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The New York Times Phasing Out 3rd Party Ad Data

Sara Fischer, reporting for Axios:

The New York Times will no longer use 3rd-party data to target ads come 2021, executives tell Axios, and it is building out a proprietary first-party data platform.

Beginning in July, The Times will begin to offer clients 45 new proprietary first-party audience segments to target ads

This is great news and I hope others follow. It’s going to be tough for them to pull away from the giant data providers, but I hope that publishers can do it. Third-party tracking and sharing of user data is gross and a privacy nightmare.

As an aside, I do happen to run a small independent publisher that is partially supported by sponsored ads at Air Mail. When I built the tech for Air Mail, I specifically and intentionally created a system that wouldn’t allow any third-party tracking of ad data. We host and serve all of our ads in a first-party and private matter. Tracking clicks and impressions is standard practice for ad servers and ours does it entirely in the background as well. This allows our sponsors to check their numbers without compromising on one ounce of customer data from our readers. I created the type of system that I wouldn’t mind using as a reader.

It’s not that complicated if you design your ad systems with privacy in mind from the beginning. Here’s hoping more of the publishing world catches on.

Spotify Acquires Joe Rogan

Ashley Carman for The Verge:

Joe Rogan, comedian and host of one of the most popular podcasts in the world, is taking his show to Spotify. The Joe Rogan Experience will soon become a Spotify exclusive, meaning episodes’ full audio and video will only be available through the platform starting later this year. Up until now, Rogan’s show has never been available on Spotify, let alone exclusive to any platform.

Spotify is quickly eating up the “podcast” world. Not great.

A “podcast” that is only available on one app and does not provide an open feed to access its shows is not a podcast. Maybe we need a new name for these type of things. We need more independent podcast publishers, not consolidation of power into the hands of the few.

Dave Grohl on Live Music

Dave Grohl in the Atlantic:

In today’s world of fear and unease and social distancing, it’s hard to imagine sharing experiences like these ever again. I don’t know when it will be safe to return to singing arm in arm at the top of our lungs, hearts racing, bodies moving, souls bursting with life. But I do know that we will do it again, because we have to. It’s not a choice. We’re human. We need moments that reassure us that we are not alone. That we are understood. That we are imperfect. And, most important, that we need each other. I have shared my music, my words, my life with the people who come to our shows. And they have shared their voices with me. Without that audience—that screaming, sweating audience—my songs would only be sound. But together, we are instruments in a sonic cathedral, one that we build together night after night. And one that we will surely build again.

Amen.

The bit about Springsteen in the piece is priceless too.

(via Daring Fireball)

Jason Isbell on Self Doubt

David Peisner, writing about the making of Jason Isbell’s new album for the New York Times:

After all the strife the album caused, it’d be understandable if Shires never wanted to hear it again, but that’s not the case. “It’s the worst recording experience I’ve ever been a part of, but it’s my favorite record he’s made,” she said. “I’d like to say we’re stronger because of it, but we’re not. We just know that our strength is more than we thought.”

Isbell doesn’t think the album was affected by the turmoil he underwent making it but allowed for the possibility he could be wrong. “Maybe you can hear it,” he said. “Maybe the record is better for it. I don’t know. I try not to ask that question because I don’t want to get in a pattern of [expletive] my life up to make better records.”

What a refreshingly honest piece. Tough discussion I’m sure. Isbell is by far my favorite artist of the past 5 years or so. Looking forward to the new album. (Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t listen to singles ahead of the release. I like to wait for the full thing.)

The Facebook SDK Crash

Anil Dash writing about this yesterday’s Facebook SDK issue that crashed many apps:

So, understandably, everybody just plugs in the Facebook code (often called a “library” or more formally, a Software Development Kit, “SDK”) and focuses on the more important features of their app. But while lots of open source code libraries that you might use just perform a certain function in your app, like displaying a picture or formatting some data, this Facebook code also relies on a service on Facebook’s site running properly, too.

Today, that service got broken.

