The Roundup for December 30 – January 5, 2017 Edition

Climb by Christopher Parsons

I’ve long planned a lot in my personal and professional life. I keep financial roundups so that I can see how I’m faring through and across years, periodic emotional evaluations, and live by my weekly and quarterly professional schedules.1 But what I’m doing is only kinda-working. So I’ve been casting about for a new process to not just hold myself to account but to hold myself to better set goals and accomplish my tasks at hand.

I’m considering adopting shortened planning periods (e.g. 10 week planning cycles, with a 2 week ‘buffer’ for recollection, learning, evaluation, and next-cycle planning) and will likely experiment with this approach to professional goal setting and project completion. But I also want to get better at reflecting on my annual themes and goals. To that end, I was interested in what Michael Karnjanaprakorn (of Skillshare) wrote about planning his ‘ideal’ year.

Specifically I was interested in how he reviews his monthly and weekly goals. In writing about monthly goals, at the end of each month he evaluates:

  1. From 0–10, how do you feel you are doing?
  2. What were the highlights and lowlights?
  3. What were the biggest lessons learned?
  4. Review your goals and assess your progress. Did you spend your time on the right things? If not how will you improve next month?
  5. Write down goals for the upcoming month.

I’ve been really bad at reviewing my monthly (and quarterly) goals but that’s a result of why I’ve historically set and logged professional goals: I’m just really bad at remembering all that I’ve done in any given year, and so fall into deep funks if I can’t periodically go through the past year and realized ‘oh, hey! I’m actually doing a hella lot of work, and am advancing both my own projects and those of colleagues and partners!’ After years of doing this kind of goal-tracking I want to get better at longer-term tracking that is less done for just mental health reasons and more for organizational accountability reasons.

So, to try and get better at reviewing longer-term goals I want to try something like what Michael has outlined. But, at the same time, I want to figure out a way of nicely presenting this information a glanceable digital format; all of my weekly tracking is on paper and so it’s not particularly conducive to understanding longer-term trends that exceed a month or two.

With regards to weekly updates, Michael evaluates progress on monthly and weekly goals. Specifically:

  • Review annual & monthly goals
  • Review last week’s progress
  • Review habits
  • Plan weekly priorities (3 personal & 3 work)

I’ve been good at reviewing my last week’s progress and thinking about weekly priorities but less good at either thinking about habits or how activities really advance my longer-term goals. So I want to adopt some of these kinds of reviews as well.

But the area that I most need to focus on surrounds setting longer-term personal life goals. I’m pretty good at professional goal setting: I’ve been setting and hitting the big ticket items over the past decade or so. But I don’t have really good visions for what I want to happen in my personal life.2

To this end, I’ve adopted a series of personal goals this year that aren’t just about reforming habits but are more focused towards longer-term aspirations. I’m going to be curious as to how those really work out but, to be honest, I just want to try and envision what my non-technical personal goals might be.3 If I can spend a year thinking through what I want to do with my personal life over the next 5, 10, and 20 years, and have some discrete strong ideas, then I’ll really be happy regardless of how well I accomplish the more technical personal goals I’ve set for myself this year.

Companies are doing everything they can to ensure that you own a speaker and/or microphone device that is hooked into their virtual assistant. Microsoft is trying to do it with Cortana. Google with, well, Google. Amazon with Alexa. And Apple with Siri.

For a long time it’s seemed like the assistant that comes with your chosen smartphone would act as the pathway into any given virtual assistant. While some might have multiple assistants on the same device — by way of installing the assistant in a separate application — it was unlikely that the secondary assistants would ‘take over’ your daily operations. And given the failure of Amazon’s Fire Phone, Amazon was likely out of the running for establishing the most dominant assistant in the United States.

But then along came Amazon’s smart speakers and the landscape of smart speakers and Alexa in the continental United States has changed dramatically. As noted by M.G. Siegler:

Amazon is winning this battle because they’re putting Alexa everywhere. Some of this is thanks to third-parties, but a larger part is the strategy to sell devices such as the Echo Dot for $29. At such prices, it’s not only a no-brainer to get one to at least try out — it’s a no-brainer to get a few of them to place all around your house. If this is the winning strategy — which I believe it to be — Apple cannot compete with this because it’s not in Apple’s DNA to run this type of playbook.

I think that one the one hand Siegler is very correct: Amazon is fast becoming a dominant player in the United States. But there are a few limitations to his (admittedly brief) analysis:

  1. Amazon’s Alexa, by being as cheap as it is, lacks the prestige of Apple’s brand and, by extension, Siri’s exclusivity;
  2. Apple’s ‘moat’ which is created around their infrastructure by only letting Siri be the default virtual assistant means that a lot of non-price conscious users will keep waiting and using Apple products;
  3. Alexa is a very United States-focused product; the speakers are cheap by not essential to conducting daily life or business. Contrast with smartphones which are requirements for daily life in many areas of the world; this means that even as Alexa floods the U.S. market the emerging economic regions of the world will continue to adopt Android (i.e. Google) and, to a far lesser extent, Cortana and Siri.

