sunday because of the LDS influence and that is glorious. We are literally 10 minutes away from the best skiing. And the summers are even more glorious!
  • Better education and life opportunities for our  girls.  We found a wonderful private school at a higher ranking and half the cost of the private schools in the Bay Area. Molly found an ECNL soccer club to play for and they are actually safely playing through COVID. Brooklyn also found a great soccer club and two terrific AAU basketball clubs to play for.
  • Favorable work environment and opportunities.  The company I work for has a sizable office in Salt Lake City so whenever we open again, I’ll have a place to go. “Silicon Slopes” as it’s called is up and coming for sure. Also, The Salt Lake City International Airport is a quick 25 minutes away from home so work trips are easy. 
  • Mountain town living that is 20 minutes from Salt Lake City.  Salt Lake City is a very cool city and so close. Other mountain towns are just more remote. Tahoe was never interesting to us — it feels completely overrun right now and more of the same.
  • Lower cost of living as compared to California. It’s true. I’ve seen the numbers with my own eyes and its material. Housing. Real Estate tax. Income tax. Utilities. Food. Gas.
  • Smaller community to ride out COVID. Utah has been generally open and managing things reasonably well. There are surely parts of Utah that “don’t believe in the virus” like any other state but Park City folks are very respectful to the realities right now. Our theory is that small communities will be able to manage through COVID more effectively just because there are less people.
  • Proximity to Universities.  The University of Utah is 20 minutes away. We have our season tickets to PAC-12 Women’s Basketball whenever we open up again.

For those that might be interested in knowing, we live in a neighborhood called Jeremy Ranch, north of downtown Park City. It feels like a classic mountain neighborhood nestled up in the hills. We like it because it’s closer to Salt Lake City, slightly away from the tourist areas but close enough to the action.

So, how is it going in Park City?  That will be my next blog post.

I hope folks find this information useful. At the end of the day, life is short. Find your happy path. Take action. Thank you for reading. I would love to hear your feedback. Please post or share.

There is Life Outside of the Bay Area (Part #1)

Hello, friends and family! 

After 20+ long years, my family and I decided to leave the Bay Area for the mountains of Park City, Utah.  For my wife, its probably closer to 35+ years of not only living in the Bay Area but actually growing up there.    A huge shift but all in all, a very positive decision for my entire family.  When I tell folks we have moved, I usually get the following questions —

  1. Why did we decide to leave?  (Part #1)
  2. Why did you pick Park City, Utah?  (Part #2)
  3. What has it been like?  Do you think you’ll move back?  (Part #3a @ 6 months, Part #3b @ 12 months)

So, let me take the time the time to answer these questions in a thoughtful manner.  For a bit of context, I’m originally from east coast (NY/CT), went to college in Virginia and came out to the Bay Area in 1999 with my Computer Science degree in hand to build some bad ass software.  I met Sarah at an eBusiness consulting company where I was a software engineer and she was a recruiter. 

So, question #1 — why did we decide to leave?

  • California and the Bay Area feels like it’s going into the toilet.  Fires.  Riots.  Overcrowding.  Traffic.  Lockdowns.  Oppressive heat waves. Rolling power outages. Quality of Life.  Cost of Living.  Taxes.  Even the best parts of California were getting less accessible.  I recall a trip to Yosemite where we were on a trail with 1000+ of our best friends.  Haha.  Also, the week after we left for Park City was the week the Bay Area looked like a scene from Blade Runner.  
  • San Francisco is not the city it used to be.  San Fransisco is just not the city it was when I crossed the Golden Gate bridge in my Penske truck rental and my two buddies driving with me across country 20+ years ago.  The homeless, used condoms and syringes on the streets and general lack of charm that drew me to the city years ago.  
  • Silicon Valley has lost its allure.   Back in 1999, Silicon Valley was about the geeks and building cool things.  Now, the focus is less about building great products with technology and more about the money.  Not that there wasn’t a focus on money before — but it feels like more of a focus than it even has been. 
  • COVID.  We all know we can’t run away from COVID.  Just look at all the corners of America where COVID has reached. COVID was not a real reason we left the Bay Area but it surely created an overarching environment that forced a perspective.    
    • COVID feels like It’s spreading uncontrollably in California and folks are angry, fed up and not listening anymore.  The COVID spreading rates plus the population plus the already stressed hospital capacity is a recipe for disaster. 
    • COVID has ruined the quality of life in California. Everything is closed.  Curfews.  Etc. 
    • COVID broke the public school system in California.  The end of the 2019-2020 was not a favorable experience for the kids and it feels like its going getting marginally better. The public schools are just not structured to support remote style learning.  The private schools seemed to react better but the private schools in the East Bay are not cheap and at the time, were impacted as parents were scrambling to find alternative schooling options.
  • What will happen long term in California?  Who is going to pay for all of the issues in California?   What are the long term environmental ramifications to all the fires that have burned through the states?  
  • We had already been thinking about it.  My wife and I had been wanting to leave the Bay Area but not had quite settled on where we would end up.  So, in reality we had one foot out the door already.
  • Adventure and change is good.   It’s time for an adventure!  Why not?  Life is good short.   

Overall, lots of reasons but it was not an easy decision.  The biggest counterpoint was leaving such great friend and family.   

Let me know your thoughts!  In my next blog post, I will go through why we picked Park City, Utah. 

Wyoming is a Magical Place

Wyoming is the 10th largest by area, the least populous, and the second most sparsely populated state in the country. The state population was estimated at 578,759 in 2019.    Is it roughly 1200 from where we live in the the Bay Area.  A drive there takes roughly two days of time with your favorite audio book or collection of favorite Grateful Dead or Phish shows. The views along the way are beautiful.  In the North / Central part of the state in Johnson County is a little city called Buffalo.  The population was 4,585 at the 2010 census.  It’s nestled at the foot of the Bighorn Mountains and surrounded by nature’s beauty.  

My family and I could not think of a better place to run off to in the middle of a pandemic.  

Amazon Echo Is Sleeper Gadget

Amazon_5.jpg

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!