The result of Facebook’s breakdown today is kinda wild: a minor configuration change on a Facebook server that isn’t even visible to regular users made dozens of high-profile apps from some of the biggest companies in the world all start crashing when you open them — even if you weren’t using Facebook at all.

On Concerts and Ticketing

This was supposed to be a great year for live music. Well, every year is a great year for live music. But, for me, any year with a new Pearl Jam tour these days is a good year.

One of my favorite things to do is see my favorite bands and performers live in concert. In a previous life I would travel up and down the east coast to see shows as much as I could. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen a few bands and still wish I could go to more. It’s harder for me to get out these days (life with small children at home is complicated!) but I still manage to get to a select few shows each year.

And yet, right now I can’t imagine a more dangerous place than a crowd of 500 to 20,000 people sitting together in close proximity. Everyone breathing on one another. Ugh. Gross. This isn’t something we’ve imagined before. Live events are supposed to be fun: a way to escape life and enjoy the music for a few hours. As with everything else right now, it’s a whole new world.

The music industry doesn’t know how to handle what’s happening. None of us do, really, but some are handling it better than others. The music industry is lazy. More specifically, the live music ticketing industry is lazy and has barely innovated in decades.

Why should they innovate? Each year millions of people, just like me, buy tickets as fast as they can when their favorite artists announce new tours. There’s no reason for these providers to change when they are already making money at an alarming rate compared to the actual service they provide. Service charges, convenience fees, and other ticketing add-ons continue to increase in cost, while the service and convenience they offer continue to decline.

As fans, we go online at a specific time to try and fight the bots and scalpers to get decent tickets. The tickets go on sale at 10:00 AM local time on some random weekday when we’re all supposed to be working because the ticket providers still can’t handle a surge of traffic that’s less than Amazon receives in an hour of Cyber Monday sales. And yet their servers still buckle under the pressure. Bots, scalpers, and preferred ticketing vendors get all of the good seats and true fans are left with scraps. Which we always buy because, hey, we’re in the building. And so is Paul McCartney!

Or, if you’re out of touch like me, you don’t even realize when tickets are on sale until that magical time has already passed. This happens to me all of the time. I’m listening to something on Apple Music and I wonder if the artist is touring soon. I check it out and sure enough they are coming soon, but tickets are already mostly sold. Then you’re stuck in the third-party market of StubHub and others; inevitably paying a hefty premium on top of a face-value ticket price to some scalper that never intended to go to the show anyways. There has to be a better way.

Then the coronavirus happens and the live music world is upended. Last night I received an e-mail from Ticketmaster about a show that was supposed to take place back in March:

Hi John,

Unfortunately, the event organizer has had to cancel your event.

The good news is that a refund will be processed automatically for you. Due to the unprecedented volume of cancellations, you should expect to receive your refund in as soon as 30 days.

Please Note: If the tickets were transferred to you, the refund will go to the fan who originally purchased the tickets from Ticketmaster.

Of course the concert has been canceled. It was supposed to take place in March, and it’s now May 2nd. That’s also nice that they are going to refund my purchase. Strangely though, much like unsubscribing from a mailing list, it takes 30 days to refund. But it’s better than nothing.

Except for the last sentence of the e-mail: “the refund will go to the fan who originally purchased the tickets from Ticketmaster.”. Ticketmaster knows that I have the tickets, but it isn’t smart enough to realize that I didn’t purchase the tickets. I bought them from someone else on StubHub (for a premium, sigh) and then received the tickets as a transfer. So according to this it seems that I probably over paid for the concert (which is totally fine) on StubHub, and now the original purchaser is going to receive a refund for whatever they paid. We can only assume that I’ll receive nothing by way of a refund, even though I clearly ‘own’ the tickets in my Ticketmaster account.

The money I’m out for the concert is annoying, but I get that. It’s a minor blip on the coronavirus radar these days. It wasn’t an expensive ticket so I’m not that worried about it.

