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Work Hard, Have Fun, Make History

Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs have similar insights when it comes to hiring the best. This is equally relevant when one is building a school. Hire the best teachers possible, if you want a high-performing school.

Three Questions When Making a Hiring Decision

From the 1998 Amazon Shareholder Letter: It would be impossible to produce results in an environment as dynamic as the Internet without extraordinary people. Working to create a little bit of history isn't supposed to be easy, and, well, we're finding that things are as they're supposed to be! We now have a team of 2,100 smart, hard-working, passionate folks who put customers first. Setting the bar high in our approach to hiring has been, and will continue to be, the single most important element of Amazon.com's success. During our hiring meetings, we ask people to consider three questions before making a decision: - Will you admire this person? If you think about the people you've admired in your life, they are probably people you've been able to learn from or take an example from. For myself, I've always tried hard to work only with people I admire, and I encourage folks here to be just as demanding. Life is definitely too short to do otherwise. - Will this person raise the average level of effectiveness of the group they're entering? We want to fight entropy. The bar has to continuously go up. I ask people to visualize the company 5 years from now. At that point, each of us should look around and say, The standards are so high now -- boy, I'm glad I got in when I did! - Along what dimension might this person be a superstar? Many people have unique skills, interests, and perspectives that enrich the work environment for all of us. It's often something that’s not even related to their jobs.

Steve Jobs on Hiring Truly Gifted People

> In Software, and it used to be the case in Hardware, the difference between the average and the best is 50 to 1, maybe 100 to one.... > > I've built a lot of my success off finding these truly gifted people, and not settling for B and C players, but really going for the A players. And I found that when you get these A players together, when you go through this incredible work to find these A players, they really like working with each other becuase they've never had a chance to do that before. And they don't want to work with B and C players, and so it becomes self-policing, and they only want to hire more A players. And so you build up these pockets of A players and it propagates.

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Cuba and the Mother of Invention

Necessity being the mother of invention, what if a densely populated, but small (~10m) country were to have zero access to petroleum for fertilizer and agriculture in general? Sustailable Agriculture would be a result (or starvation). - What if Sustainable Agriculture Weren't Theoretical? The Case of Cuba - Cuba's Agrifood System in Transition - How to make prosperous and sustainable family farming in Cuba a reality

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Construction Innovation

The saddest part of the discussion of construction innovation as defined by making buildings more efficiently, is just that. Missing are: - Making housing more sustainable (see Earthships) - Making housing more affordable (see tiny homes in Kristen Dirksen's channel)

Mainstream Media Housing Innovation Coverate

Emergent Thoughts

  • If Earthships could be built in a factory...
  • If Tiny Homes could use less land (become multi-story without losing their soul)...
  • If vertical gardens and other greenery were an embedded part of the discussion...
  • If a living wage were integrated into housing and permaculture...
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Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

The book is "Sapiens" and it is all about humans. Fascinating and eye-opening, it provides enormous perspective for us humans today.

I agree that there are things to disagree with in the book (my Kindle version is littered with notes where he is wrong, or possibly wrong) but the sweep and the general outlines of his presentation of history is breathtaking, thought-provoking, and wry.

Many criticisms of him are fair, but usually dealing with some detail here or there, or his sometimes dismissive tone is an afront to those who have spent academic careers living with minutiae, say, of religious traditions. Definitely the idea that the cognitive revolution was a revolution, all at once, and only for Sapiens, has evidence against it, just as the scientific revolution has. (And we still use the term Scientific Revolution in useful ways.)

Still, the broad path of the narrative and historical paths he treads are so thought-provoking (and in many cases he is correct in important and novel ways).

Book Reviews of Sapiens

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Mars, Musk, and the BFR

I watched most of the latest long video presentation done in Australia a few days ago, which is 90% boring, and 10% mind-blowing. The main point is that they are going to focus on BFR which is way bigger than Falcon Heavy. Techcrunch has more details on the project.

Mars Launch Dates

Note that the manned launches to Mars will be in 2024, with unmanned in 2022. Also, the precision they have with the engines for recovery landing will be able to match commercial airline landing success rates, and essentially land the rockets back on their launching pads. It's all pretty awesome at this point.

