14
May 13

Introducing Walmart’s newest associate: me!

walmart-logo

I have to admit, I never really thought I’d end up working for the world’s largest retailer as an associate. This all changed when I reconnected with Ben and Dion, former colleagues from Mozilla who joined Walmart a couple years ago and have had a huge impact ever since.

Impact. Impact on the world, and most importantly, positive impact on the lives of ordinary people is something that every Product Manager worth their salt hopes to have. Walmart directly affects the lives of hundreds of millions of people by helping them clothe, feed, and supply their families with the things they need at a price that they can afford. In terms of scale and impact, Walmart’s impact can be meaningfully expressed as a fraction of the global population.

When Walmart approached us to talk about possible roles at the company, I suggested that there was an opportunity for intersecting the growing smartphone market with the huge number of in store shoppers that visit a Walmart every week. As e-commerce and retail evolve, it is easy to forget that at the end of the day, they are both about getting goods to customers at a fair price. As smartphones increasingly become the primary way to access the internet, there’s an amazing opportunity to use mobile technology to help shoppers save time and money, as well as blend the best of online and retail experiences.

It speaks volumes about the organization that they listened and helped me create that role. As the lead PM for the Mobile In Store products, I’ll be working to build the best experiences for a customer base that spans the globe and is becoming increasingly mobile over time. It’s a job that I’m extremely excited about at a place that I never thought about working for, but I’m extremely glad that the team reached out to me.

9/16/2013: In the five months since I’ve joined Walmart, lots has happened. I’ve gotten to fly on the company jet, watched live performances from Elton John and Hugh Jackman, and had wonderful meals at the Portland office. Beyond the glamour, there’s also lots of hard work to do. Over the next few months we’re going to ship some amazing products that will make a meaningful difference for our customers, who rely on us for the things they need at a price that they can afford.


14
Apr 13

The enthusiast’s case for buying a Prius

Today, I bought a 2006 Prius with all the goodies (nav, leather, xenons) and 107,000 miles for $10K. I am also a big car enthusiast. Why would I do this?

Fuel and Safety

In about a week, I’ll have a hundred mile daily commute, and my two cars are an Evo X and a NA Miata. The Evo is safe but thirsty. The Miata is fun but not the safest car to commute in over long distances.

Looking at $5/gal gasoline as a model, in the Evo I was averaging about 20 mpg. With a 100 mile daily commute, this equates to $25/day in fuel, or $6500 a year, assuming a 260 day work year. The Prius will get about 50 mpg, which is $10/day in fuel. So I’d be spending $2600/year in fuel. In fuel costs alone, I will almost completely pay for the Prius in under four years. But that’s not the only part of the equation.

With six airbags, my Prius has high crash test ratings across the board. Since my chance of getting in an accident is related to my time in the car, it was important to me to get a modern car with excellent crash safety. With standard ABS and stability control, I also have a degree of active safety where I can avoid accidents in the first place.

Depreciation

Over each year, I will put about 26,000 miles on a car. My Lancer Evolution X MR with 40,000 miles is worth almost $30,000, according to Kelley Blue Book. Its value has remained steady year over year, so let’s see what happens when I add 26,000 miles to it.

Oof. A 66,000 mile Lancer Evolution is worth about $26,000. That 26,000 miles removed about $4K of value alone from my car. Adding another 26,000 miles for the next commuter year drops my car to $22,000. So between the fuel savings and the reduced depreciation on my Evo, the break even on the Prius is under two years.

This assumes that after 2 years my Prius is worthless, which it won’t be. In fact, adding 26,000 miles to my Prius removes only about a thousand dollars from its resale value. So depreciation is four cents a mile, as opposed to twelve on the Evo. Each mile in the Prius costs ten cents in fuel, as opposed to twenty five cents on the Evo.

So I’m paying $.37 a mile to drive the Evo, and $.14 a mile to drive in the Prius.

