Circuit City vs. B&H

In an interesting commentary on the economy and what it takes to be competitive, Joel Spolsky takes a few paragraphs to explain the difference between the big box store that was Circuit City and “a much smaller business you probably haven’t been to” called B&H. I’ve known about them since late 2006 when I ordered my first dSLR from them–my quite aged, but trusty Rebel XTi. (Fortunately) I’ve never had to deal with their customer service. But the article seems to indicate that it’s first-rate.

An interesting read to be sure, especially if you’re into electronics and/or photography like me.

Inside the Mind of a Genius

I don’t have the exact quotation but in the movie The PatriotBenjamin Martin,  gets a hold of the personal journal/diary of General Cornwallis. After reading it he states something to the effect of, “I’ve just been in the mind of a genius.”

Well earlier this week , I finished reading the blog  of founder, CEO, and Chief Geek at SmugMug, Don MacAskill, and I feel like I’ve been inside the mind of a genius.

Yes I read the entire blog.  I read it in reverse chronological order from his latest post April 27, 2009 to his first in June 21, 2005. It took me nearly a month to read the entire thing (I started on April 30), but it was well worth it. I learned so much.

I’ve never meet Don–I have seen him and other SmugMuggers at the Mountain View Farmers Market, with their Canon dSLRS*, but if the man behind the blog isn’t merely a persona, I’m inclined to believe he’s a pretty cool dude.

Over the next few weeks, I’m sure I’ll be posting additional thoughts from my trek “inside the mind of a genius,” but here’s a few initial musings:

  • Don is extremely passionate about what he does.
  • As the title “Chief Geek” implies, he’s quite technologically savvy: ZFS, memcache, RAID, Solaris, PSD, OAuth, H.264, API. You name it, he’s heard of it (and he’s blogged about it). From what I gather, he was a data center guy in a prior life, and it shows.
  • He takes a strong stance on security. And firmly believes that my photos are my photos, not his (last paragraph), unlike some other companies in the valley that tried to pull a massive “media/content grab” to their users malcontent.
  • He hates bad customer service about as much as I do, and he pushes his team to excellence in customer service.
  • Of course, the converse is true: He loves great customer service.
  • Along those lines, he isn’t satisfied with half-baked solution or answer. He demands the best from his team and the technology.
  • People really are his strongest asset, and he takes care of them like he believes it–he puts his money (and benefits) where his mouth is.
  • He has a “premium” philosophy, both on the supply and demand side. He considers his product a “premium” product that should be paid top dollar for. At the same time, he’s willing to spend top dollar for premium support, premium features, etc. Amazingly, he even bemoans companies like Apple or Red Hat that won’t let him pay more for additional features.
  • He’s a self-proclaimed Apple fanboy, but doesn’t pull any punches when he thinks they missed the mark.
  • He’s a family man, and as mentioned above, he takes care of his employees and their families as well.
  • Suits are definitely not his thing.

Genius…sheer genius.

I’m sure I’ll be pulling more tid-bits and philosophies from his blog in the coming weeks. Again, I’ve never met him, but I love what he has written because it’s so rich with deep management, business, technology, and personal philosophy.

Oh, and Don, if you’re reading this, I’m not a stalking you, I’m just a huge fan 🙂 . Your story and philosophies are really quite inspirational.

*I couldn’t see the model number, but based on his blog, I’m guessing they were Canon 5D Mark II’s

When I feel like God is messing with me…

He’s not holding out; I’m holding on.

Thus was one of the conclusions we came to last night in my Real World Bible study. We were studying the story of Lazarus’ death and resurrection. I thought it was interesting because I had never thought about it that way before.

But it’s totally true!

So often I look back, and I can totally see that God was waiting for me to surrender before blessing me with something.

By way of example…

Back in mid-August 2007, my old room mate, Jeff, and I were looking for housing. We were living in a s0-s0 apartment in Mountain View. Our lease was coming to an end, and I knew that since I didn’t want to stay in that place we had to find something. It was getting towards the end of July, and I was getting a bit frantic. I really didn’t want to stay in that apartment, but we had a couple of problems.

  1. We couldn’t find anything in our price range. Most of what we were looking at was going to be about $900/person. Jeff was a student, and I certainly didn’t want to be spending that much on rent every month.
  2. We couldn’t find anything that would have been an upgrade from our present location.

So it was frustrating. One Saturday quite close to our deadline, we had been out looking for apartments all morning with no dice. To frustrate matters, we had visited a whole bunch of places that said “For Rent” but it really turned out that they had those signs up in perpetuity. They never took them down.

I came home frustrated and upset. Why wouldn’t God let us find a place to move? Then it occurred to me that perhaps God didn’t want us to move. Maybe He wanted us right where we were, and He wanted me to be content with what He had already given to me. I took that moment to apologize to God in my heart and surrender the situation to Him.

Then Jeff suggested we check out Craigslist again. I grumbled because I figured it was pointless. But as Providence would have it, a new posting had gone up for a 4 bedroom townhouse 0.6 miles from where we were. We called them up, arranged a meeting, saw the place, and decided we wanted to apply. And the rest they say is…history.

But it took me surrendering and letting go in order for God to release His blessings. May this be a lesson to all of us that we should strive to surrender and give our needs, our desires, our wants, and our goals to Him. I was holding on too tightly to what I wanted.

He wasn’t holding out; I was holding on.

Give up?

Yesterday, I left you a challenge to find me in Liz and Amish’s wedding photos. Give up? Here are two hints. Does that help?

No?  OK.  Here’s some more assistance:

First link. Bottom photo. Left side. Aisle seat. Second from the back. White shirt. Get it?

Second link. Behind Liz. Right. Guy with the yellow tie*. Back. Right. Glasses.  White shirt**. Got it?