But the bigger issue is how much of a mess the ticketing industry is. Ticketmaster, building on tech from decades ago, is not prepared to handle simple things like returning an order. StubHub, and others like it, are seemingly still operating on the idea that a ticket is a piece of paper that once transferred to someone retains no historical context of its origin.

The concert industry, like many, is hurting right now. This could be a time of great innovation and overall cleanup. Ticketmaster is a giant. They have immense resources and even more political sway in the industry. What if they took on the task of modernizing the concert ticketing space? That seems unlikely.

The more likely and hopeful scenario is one of disruption from a new player in the market. Cloud services are ubiquitous. Mobile ticketing solutions are available to everyone with a smartphone. The databases and integrations required for this type of innovation are not complicated from a systems design perspective.

The live music industry is at a standstill right now. It’s going to be months or years before concerts are back to the way we left them. That’s plenty of time to start innovating and clean up this mess.

As a fan, I hope someone is up to the challenge. Here’s to 2021 being the best year for live music and ticketing yet.

Technical Skill Interviewing at Basecamp

David Heinemeier Hansson joins the discussion on evaluating programmers with a skills test. At Basecamp, they prefer a late stage take-home challenge that mirrors the actual work that will be performed in the job if hired. As usual from Basecamp, this is very well thought through and sounds like a nice process for the company and the candidate alike:

There’s no perfect process for hiring great programmers, but there are plenty of terrible ways to screw it up. We’ve rejected the industry stables of grilling candidates in front of a whiteboard or needling them with brain teasers since the start at Basecamp. But you’re not getting around showing real code when applying for a job here.

So we whittle the group of candidates down aggressively first. This means judging their cover letter and, to a far lesser extent, their resume. For the opening we had on the Research & Fidelity team, we gave 40 people the take-home test, and even that proved to be too many. For the opening we had on the Security, Infrastructure & Performance team, we only gave 13 people the take-home test. That felt better. In the future, we’ll target fewer than 20 for sure.

Then there’s the assessment itself. I’ve heard many fair complaints that companies are asking candidates to complete massive projects that may take 20-30-40 hours of work, which is all unpaid, and which might be difficult for candidates to fit in with their existing job and life. Yeah, don’t do that. Asking someone for forty hours of work product, without pay, which might well go nowhere, is not what we do or advocate at Basecamp.

Brent Simmons on Coding Challenges

Brent Simmons, who has been building and shipping exceptional software for decades, has been writing about his recent reentry into the job market and practicing for coding skill tests during interviews. I’ve followed Brent’s work for as long as I can remember and his blog is one of my favorites. A few days ago, he described the pain of studying for code interviews:

I don’t have a CS degree, but I have decades of experience — I know what a linked list is, for instance, and could write one by hand easily if called to. In a few different languages, even. I could talk about the trade-offs between a linked list and a contiguous array. Etc. I’ve got all that.

My style of coding is to break problems into steps and make it super-obvious to other people — and future-me — what the code is doing. I like to write code so clear that comments aren’t needed.

He then describes how he approaches problems normally during the course of his work and how that is very different from what these technical interviews are looking for. When I wrote last week about technical recruiting I was thinking about this same problem. This style of technical interview is set up to quiz people on very low-level puzzles and graded on a scale designed for a computer science exam, rather than actual day-to-day aptitude for real job.

Brent followed up yesterday with another post:

There’s a whole small industry to help people prepare for these tests — so it’s not like you’re getting the authentic programmer showing up. You’re getting the person who’s prepared for one of these.

Because of that, an interviewer is even less likely to learn how a candidate approaches solving a problem. Instead, they’ll learn how well the candidate prepared to make a good impression — which tells you nothing about how they’d actually solve a problem.

Daniel Jalkut, on Twitter, reacting to Brent’s posts:

No matter how experienced we are, the prospect of code-related interview questions provoke fear in us. I don’t know if any other industry is like this, where inrterviews are designed as “gotcha” traps, designed to make fools out of geniuses.

I understand the need to see how someone codes before hiring them to join your company. But it shouldn’t be tricky. And it should focus on the actual job itself, which for most of software development, is just solving hard problems. I’d much rather hear about how someone solved a problem than if they know a specific sort algorithm.