Falcon Heavy and BFR Capacity and Routes

Falcon Heavy which will launch next year can put 30 tons into low earth orbit, and BFR will do 150 tons. Oh, and BFR will be able to do Moon landings and relaunches. Regarding the cost of using BFR for Earth-to-Earth destinations, cost for a seat on the Earth BFR express should be about the same as full fare economy on most airlines today (via TechCrunch).

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Amazon Customers, Markets, Resources

Amazon is different than other companies. From the outside, this difference can appear as anomolies, odd things that stand out. I belive that there is a fundamental way of understanding the current state and dynamo of change within Amazon.

Customer Centrism

Amazon is meant to be the most customer-centric company on Earth. Likely when we get to Mars, Amazon will need to change that to the Solar System. However, it is not customer-centric in all ways. User interfaces and documentation are a huge challenge that many competitors excel. Even on the issue of price, there are various options that are generally cheaper, or as cheap, such as ebay. This is where things like free shipping and very fast delivery come into play. Bundling digital and physical goods (to sell more physical goods) is a good tactic, as digital goods have low incremental cost of sales. If this locks in a customer who will pay in excess of the margin on digital goods, that is an increase in profit, a happier customer, and an increase in trust and mindshare. But in some cases prices are still poor in relation to the competition. In these cases, it seems clear that (unless we are talking about overlooked anomolies) there are other factors at work.

Resource Centrism

Most organizations have fewer resources than they could use (though that is not correct unless there are appropriate mechanisms for management and leadership). Customer centrism can always be a focus, but of course it will be constrained in terms of resources available. In order to understand customer centrism, there should be two aspects: improvement (which might be called innovation) and listening/understanding (which might be called communication, more generally). Since communication actually informs improvement/innovation, that part is primary (and we see that in the generally lightning-fast reaction times to customer requests. However, this can be somewhat annoying as small things require a request to customer service, rather than being fixed in the interface. However, again, this is brilliant management as those issues which generate the most support calls, or have a greater impact on sales and customer satisfaction, will get the priority for engineering resources. Given enough computing power and good data, prioritization of product development and maintenance could potentially be done by the Amazon computer brain.

Market Centrism

This idea of markets as driving optimal resource allocation is rife throughout the company, and the ability to participate in these markets externally (essentially the core of ecommerce) is invigorating. Some examples:

Amazon Vendor Programs

Amazon has multiple vendor programs, from the original affiliate program and the amazon advantage (for media companies) to the Amazon Seller Central program, there are many ways to interact in the Amazon marketplace. Shipping/delivery is an area that has become increasingly varied with options for vendor fulfillment, fulfillment by Amazon, and in some cases Amazon Prime fulfillment by the vendor.

Amazon Web Services

AWS has itself also evolved over the years, and the fundamental resource of computing, storage, and networking has become sliced and diced into a variety of offerings. EC2 is the basic VPS options with some levels of resiliency. Next came the Elastic Beanstalk, which takes care of much of the provisioning in dealing with scaling stateless services. Third is Lambda which is serverless computing (it simply executes the code without any server management/configuration).

Amazon Hardware - Kindle, Fire

Amazon hardware has also gone through many iterations and includes variety in the offerings. This is akin to a normal product line, and line extensions, though sometimes the level of innovative is category-defining. The Kindle ebook reader, while certainly not the first, has become dominant for good reason. The Fire TV and Fire TV Stick has largely beaten out the Chromecast. And most recently Alexa on the Echo and Echo View.

Software + Hardware + Logistics

The fundamental skills underlying Amazon are several, but building and maintaining software, designing and managing hardware (different kinds, from a handheld device to server farms), and logistics, especially distribution/shipping/delivery. Expect innovation around each of these fairly complex, and difficult alignment of the two sets of three pillars of expertise and practical, valuable knowledge.

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EU-Vietnam Free Trade Area (EVFTA)

The EU-Vietnam Trade Treaty is still under discussion regarding the implementation details as of early 2017, due to the complexity and the level of reform needed to implement it on the Vietnamese side. Negotiation concluded on 02 December 2016, and the treaty will take force in 2018. The EVFTA is just one of a number of initiatives and opportunities for FDI in Vietnam in 2017 and beyond.