While the ‘threat’ to Apple of Alexa’s spread-by-speaker is linked to people buying them in droves I think that Amazon’s smart speakers are fundamentally poised to intrude into Google’s market and less Apple’s. Moreover, while people tend to only buy speakers once in a few years4 that tends to be the case because they’re expensive. So if people are only spending $100 or so on speakers…will that mean they’re disincentivized to buy ones that sound significantly better to play music? For consumers that purchase the HomePod they’re unlikely to replace the one or two they buy every few years, whereas if someone dropped $60 on Amazon speakers they might be tempted to just shift over to Google’s own (equivalently priced) offering or even to Apple’s or Sonos’ more expensive, and better sounding, premium offerings.

I think that the real threat to Apple or to Google will come as consumers purchase the more expensive and, by extension, better sounding, speakers. Those kinds of devices are unlikely to be replaced and will function as another kind of ‘moat’ that will contain consumers in a given virtual assistant ecosystem. Though it would be pretty amazing to see a world where people, when selling their phones second-hand, also end up selling their speaker sets alongside them to truly switch ecosystems…

Great Photography Shots

I’m absolutely loving some of the 100 best iPhone photos of 2017 which have been collated by iPhone Photography School. A few examples:

Music I’m Digging

Neat Podcast Episodes

Good Reads for the Week

Cool Things

  1. Ok, so I sometimes blow the quarterly schedules but I hold myself to account for why they get blown.
  2. To some extent my ‘success’ in planning long-term professional goals has been tightly linked to a historical failure to balance my work and life: my work entirely dominated everything I did and who I was.
  3. Technical goals being things like reduce student loan debt by X or learn Y new recipes.
  4. I’ve been using the same 2.1 speakers attached to my TV for over a decade at this point and not really tempted to replace a perfectly good set of speakers for something else that would be equally perfectly good. Except for maybe a pair of Apple HomePods…

The Roundup for December 23-29, 2017 Edition

Bright Fathers by Christopher Parsons

It’s the time of year when people reflect on past annual resolutions while beginning to think about what resolutions they’ll ‘commit’ to in the coming year. I enjoy the idea of establishing annual targets and goals. Not just because it’s fun to imagine how great life would be if you hit them all, but because it provides an ongoing sense of direction in what is often a rote world. More than that, resolutions, goal setting, or whatever else you call it are helpful for providing a lens through which to reflect on a year gone by.

I had one standard resolution, which I absolutely failed to make possible, and a host of them that were far more successful. I fully exited consumer debt hell, increased monthly student loan payments, photographically documented many of the major events in my life, dealt with the last administrative aspects of my last relationship, and mostly righted my financial ship. All of those were major life accomplishments and have done things like change how I visually see the world every day, how I experience my relationships with money, and how I approach my relationships today. It’s not just that I finished something but that in the course of undertaking a series of activities I’ve opened up entirely new (and, arguably, healthier) ways of seeing the world.

But there were other things that I accomplished that I think are as important as those goals that were set last year. I think I’m most proud of the fact that I can see ways in which I’ve grown emotionally. In specific, in my desire to avoid some of the mistakes of my last relationship I’ve had honest and oftentimes painful conversations that were based on what I believe to be right for me; rather than subsuming myself to make life easier I’ve just been me, even when doing so might cause challenges in my relationships. Such challenges, however, are healthy insofar as strong areas of disagreement aren’t indications of a lack of love but, instead, of a healthy set of egos that simply must come to a consensual agreement on how to proceed. Learning how to love in a healthy way has been scary while also amplifying my ability to be present and with others in ways I never understood as possible.

I’ve also managed to overcome some long held fears that were the result of bullying I experienced while growing up. The result is that I can make healthy choices for my body without having a voice in the back of my head that sabotages my efforts to be fitter, eat better, and be happier in my own body. Getting over those particular demons is especially important, in my situation, given that I’m creeping up on the age when coronary diseases start to take the lives of the men in my family.

In the coming days I’ll be thinking through the kinds of resolutions and thematics that I want to carry forward into the coming year. Centrally, I think I’m going to have ‘testable’ objectives, insofar as I’ll be able to actually measure whether or not I’ve advanced in some of the hobbies that I’m involved in, while also trying to find ways of deprioritizing activities that are pleasurable but don’t really do much to advance my physical, intellectual, artistic, professional, or emotional wellbeing.