Why we can’t build

Very nice response to Marc Andreesson’s post last week by Ezra Klein at Vox:

So let me end with my answer to Andreessen’s question: What should we build? We should build institutions biased toward action and ambition, rather than inaction and incrementalism.

But that means doing the difficult work of reforming existing institutions that aren’t going anywhere. You can’t sidestep the existence of the government, as too many in Silicon Valley want to do. You have to engage with it. You have to muster the political power to rebuild parts of it. And then you need to use the government to make markets competitive again.

But legislators on both sides prefer the status quo because it gives them power when they’re in the minority, and because they’re more afraid of what their opponents might do than committed to what they’ve promised to do. The allure of what they could build isn’t as powerful as the fear of what the other side may build.

The Magic Keyboard

Morning coffee with the new iPad Magic Keyboard

My new iPad Magic Keyboard arrived yesterday. I’ve been waiting for this thing patiently since it was announced last month. Along with the Airpods, this is one of the Apple products I’ve been most excited about in the past few years.

Some initial quick thoughts follow…

It feels really nice, so much better than the squishy keys of the old keyboard cover. It feels like I’m typing on a real computer now, instead of some bolted-on after thought accessory.

I work in the mornings before the kids wake up often, usually on the iPad in the kitchen. It’s so nice to have the keys lit up so I can actually type in the dark and see what’s going on. The backlit keyboard is a wonderful addition.

The viewing angle is slightly more adjustable than the keyboard cover, but not by very much for my practical use. I guess it’s nice to be able to fold it into itself a bit more, but I’m not sure I’ll ever use that, especially when just using this as a laptop replacement and typing on a table top. I actually wish that it opened a bit more for typing while standing up at a counter-height surface, but that’s a minor quibble.

These keys sure do feel nice! The mechanism under the key is crisp and responds very well.

It’s going to take a bit to get used to the iPad screen hanging out right above the number keys. It seems I lift my fingers up when typing more than I would have predicted so I’m hitting the bottom of the iPad screen more than I’d care to. I think with some practice this will go away.

Initially when I attached this keyboard to my 2018 iPad, it did nothing. Oh shoot, did I get a dud? I was so excited to play with this thing. No, it works fine. It turns out that I needed to run a software update on my iPad. After a slow update and reboot, I’m in business. Halfway through the reboot the keyboard just lit up… ahh.

I still don’t understand why the need for a hardware ‘globe’ button that enables the emoji keyboard. The iPad keyboard cover I was using prior has it as well. Why? It’s in the same place as the Fn key on a standard Mac laptop, so I instinctively hit it when I’m doing text manipulation. (I never realized how often I use Fn-Delete to remove characters in front of the cursor. It turns out that Control-D does the same thing, so I need to switch my muscle memory to that instead.) Lucky for me, I can use the keyboard settings in iOS to disable the silly globe key so it has no effect when pushed. Waste of space, but I can handle that.

The trackpad… wow there’s a trackpad for iOS! This is so delightful. It’s so natural for me to reach for the trackpad now instead of having to lift up my fingers and drag the screen around when I’m typing. It sounds silly, but it makes for such a nicer experience.

It’s Time To Build

Marc Andreessen:

Every Western institution was unprepared for the coronavirus pandemic, despite many prior warnings. This monumental failure of institutional effectiveness will reverberate for the rest of the decade, but it’s not too early to ask why, and what we need to do about it.

Many of us would like to pin the cause on one political party or another, on one government or another. But the harsh reality is that it all failed — no Western country, or state, or city was prepared — and despite hard work and often extraordinary sacrifice by many people within these institutions. So the problem runs deeper than your favorite political opponent or your home nation.

Part of the problem is clearly foresight, a failure of imagination. But the other part of the problem is what we didn’t *do* in advance, and what we’re failing to do now. And that is a failure of action, and specifically our widespread inability to *build*. […]

Building isn’t easy, or we’d already be doing all this. We need to demand more of our political leaders, of our CEOs, our entrepreneurs, our investors. We need to demand more of our culture, of our society. And we need to demand more from one another. We’re all necessary, and we can all contribute, to building.