EVFTA in the wake of TPP, Reforms Needed

The failure of the TPP has moved more focus onto the EVFTA as a driver of foreign direct investment into Vietnam. Still, major policy and institutional reform is needed to make the EVFTA a success, which would see the EU almost completely available as free trade area for Vietnamese products, as well as making European products and capital available to Vietnam. Eurocham has highlighted significant benefits for both Europe and Vietnam: > Under the EVFTA, the EU is committed to removing 84 percent of tariffs on goods traded between the two economies, which Behrens says is a huge opportunity for Vietnamese goods to penetrate deeper into the European market, particularly export staples such as pepper, coffee, textiles, and footwear products. > > On the other hand, he noted, European merchandise, including wines, frozen pork, milk, and medicines will also have greater access to the Vietnamese market thanks to the corresponding tariff removal. > > Asked to compare the benefits the EVFTA and the TPP may bring to Vietnam, Behrens said the EU agreement is expected to contribute seven to eight percent to Vietnam’s overall growth on an annual basis. > > Citing results from recent research conducted in Hanoi, Behrens added that Vietnam is expected to rake in $2.2 billion worth of gains in welfare from the trade pact by 2020, and $4.1 billion by 2025. > > The EVFTA will also help increase wages for unskilled Vietnamese workers by 3 percent due to changing market dynamics and enable a 50 percent spike in Vietnam’s exports to the EU by 2020. Vietnam’s imports from the EU are also projected to rise 43 percent by 2020, he noted.

RCEP, ASEAN and Beyond

Beyond the EVFTA, there is the primary neighbor bloc of the other nine ASEAN members, as well as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) includes Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea. Regarding RCEP, there should be some opportunities in this somewhat unweildy but extremely large market (spanning nearly half the worlds' population and 30% of GDP). Vietnam has an opportunity to act as a corridor from ASEAN (and RCEP) to the EU based on the EVFTA. Similar trade agreements have been concluded between the EU and South Korea and also the EU and Singapore.

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Amazon WorkMail, WorkDocs

When dealing with cloud-based office productivity applications (documents and spreadsheets), the main contenders are obvious: - Apple iWork - Google Docs, Apps, Drive, GSuite - Microsoft Office365 While Apple's offering is relatively unknown (little noted, therefore little discussed), the real sleeper is Amazon's WorkDocs and WorkMail

The Kit and the Kaboodle

Here I will deal only with Google and Amazon, rather than all major Cloud providers. I have not considered Apple's (iCloud is an ongoing disappointment) or Microsoft's (sorry, not going back, too many scars). The main issue that I experience with the Google and Amazon offerings is integration among kinds of files to back up, especially images, music, and standard office documents. The main disconnect (for Apple vs. Google) is the Music component. Both are now offering pretty much unlimited images, and a hefty amount of storage. For a small fee ($1.99 USD/month) Google provides 100gb of cloud storage space, plus unlimited images (compressed in some way, not native image size). While the location of Google Photos inside of Google Drive basically works, the edits on one side (filenames, for example) do not replicate to the other side.

Google Mail, Docs, Drive, Photos, Music

For Google, the integration of Mail (and Calendar) with Docs (cloud editors), Drive (all files), Photos (with sync to/from desktop and mobile), all work out well. The Music part is a separate app and sync, but as a basic backup and Web/App based access from other devices, it works great, and offers 50,000 songs of upload storage for free. That's a great backup plus access via any device through a browser or Google Play Music app. I've been using free tiers of Google Apps/Drive for years and years, now grandfathered in. I don't mind paying some small amount per month, I don't need to pay nothing. Currently I pay the $1.99/month for the Google Drive 100gb storage, nothing for Apps, Photos, or Music.

Amazon WorkMail, WorkDocs, Drive, Photos, Music

Amazon has a bunch of similar features with their Amazon Drive and other accompanying products. Drive is unlimited Photos plus 5gb of files for Amazon Prime subscribers, and unlimited files of all types for $59.99/year. They also have a virtual desktop service Amazon Workspaces. For Amazon Music, there are two streaming options (Prime and Unlimited -- which starts at $3.99/mo). But the upload option is the one I am most interested in, and it is 250 songs for free (not including any bought from Amazon, which do not count against the limit), and $24.99/year for 250,000 songs. For pricing, Amazon WorkDocs and WorkMail can be bought together in tiers that support both, for $6 USD/month. Prices are currently $4/month for WorkMail and an additional $2/month for WorkDocs.