I spent a significant amount of time thinking about the implications of path dependency in socio-technical systems over the course of my doctoral degree. For my work, I hypothesized that similar kinds of technologies in a path-dependent system would unfold in similar ways cross-jurisdictionally. This common unfolding would take place because once technological development began down a particular path, other paths would be foreclosed and a common end would be reached regardless of regulation, policy, or law.

In the work I did, this dependency wasn’t actually evidenced with much regularity. But some of that was because the technologies I was looking at were heavily socialized: they were used for a range of different tasks and, as such, their development impetuses were often decidedly non-technical. In contrast, the development of Transport Level Security (TLS) has a kind of path dependency that is notably challenging to deviate from, not just because clients and servers must implement new versions of the protocol but because developers of middle boxes simply assume technology will unfold in a given way and have developed their own technologies based on those assumptions. In reaction, the Internet community has spent a considerable amount of time trying to ameliorate the difficulties that arise when implementing new versions of the protocol, difficulties linked to assumptions as to how the protocol would, and will, develop.

Cryptographers are increasingly talking about the problems associated with adopting new versions of TLS as ‘joints’ ‘rusting shut.’ As discussed by Cloudflare, in the context of middleboxes:

Some features of TLS that were changed in TLS 1.3 were merely cosmetic. Things like the ChangeCipherSpec, session_id, and compression fields that were part of the protocol since SSLv3 were removed. These fields turned out to be considered essential features of TLS to some of these middleboxes, and removing them caused connection failures to skyrocket.

If a protocol is in use for a long enough time with a similar enough format, people building tools around that protocol will make assumptions around that format being constant. This is often not an intentional choice by developers, but an unintended consequence of how a protocol is used in practice. Developers of network devices may not understand every protocol used on the internet, so they often test against what they see on the network. If a part of a protocol that is supposed to be flexible never changes in practice, someone will assume it is a constant. This is more likely the more implementations are created.

It would be disingenuous to put all of the blame for this on the specific implementers of these middleboxes. Yes, they created faulty implementations of TLS, but another way to think about it is that the original design of TLS lent itself to this type of failure. Implementers implement to the reality of the protocol, not the intention of the protocol’s designer or the text of the specification. In complex ecosystems with multiple implementers, unused joints rust shut.

To some extent, the lesson to be taken from the efforts to update to TLS 1.3 is to have protocols which are simpler in nature and with fewer moving parts.1 Another lesson is that it takes years to actually shift the global population of Internet devices en masse to more secure ways of communicating. But perhaps the most fundamental lesson — to my mind — is that the security of the Internet is still trying to mediate and resolve problems which were initially seeded many, many years ago and which may mean it takes up to a decade to fix the specific problems to TLS 1.2.

Built infrastructure such as middleboxes isn’t updated on a regular basis because the infrastructure represents a capital cost. And so even as new protocols struggle to come to terms with the past, they do so by comforming to the paths sets down by previously deployed protocols. Even as TLS 1.3 is deployed and made usable, it will be done so based on how earlier versions of the protocol were designed and then implemented. So the questions that linger include: how will implementers of TLS 1.3 make decisions, and how will their decisions direct the development and implementation of future versions of TLS? In effect: how much will the paths of the past continue to affect how future versions of TLS can be practically — as opposed to hypothetically — developed??

Inspirational Quotation

“Generosity is the most natural outward expression of an inner attitude of compassion and loving-kindness.”

– Dalai Lama

Great Photography Shots

I’ve really fallen in love with some of the shots which were submitted to this year’s Sony Wold Photography Awards.

The Horns at sunrise. © Vincent Chen, China, Entry, Open, Landscape & Nature (2018 Open competition), 2018 Sony World Photography Awards.
The Horns at sunrise. © Vincent Chen, China, Entry, Open, Landscape & Nature (2018 Open competition), 2018 Sony World Photography Awards.
Little Indian. © Virgilio Liberato, Philippines, Entry, Open, Portraiture (Open competition), 2018 Sony World Photography Awards
Little Indian. © Virgilio Liberato, Philippines, Entry, Open, Portraiture (Open competition), 2018 Sony World Photography Awards.
Lunch Break. © Omer Faidi, Turkey, Entry, Open, Street Photography (Open competition), 2018 Sony World Photography Awards.
Lunch Break. © Omer Faidi, Turkey, Entry, Open, Street Photography (Open competition), 2018 Sony World Photography Awards.

Intriguing Video Art

Music I’m Digging

Neat Podcast Episodes

Good Reads for the Week

Cool Product Advice

  1. Per Cloudflare: David Benjamin proposed a way to keep the most important joints in TLS oiled. His GREASE proposal for TLS is designed to throw in random values where a protocol should be tolerant of new values. If popular implementations intersperse unknown ciphers, extensions and versions in real-world deployments, then implementers will be forced to handle them correctly. GREASE is like WD-40 for the Internet.