Every step of the way, to everyone around us, we should be asking the question, what are you building? What are you building directly, or helping other people to build, or teaching other people to build, or taking care of people who are building? If the work you’re doing isn’t either leading to something being built or taking care of people directly, we’ve failed you, and we need to get you into a position, an occupation, a career where you can contribute to building. There are always outstanding people in even the most broken systems — we need to get all the talent we can on the biggest problems we have, and on building the answers to those problems.

What will the sports fan’s experience look like after coronavirus?

Interesting analysis of the sports world, specifically the in-stadium experience, in a post Covid-19 world by Alex Speier in the Boston Globe:

To maintain 6 feet on all sides, you’d likely need multiple empty seats and multiple rows between fans — some of which could potentially be offset by having, say, a family of four from one household sitting together in a block. Crowd composition could be altered further by profiling. Might teams discourage those at greater risk of serious complications from COVID-19 — those over 60, or those with preexisting conditions — from going to games? Would teams restrict tickets to — or feature different seating plans for — those who could document they had developed antibodies to the coronavirus?

Decontamination of stands will have to become a staple of stadium operations. Hand sanitizer will become omnipresent in concourses. Cleaning staffs would have to be vigilant about the “high-touch” areas of facilities — including railings (both in stands and on escalators) and elevator buttons. Might there be a requirement for spectators to wear masks? If so, masks with team logos might replace caps or jerseys as the most frequently seen form of team apparel.

It’s a quintessential part of the stadium experience: A hot dog passed from vendor to fan to fan to fan, with cash flowing back in the other direction. In all likelihood, that familiar ritual will be gone. “They’ll have to have no stadium vendors,” said Zimbalist. “They’re not going to have people passing hot dogs down or passing anything down. That has to stop.”

via Peter King’s Football Morning in America

Thoughts on Recruiting

For the past few weeks, I’ve been helping out a friend with some technical recruiting. This is a bit of new territory for me and with that always comes new things to learn. I’ve done my fair share of hiring in the past, so it isn’t completely foreign but this situation is unique for me.

The process is exhausting and difficult but in the end you’re bringing a new person onto your team to help your company grow. So it’s worth it. You keep pushing through because that one next person can really help your company grow.

But I’ve never tried to hire someone for someone else’s team. It feels counterintuitive in a way. But I’m wrapping my head around it so far. I’m helping talented people find a great job and that’s wonderful. I’m also helping someone else build a team to do important work. I’ll only be involved from afar, but the end result is the same.

The Industry

The technical recruiting world is broken and awful. The vast majority of people that I’ve encountered doing this job are playing a strict numbers game. They blast out job postings, candidates, and poorly researched e-mail introductions by the thousands just hoping for a few suckers to respond.

From a candidate’s side it’s a beat down. I’ve long ago disabled all notifications from LinkedIn and I have a number of pattern matching filters on my e-mail addresses to keep this stuff from ever reaching my inbox. I’m not trying to be rude, but there is so much garbage out there that it’s hard to find a signal in that noise. Every few weeks I’ll go into LinkedIn and my message queue is filled with recruitment notes for “once in a lifetime” and “top tier” positions at great “brands”. If these positions were that unique, I wouldn’t get 20 of them a week.

From the company’s side, it’s also a beat down. Many of the companies are actually doing interesting work. They have a real problem on their hands and they have a business opportunity they could accomplish if they could just find a few good people to focus on it. Many (but certainly not all) of the hiring managers in these companies are not technical and feel unequipped to find the right people for the positions. To solve the problem there are usually both internal company recruiters and external staffing and recruiting firms. Both have their benefits and both approaches can be completely terrible.

Staffing firms have a less than desirable reputation in the tech world. For good reason too. The numbers game playing out each day is a complete turn off and gives the industry a bad name. It’s not usually that they don’t care, they just don’t know what to do. They are tasked with hiring for a very technical position that they don’t understand and don’t know how to qualify people for. It’s a beat down all around.