Yandex Mail, Yandex Disk

Another interesting competitor not mentioned earlier is Yandex Disk. The latest 2.0 version does not require files to be on a local drive. This solves a problem with most cloud storage, where a thin client can access through a browser, but anything similar to a native client experience synchronizes all files locally. One computer could initially upload a file system, and then later not need those files to remain local, as well as thin clients such as an intel compute stick with limited storage could have a full experience of file interaction. Yandex offers 10gb of space for free, with additional storage purchased monthly at $1 USD/mo/10gb, $2 USD/mo/100gb, and $10 USD/mo/1tb. Yearly purchase offers a 17% discount and any number of each of the tiers can be purchased (example, 1.2tb would be $14 USD/mo or $140 USD/yr. Yandex also has web-based editors for documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. Their sharing model is better than Amazon, as Amazon only allows for comment access, but with Yandex Disk, shared access can be granted.

Mix and Match for 2017

Besides having had generally good experiences regarding Google Drive, Google Apps, Google Mail, and Calendar, these are something I want to migrate off of Google. I simply don't trust them, and there is a lack of encryption involved. With Amazon, WorkMail (and WorkDocs) is available in the US and Ireland currently, so EU laws apply to the Irish servers. As well, the Amazon Simple Email Service (SES) makes it easy to manage transactional email and business use cases. The free Google Play Music is still quite compelling, and I will likely stay on that, as I have close to 100gb (12,000+ songs) in music. Yandex is a great solution for a personal user, there are useful security aspects to it. And while not as configurable at an enterprise-level, it is still a worthy offering. The sync and backup of Yandex Disk appears to be more robust and functional than that of Google Drive. Redundancy for email is difficult to achieve based on the nature of a single email address being mapped to a single mailbox. This still needs to be worked out. However for file backup, filesharing, and editing, using both Amazon and Yandex is a viable solution that is fairly inexpensive (<$10/mo). Note: there is also Proton Mail, which is an even more secure (than Yandex) email-only service.

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New Year, New Decade

2000 will soon be ten years old. Welcome to the new decade! (Yes folks, there is no year zero, therefore the calendar decade of the Gregorian calendar begins at year 1 and ends at year 10.) Ok, where have we been and where are what's next?

Retrospective and Foresight

Looking back cannot really show the future, but it can give some perspective of the variety of changes which can take place in a decade. We needn't rehearse the various changes in the world around us politically, economically, technologically, biologically, etc. Just a simple narrative of yours truly. That said, sometimes a longer perspective is needed than a mere 10 years. From what I can understand, my immigrant ancestor John McNeill (various spellings of the last name, good evidence he was illiterate) took place around 1725 and was due to the increases in rents in Northern Ireland at the time (spawning many a journey to new lands). It so happens that I have repeated this movement, from east to west, due to increasing rental prices (2008 from Honolulu, Hawaii, USA to Chiang Mai, Thailand).

The first year 2001

The first year of the last decade witnessed a newly minted masters' degree from the University of California at Berkeley, my alma mater for the undergraduate degree. This will turn out to be my highest degree, which is good as those with PhDs generally earn less than those who hold only a Masters. This year also saw 9/11 and the far-reaching ramifications. I traveled to India for my first significant visit outside of the country. A great discovery, namely that I love travel. Lahssie and Chaat, Jaipur

More Travels - Indonesia and Thailand

At the end of eight years of the decade I relocated to Thailand, so it was fitting that there were subsequent travels to Indonesia (twice in 2003) and Thailand (once in 2004). Sadly there was a lack of traveling between 2004 and 2008. Four long years of only inter-island travel (to Maui and the Big Island) and only for a few of those years. And not much else. This was a negative experience, the lack of travel. IMG 1569

Teaching at the University 2001-2009

For most of the decade I was teaching courses at the University of Hawaii. There were eight different courses (six of which were prepared from scratch) and a total of 26 sections. These included organizational communication, data networking, information systems, public relations, political communication, marketing and brand communication, as well as several independent and 2-3 person project-based courses. I was happy to explore the curriculum with the students and introduced them to Twitter and Second Life long before anyone else on the campus was doing so.