Reliability and Maintenance

I have nothing bad to say about the durability of my Evo. It’s the third I’ve had and the previous two were the most reliable cars I’ve ever owned. These cars are bulletproof- as long as you do the maintenance. The Evo is a complex machine. The transmission has dual wet clutches, and six speeds. The rear and center differentials contain three clutches for torque vectoring. All this stuff needs TLC, and between fluid changes, brake pads, and tires, a year of commuting can cost a couple thousand dollars.

The Prius, on the other hand, is actually much simpler mechanically than most cars. Despite the clever Hybrid Synergy Drive, the transmission is a simple planetary differential. Six gears and two brushless AC motors combine with the internal combustion engine to give you all the ratios you need. There are no clutches or torque converters to wear or break. The mechanical brakes only operate in panic stops and under 7 mph, and last hundreds of thousands of miles.

The battery, which is the source of lots of fear and unwarranted depreciation, is a Matsushita prismatic NiMH pack that has a ten year/150K mile warranty in CA. This warranty is rarely used- Consumer Reports tested two 200K mile Priuses and found virtually no difference in performance and efficiency from new. The market for replacement packs is nil- a used pack in perfect operating condition costs only $500. Even assuming the worst, a $3000 replacement pack, I’m still ahead.

Even the electronic systems are easy to source and plentiful- Toyota has sold almost over 2 million Priuses to date, and most of them are the second generation model I purchased.

They are cheap

So I’m of the belief that a Prius will last forever, yet they depreciate as much as any normal car. I’ll be the first person to say that $25K on a hybrid doesn’t make much financial sense, even at $5/gallon. $10K for a durable car that gets 50 mpg makes a lot more sense.

They are interesting

The fact that the Prius is so normal to drive while being so radically different speaks to its purity of intent. Reading “The Prius That Shook The World“, I learned of a surprisingly ambitious Toyota reinventing major technologies time and time again to build a viable parallel hybrid at a reasonable price. The Prius was not engineered to be a drivers’ car, but to be a reliable and efficient car for the 21st century. From its Kammback design to the power split device and motor generators, this is a car that was designed from the ground up as a hybrid car for the future. In ingenuity and imagination, it reminds me of the first generation Mazda Miata in how it represents a singular vision of brilliant engineering.

The Prius was Toyota’s Lexus moonshot of the late 1990’s. Just like the Lexus LS400 of 1990 was overengineered to create a luxury market for Japanese cars in the US, the second generation Prius was designed to create a market for efficient and reliable hybrids. It’s a car that was created to move a market, and it shows. In 2006, a $25K car with DVD navigation, bluetooth, keyless entry, rearview cam, and HID headlights is not a car that was earning lots of cash for its maker.

Final note

If I were to be completely rational, I would sell the Evo and Miata and just motor forever in my Prius for fourteen cents a mile. But I’m not. I’m a car nut. The Prius appeals to my rational brain, but having a tiny understanding of the witchcraft that gives me 50 mpg also makes me giggle. But I want a car for the track, and a car that I can drive down the coast with the top down. The Prius lets me have a comfortable, cheap, and reliable travel pod that also happens to ooze with brilliant engineering and technology. On the weekends, I’ll be enjoying my pristine Evo and Miata, thanks to the Prius.


01
Feb 13

Engines

Styling draws us to the cars that we dream of owning, but the majority of time spent by engineers is on the oily bits. With cars becoming ever more reliable, the occasion to look under the hood for the average car owner is rapidly becoming something that we’ll speak wistfully of to the generations that follow.

Still, looking under the hood can say a lot about the intent of the engineers, designers, and product planners who make different cars for different people. Let’s look at full size luxury sedans to get a sense of how an engine compartment can telegraph the intent of an automaker.

This is the engine compartment for the Lexus LS 460. It’s completely encapsulated, as if to tell you that yes, this vehicle is powered by an engine and not the undocumented workers that will cause you problems in your reelection campaign. There’s a dipstick and a brake reservoir cap, and that’s it. Of course, both of those things are monitored by computers, so I’m sure the car will let you know when it’s time to roll in to your service concierge. We can see from looking at the badge on the plastic cover of the engine that it’s a V8. This car is for someone who desires a lifetime of quiet, trouble-free service and has no interest in how that service is achieved, only that it is achieved in the end.