Getting Better

I’m not here to solve the world’s recruiting problems. I’m passionate about building software and companies around that software. Recruiting is certainly one piece of that puzzle, but it’s usually something I leave to others. In short, I’m not leaving my ‘day’ job to become a recruiter, but I can still help a little bit.

The biggest thing I think I’m contributing to this process is that I know these technical jobs. I’ve done the jobs myself, I’ve been in these roles. I’ve hired for them before in my own companies. I know the tech and I understand the problems the companies are trying to solve by hiring. I also know a thing or two about shipping software and actually accomplishing organizational goals. So I’m using what I know to identify people that I’d hire if I was the company.

The challenging part of finding who I’d hire is: I’m not hiring them! I am just one piece of the process and just one opinion in the room. Sometimes who I’d hire isn’t the right fit for a company, and that’s totally fine. It’s their company and I need to defer to them on what’s best. It’s hard to present someone I think is great and have them rejected, but that’s a part of the deal. I’m working on getting better at this.

The Interview Process

I’m learning about big company interview processes a bit too. The biggest company I’ve worked for was about 120,000 employees at its peak, and I’ve slowly moved my career into the opposite direction ever since. I prefer to work in a startup with less than 10 people. So it’s a bit different. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a big company, as much as it’s not for me.

At a bigger company, the interview process is completely different than what I’ve been exposed to most of my career. For the past decade or so I’ve almost exclusively been hiring for companies that I own or have built. This is a very different process than hiring for a company that’s been around for decades and is publicly traded, for example. I would obsess on every hire and worry about how they would affect the company’s vibe and culture. I cared more about their personality and past experience than how technical they were. I can teach programming, but I can’t teach someone be kind to their coworkers if they don’t think that’s worthwhile. With a bigger company, culture is still important, but it’s very different than a startup. Hard skills seem to matter more than the soft ones.

My interview style is to speak conversationally with the person and just try and get to know them. I want to know how they think. How do they solve problems? What problems have they solved before? What did they learn from those problems? Sure, we can get technical here. If they built a cool API I’ll most certainly ask how they built it. What did they build it with? How did it scale? How did you decide to use this piece of tech over this other one? There aren’t right or wrong answers here, for the most part. I’m imagining this person in the role I’m hiring for and trying to see how their past experiences and best practices align with mine and those of my team.

I’m not into tricks and riddles and code algorithm puzzles. Not one bit. I don’t care if you know some specific computer science term or how to best write some algorithm. Most good developers I know spend a lot of time Googling and figuring things out. I know I do. If I’m presented with a performance challenge, I’m surely not going to recall some abstract algorithm from college and apply it from memory. I’m going to search for a solution. I’m going to look at forums and read blogs about how others are solving the problem. I’ll chat it through with coworkers. Then I’ll devise a solution and implement it. Maybe I’ll do that whole process two or three times before the best solution presents itself.

So I’d probably be terrible in a coding quiz interview. I might be laughed out of the room if I had to whiteboard some computer science algorithm from memory. I don’t need to know that stuff, I just need to know that it’s a thing. In the “real world” I’d Google it and solve it within 10 minutes.

But these type of things are quite common in big company land. So I’m learning to adapt. If I find someone I like, it’s now part of my job to prepare them for these type of technical interviews. Once I find someone that I think can do they job, I need to also make sure they can pass the interview. These are very different things, but if the end goal is the same, it’s a worthwhile effort.

As with everything in this space, I’m not sure if I’m right or wrong. I don’t think there is a hard and fast ‘right or wrong’. I’m just doing what I know and what’s worked for me.

What’s Next

As I think I’ve articulated, recruiting is a big giant mess. It’s hard for everyone. There’s no perfectly correct way to do this and the only way to get better is to keep trying to get better.

I’m going to keep trying for now. It’s a small chunk of my free time, but it’s been an interesting ride so far.