Good for you. That’s me!

*Incidentally, the guy with the yellow tie is our friend Tim Choi. He and his fiancee, Edith, were engaged a couple weeks before we were, so they’re next. They’ll be married in September.

**I don’t know about you, but in this picture, it looks like I’m wearing a yellow/gold vest. What do you think?

Wedding Photos: Liz and Amish

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Charlene and I had the privilege of attending the wedding of Liz and Amish. Lucky for us, Lynn didn’t take too long to post these. Maybe it was the long three day weekend. They’re beautiful pictures as always. I like how they also took photos at Stanford, and yet they have a very different flavor than ours did.

I love the ring picture. It would’ve been cool if he had a candle in the background for a fire and ice theme, but I love the picture regardless.

Great job as always, Lynn!

P.S. Do you see yours truly in any of the photos? Obviously, these aren’t my photos, so I’m kinda obscure, but if you look really closely you can see me in two of the pictures.

Saying Bye to an Old Friend

Blue LuggageI said good bye to an old friend last week. My trusty blue Travel Gear carry-on was finally on it’s last legs wheels. It actually broke in during our honeymoon to the Bahamas. Unfortunately, that meant that for the remainder of the trip, I was forced to stoop down to lug my luggage. Charlene was gracious enough to pull it for me. It was easier for her to drag around since she’s shorter than me 🙂 Once we got back, it took me a few months to find a replacement. It was replaced by a Chaps Varsity Elite 21-in. Expandable Upright (the Navy blue one with orange highlights).

But it was quite a sad story. We were in the Atlanta Airport waiting for our flight back home to the Bay Area.I had the handle fully extended because I was pulling it along behind me. But when we stopped and I tried to make it retract, it wouldn’t go down. I tried squeezing the release mechanism and pushing to no avail. (Apparently, the mechanism holding it up was stronger than the mechanism that let it down.) I was beginning to get a bit nervous because I needed that handle to retract before boarding. No flight attendant in her right mind would let me on with luggage that didn’t compact fully. So as things got desperate, I notice that there were screws in the handle portion.  I decided to unscrew the handle from the top and see if that would make it retract. As luck would have it, it worked! I got the handle to retract, and it was clear that the mechanism was broken. Sad day 🙁

That blue piece of luggage went everywhere with me since I was in college. (Full Disclosure: Truth be told, I basically commandeered it from my mom’s collection of luggage.) I took it to Bakersfield when I went home on the weekends. It went on a number of trips to Tucson. And it was my trusty friend during the crazy days of traveling for Accenture. It went with me to Chicago, Cincinnati, Raleigh/Durham, Kansas City (KS). And back before I entered the work force, it went with me on my epic trip to China. Take a look.

In any case, it was a sturdy and trusty piece of luggage for the years I had it.  I just hope my new bag lasts as long as this one did. If it doesn’t, I might have to go back to Travel Gear (which is really quite inexpensive) or upgrade to the golden standard of travelware: Tumi. I’ll miss this friend dearly, but I’m really looking forward to putting miles on my new piece of luggage.

Rotten Refrigerator

This has to be the most disgusting news of the month. Apparently, a fridge in an AT&T office in San Jose went horribly horribly rotten. Some industrious, albeit perhaps misguided, worker decided to clean it out, and in the process, got the whole building sick.

What a story, can you imagine telling your friends “I got sent to the hospital because of a rotten refrigerator”? Pretty odd if you ask me.

Charlene, you should be eternally grateful that this didn’t happen in your building. And of course, I’m grateful it didn’t happen in mine either.

AWS Import/Export Part II

Note: This is Part II of my post/article on a new service from Amazon Web Services. If you didn’t read it, you should go back to yesterday’s post and read the introduction.

The first time I heard of something like this (transferring data via courier/mail rather than over the Internet because it was faster) was back when I lived in SLO. A guy I knew at church worked for a visual effects company that happened to be working on King Kong. As you may recall, most of the effects were done by Weta in New Zealand. Well, Weta needed to offload some of the digital footage to my friend’s company in Santa Maria. They originally intended to send it over the Internet, but that would have been too slow. So instead they made him drive to LA. Huh?

It seemed crazy to me at the time that they’d make him drive the ~6 hours round trip to LA just to pick up the footage. But in the end it really was quicker for them to send the footage to LA via some high speed optical method, and then have my friend drive down to LA to pick up the hard drive. Once in possession of the fully loaded hard drive (or drives), he hopped back in his car to Santa Maria, and then unloaded the hard drives when he got to the office. It proved much more expedient than waiting days for the files to download.

In any case, we’ll see what this does to AWS and S3. It might revolutionize storage; it might change the way companies like SmugMug do business. It’ll be a heck of a lot faster for companies to perform initial backups of data to S3 with their terabytes of data. After that, they can do their incremental backups over the Internet like everyone else. And heck if they have large incrementals, companies could still send update hard drives in the mail.

I wonder if Amazon will eventually accept a sort of “drop shipped” arrangement so that providers built on AWS like Jungle Disk or SmugMug can have their customers mail drives into Amazon, and have their data loaded into the service of choice.

On the enterprise side, can you imagine a corporation sending a shipment of these or these with multi-terabytes worth of data? If you sent over two of those Sun storage boxes, that could be 96 TB of data. Based on the calculations above, that could be 13.1 days via the mail, or 3 years via the Internet. Crazy! What an invaluable savings!

I doubt this is going to be an economic, or business game-changer. (Though I could be wrong, and it wouldn’t be the first time.) But I definitely think it will have an effect–not only on AWS and their ability to cater to customers with massive amounts of data, but also on the entire cloud-computing ecosystem.