Leadership at the University of Hawaii

Two additional leadership experiences that I value and taught me many things more than what was in the classroom was the process of becoming and performing the role of president of the University of Hawaii Graduate Student Organization from 2003-2004. As president, we got an enormous amount accomplished and I learned about how the university works (and how it doesn't work) from the perspective of being on a number of committees at an institution of higher learning going through a lot of change. As treasurer of the Board of Publications from 2005-2006 I was witness to even more change, and resistance to change, and am grateful to have served and learned both from the successes and the failures. All Aboard the Failboat

Vancouver and Victoria, Canada

I spent three months from July through October in Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. I found it to be a very nice place, better in many ways from the nearby American Seattle and Washington State. Things there are less expensive, the people are less aggressive, and generally it is a nicer place to be. However, winter was coming and I experienced many days of five degree weather approaching the end of October. Morning fog in the fields, view from the train, Northern Thailand

Chiang Mai, Thailand

From Vancouver and Victoria to Chiang Mai (with one week in Bangkok) was a fantastic transition. Indeed, the plan at the time was to head to Viet Nam by way of Laos, but once I got to Chiang Mai, I sort of paused. It's been now 2 years since then and again, the theme of unpredictability of my life is underscored here. The first six months I continued to teach online at the University of Hawaii. At the same time I took a TEFL course and taught English for about eight months, beginning in February, 2009. In June I also started doing SEO and Internet marketing consulting, continuing my off-and-on-again IT consulting that I had done since 2000 (actually 1997). The real change took place in December, 2009 when my Thai business partner and I founded Lanna Innovation Co., Ltd. A year later and we have (mostly in our spare-time) built a company with three employees. We are on-track for profitability in 2011.

2011 / 2554 Upcoming Year

What comes next is largely a continuation of the present. A lot of work building the company, stabilizing it, and again, more travel (which I haven't actually done much of since arriving in Thailand 2008). I have several inexpensive Air Asia tickets that were purchased during a great sale, so Cambodia and Indonesia are definite possibilities. Laos may be a destination as well. Malaysia and Singapore are also on the table, but likely in 2012, and completely dependent on what we see as the biggest opportunity for the business.

Jeff McNeill in India, 2001

Amber Fort, Jaipur

Upcoming Decade 2011-2020

Ah, now we are talking! This is the kind of conversation I like because the future, from the perspective of the present, is simply fraught with possibilities (as is the present). The future can be seen as the nexus of possibilities embedded within the present. So from here, all things are possible, and as before, completely unpredictable if seen as a straight-line trajectory. By all accounts, I certainly did not foresee this emigration to Thailand, but only later did it become possible and then actual. The same with the founding of the company. It turns out that there are many things in my past which are brought to bear on a present moment and makes choices both possible and successful. However there is no direct connection leading from the present to the future taken as a necessary determination. What might happen? Well, frankly, I've got no fucking clue.

Note on Futurology

Of course all of this talk is just that, but in a peculiar way. My life has not been predictable. Starting from the earliest years of life, many different paths presented themselves without forethought or much foresight. Even as I progressed and entered adulthood, seemingly good choices were more or less fortunate -- aka luck of the draw, nothing more. There was the time I applied to UC Santa Cruz for their writing program, and ended up being refused but awarded entry to UC Berkeley as I marked down them as a second choice at the last minute (knowing nothing about Berkeley). There was the time I was denied entrance to a PhD program at UC Berkeley but became a secretary for the CIO of a public company and within 2 years was learning network engineering and a year after took a job at three times my entry-level paid the three years previous. Then there is the time that, most recently, I was summarily ejected from the PhD program at the University of Hawaii and found myself founding a company within six months, in a foreign country (Thailand). No, there is little predictable about this life, however there can be opportunities identified and seized. So this thinking about the past (and a little about what may come) is helpful in the sense that there is a greater awareness of opportunity when it does arrive, usually disguised as some kind of failure. > Happy New Year! Pauri at Dawn