Now back to building software.

Hiring at Automattic

Jerry Jones (no, not that one) writing about his interview and eventual hiring process at Automattic:

The entire hiring process is text based. Seriously.

Never once did I hear someone’s voice or do a video call. Until my first paycheck arrived, a part of me still believed it was all too good to be true, and it was just an elaborate prank.

They invited me to a slack channel, and I was free to ask questions and talk with the hiring team. They told me how they do what they call “async communication.” You can ask a question, and you may not get an answer for awhile, as the person may be in a totally different part of the world.

I found the idea of a Slack-only interview fascinating. I’m sure it can be difficult waiting for responses in the void sometimes, but this also seems like a great way to also respect the workload of those on the inside doing the interviews as well.

There’s some other interesting parts in the piece about coding tests and trial run too. It’s clear there has been some careful thought put into this process, and that’s nice to see.

Apple and Google Announce Contact Tracing Tool, Partnership

From Matthew Panzarino at TechCrunch:

Apple and Google’s engineering teams have banded together to create a decentralized contact tracing tool that will help individuals determine whether they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.

Contact tracing is a useful tool that helps public health authorities track the spread of the disease and inform the potentially exposed so that they can get tested. It does this by identifying and “following up with” people who have come into contact with a COVID-19-affected person.

The first phase of the project is an API that public health agencies can integrate into their own apps. The next phase is a system-level contact tracing system that will work across iOS and Android devices on an opt-in basis.

The system uses on-board radios on your device to transmit an anonymous ID over short ranges — using Bluetooth beaconing. Servers relay your last 14 days of rotating IDs to other devices, which search for a match. A match is determined based on a threshold of time spent and distance maintained between two devices.

If a match is found with another user that has told the system that they have tested positive, you are notified and can take steps to be tested and to self-quarantine.

This is great news. Any system like this will need deep integration into the operating systems to be effective. Third-party apps can implement some nice features, but the platform itself has to be on board for more widespread adoption. It’s nice to see the two big players in the mobile space cooperating on this level.

They have already started to release some documentation and notes about the APIs. This should be an exciting space to watch over the next few months.

Three Weeks

Three weeks down. Who knows how many more to go? We are a bit over three weeks into our family’s social distancing. I’m not sure what to call it really, but we’re staying home and not interacting with anyone outside of the house except for an occasional run to the grocery store. Or to get tequila.

Three weeks ago our schools were still open. Restaurants were still open. There was toilet paper and packs of eggs in stores. If you were sick you could buy Tylenol and Advil. Hospitals had beds available. We were excited to start a new season of tee-ball and I was looking forward to the start of baseball, March Madness, and The Masters.

What a difference that three weeks make. We decided to pull our kids out of school before spring break and they haven’t returned since, and probably won’t finish out the school year. Our county announced a shelter-in-place order requiring everyone to stay home until at least May 20th. March Madness was completely canceled, The Masters is delayed (but probably canceled) and even the Olympics for this year are postponed until next summer. It feels like the whole world is on pause.

For the most part, our time as a family has been great. We’ve never spent this much time all together, and likely never will again. I’ve heard it takes humans a little more than three weeks to develop new habits and routines. This time doesn’t feel new any more and it feels like we’ve established our new routines. We’re slowly figuring out how to do home schooling. We’re adjusting to not being around friends and having things to do outside of our neighborhood. We’re finding new things to cook at home and creative ways to pass the extra time. I’m truly thankful for this time together as a family. As long as the Internet doesn’t go out, we’re doing just fine over here.

I’m anxious about the world around us. I see our family, and others we know, doing everything we can do to prevent the spread of this virus but it’s not enough. There are so many people around us that do not seem to understand what’s going on. They’re playing and interacting like nothing has changed and burying their heads in the sand. I heard one older Texas man say that “we all need to just put on our big boy pants and get on with life.” We continue to have awkward conversations with people about how we can’t meet up for a certain activity now how they can’t come visit right now. I don’t feel like I should have to explain, but I still do. It feels like we’re the ones doing something wrong, and the rest of the world is moving on without us sometimes. But that’s not the case. I know it’s not the case, and soon I hope everyone will understand it as well.