This is the twin turbocharged V8 engine from the BMW 750i.  There’s more to see here, like the beautiful castings for the top of the shock towers, and molded plastic implies 8 intake runners and 8 cylinders. It’s a turbo because, well, it says it right on the plastic cover. The tubular steel braces here seem a bit crude for a $100K sedan, almost like a last minute  patch to add rigidity to a frozen design. BMW makes great engines, technically innovative and with every modern feature extant, but they are not that great to look at. This is an engine for the brochure reading car fan, someone who knows specs but not the fundamentals of how an engine works. This engine says that it’s expensive and high tech (hey! my car is powered by a Predator head!) and very little else.

This is the 4.2L V8 engine from the Audi A8. You can tell it has 8 cylinders because you can see the intake runners on top of the engines, as well as the ignition coils on top of each cylinder. You can tell the car has direct injection from the enormous bulges that cover the fuel rails. This luxury sedan has an engine that would look at home under a glass cover, and it’s something that 99% of owners will never see. Even the hoses and fuel pressure regulators are thoughtfully routed and look like something you’d see in a jet fighter. Audi fans are unusually technically oriented, and the DIY community around these cars is amazing. This is an engine for someone who really wants to see an engine.

This is the twin turbocharged engine from a Mercedes S550. While there is a fair amount of cladding on top of the engine, you can tell from looking at it that it’s twin turbocharged by looking at the intake piping, particular the aluminum pipes leading from the intercoolers. The exposed heat sink for the ignition module on top of the engine is also a nice touch.  Mercedes has a long history of making great engines and racing them, and you can see their pride here. This one is interesting- Mercedes S-Class owners do not care a whole lot about how their engines look, if the difficulty I had in securing a photo of the engine is any indication. This says to me that the engineers at Daimler-Benz, who also work on some of the most successful racing engines in the world, are simply proud of the work they do.

Clearly, I’m having a little fun here with my wild-assed speculation here, and I’m not trying to drive a direct relationship between the appearance of the engine and the quality of the engineering that went into a car’s design. However, looking at these engines does beg the question: if the design of an engine shows a lavish amount of attention and care, what does that say for the rest of the car?

 

 


22
Dec 12

Clarion CZ401 Review: a lot of car stereo for $90

http://www.crutchfield.com/p_020CZ401/Clarion-CZ401.html?tp=5684#details-tab

A couple weeks ago, the volume control on the factory stereo in my 1996 Miata finally gave up the ghost. I had already put a fair bit of sweat equity into fixing my stereo, even soldering in new bulbs when the display failed to illuminate.

Tired of cassette adapters and wonky volume controls, I went to Crutchfield, where I usually go to research car audio before going to eBay to get a better deal.  My needs were basic- I wanted a name brand head unit with auxiliary input for my iPhone, since I listen almost exclusively to my iPhone when driving. Bluetooth would be a cruel joke in the Miata, and satellite radio was obviated by my use of Rhapsody with an unlimited data plan. Although CD players are on their way out of cars, I did want a CD player for nostalgic reasons. I suspect they’re the 8 track players of Generation X.

On Crutchfield, I was shocked to see a Clarion head unit for $90 with free shipping.  The CZ401 looked like it hit all the marks, with nice extras like HD Radio and a USB interface for the iPhone. My experience with iPhone interfaces has been mixed, as I’ve seen them disable the UI on the phone, locking out Rhapsody, TomTom, and any number of apps that I like playing through the stereo.  Still, with an aux input, the USB interface was at worst superfluous.

I did a quick gut-check on eBay, where the same unit was $180 and pulled the trigger on Crutchfield, especially since they include an install kit and personalized instructions with every order.  I added a $10 DIN pocket to add storage under the stereo, bringing my total to $100.

The stereo arrived about a week later, and it was packed well in those dissolving foam peanuts. An install kit was included, but a nice bonus was also a wire stripper to add to my collection of low-quality wire strippers. Since this wasn’t my first install, Nora and I soldered the harness together and I installed the stereo.