So three weeks down, and on to the next. April is going to be an interesting month. Stay safe out there.

Bill Gates: Here’s how to make up for lost time on covid-19

Bill Gates in The Washington Post this week:

There’s no question the United States missed the opportunity to get ahead of the novel coronavirus. But the window for making important decisions hasn’t closed. The choices we and our leaders make now will have an enormous impact on how soon case numbers start to go down, how long the economy remains shut down and how many Americans will have to bury a loved one because of covid-19.

Through my work with the Gates Foundation, I’ve spoken with experts and leaders in Washington and across the country. It’s become clear to me that we must take three steps.

Very clear and reasonable steps.

It seems about time for the leadership in this country to get its act together and start taking control of this. I’m looking at you too, Texas.

Screen

Jahanzeb Sherwani announcing his new venture, Screen:

In 2013, I co-founded a company called Screenhero, which made an app that let pair programmers work together remotely. Through low-latency screen sharing and shared control, it let programmers code together on a Mac or Windows computer. Customers loved us, and voted with their wallets: once we started charging, we reached $1M in annual recurring revenue in 5 months. We had the choice of staying independent, but we opted to join forces with Slack, with the intention of embedding our product inside theirs, to reach more people faster than we could on our own.

In 2015, Slack acquired Screenhero, and I led the team that built Slack Calls: voice, video and screen sharing in Slack. We finally shipped interactive screen sharing almost three years later, but it wasn’t as performant as Screenhero, and was eventually removed in 2019. Given that it was used by a tiny fraction of Slack’s user-base, and had a high maintenance cost, this was the correct decision for Slack.

The old Screenhero was so great. Slack’s video sharing was never the same and I’m so delighted these guys have returned with a new app. 

Take Control of Working from Home

Speaking of working remotely from home … Glenn Fleishman has a new (free) e-book: Take Control of Working from Home Temporarily.

We’re in a time of unprecedented uncertainty. In the middle of a global viral outbreak, you were told or asked to work from home—and you’ve never or rarely had to be productive where you live before. What to do? We’re here to take some stress out of your life with a new, free book that details how to set up a home office and balance work and home life for those not accustomed to it.

Making the Best of a Less-Than-Ideal Remote Work Environment

Some great suggestions on working from home by Matt Stauffer:

Today, I want to talk about remote work—especially right now, as so many people are unexpectedly being told/allowed to work from home—and how so much of it happens in less-than-ideal environments, and what we can do to make the best of it. I’ll assume you’re working from home, but many of these tips apply in other less-than-ideal remote work environments as well.

I agree with many of his tips. I’ve been working from home now for over 4 years and it took some getting used to in the beginning. Now I can’t imagine anything else. 

While working from home takes some getting used to and people may not be as productive as before we have to remember that we’re still in the middle of a global crisis, and that doesn’t make working easier regardless of your work location. 

Why outbreaks like coronavirus spread exponentially, and how to “flatten the curve”

Harry Stevens, at The Washington Post, with my favorite explanation from over the weekend of why this virus is so dangerous and how it spreads:

[…] these simulations vastly oversimplify the complexity of real life. Yet just as simulitis spread through the networks of bouncing balls on your screen, covid-19 is spreading through our human networks — through our countries, our towns, our workplaces, our families. And, like a ball bouncing across the screen, a single person’s behavior can cause ripple effects that touch faraway people.

The visuals in this piece are excellent.

WWDC 2020: Online Only

To no one’s surprise, Apple announced today that this year’s WWDC will be online-only due the “current health situation.”

We are delivering WWDC 2020 this June in an innovative way to millions of developers around the world, bringing the entire developer community together with a new experience,” said Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. “The current health situation has required that we create a new WWDC 2020 format that delivers a full program with an online keynote and sessions, offering a great learning experience for our entire developer community, all around the world. We will be sharing all of the details in the weeks ahead.