It was perfect. While it didn’t have the integrated look of the OEM stereo, being about half as tall, the new pocket under the stereo added much needed storage to my car.   It worked great, and the amplifiers were certainly better than what I had before. HD Radio is just like normal radio, as it’s a digital stream embedded in the FM Radio signal. All stations broadcast analog, and the ones that support HD seamlessly switch to digital about 5 seconds after tuning. This is either barely noticeable or huge as marginal stations lose all static upon the switch. HD Radio also supports iTunes tagging, so I can press ‘tag’ while a song is playing to save it on my iPhone for later purchase.

After this, I hooked up my iPhone to the Clarion using a standard Apple USB cable. As expected, the stereo took over my Music app UI, expecting me to pick tracks from the stereo. After a glance at the manual, I was happy to see that there’s a mode called S-CTRL that restores control to the iPhone. In S-CTRL I can use my iPhone for UI and it plays through the stereo. For apps that support it (most music apps), you can still skip tracks and display track info on the stereo itself. Most importantly- S-CTRL includes a DAC bypass, so the music is streamed in digital format over USB and sent to the onboard DAC on the stereo, reducing static and noise, especially common in phones that charge through the 12v plug on the car.

The USB interface was much cleaner than the auxiliary input, and I was very pleasantly surprised with how much stuff I got for my $90. Would buy again.


09
Feb 12

True assholes

True assholes care more about how they’re regarded by their strangers than they care about how they’re regarded by their friends.

True assholes constantly talk about others behind their back.

True assholes are not honest about what they believe, and avoid any controversy.

True assholes try to blend in by not sticking out too far.

True assholes care more about themselves than they care about you.

True assholes punish you for the favors they do for you.

We call lots of people ‘assholes’, but there’s a difference between someone with poor social skills and an asshole.

A pedant values details and wants to infect you with what they believe is a virtue.

Brutal honesty is practiced by people who value honesty in kind.

These are not true assholes, and they deserve kindness and friendship.

I am truly fortunate to lead an asshole-free life, and I urge you to strive to do the same.

 


09
Nov 10

Rain chain

Rain Chain

My rain chain at 1/1000 sec, clicky for the set

It rained a lot this weekend, and normally the first rain of the year involves clearing clogged drains from the roof of my flat-topped house.  On Monday morning, I cleared the drain for our rain chain, which led to some fun photography, experimenting with different exposures and compositions. It’s rare to have the rain chain going at full tilt in the middle of the sunny day, and the time change meant that 8 am was tantalizingly close to the “golden hour“.  These have been hectic times for me, so it’s nice to be able to take a break and just fool around with a camera for a while.


13
Apr 10

Rocking your Firefox

AMO is a great site for finding and sharing your favorite Firefox add-ons, but as we like to say, one size definitely doesn’t fit all.  While we made meaningful improvements for the millions of loyal add-ons fanatics out there, it was clear that the tens of thousands of available add-ons were overwhelming for many users new to add-ons.  Enter Rock Your Firefox- a blog we launched last month that tells folks about the great add-ons out there.

Some of you may know Rock Your Firefox as a Facebook application, originaly created by Justin Scott to help add-ons users share their add-ons on Facebook.  While the original Rock Your Firefox has been retired with fond memories, we decided to resurrect and reinvigorate the brand for the new Rock Your Firefox- where we shine the spotlight on a single add-on while telling a compelling story about how an add-on can make your life better.  We’ve made an effort to try and make these stories fun as well; and we’re actively looking for new guest bloggers to help us tell the story of great add-ons.

If you’re reading this, chance are you’re a big add-ons fan, and some of you have wondered about the reason for a new site.  Rest assured that AMO will continue to evolve in useful and delightful ways, and Rock Your Firefox is intended to complement AMO by offering a low impact and easy way to discover add-ons, whether you’re a new user or a seasoned veteran.  Also- since it’s a catchy URL- we hope that you’ll tell interested strangers to check it out, we’ll do the rest with our witty prose and slickly produced videos. 🙂

Editor’s note: Patricia Clausnitzer has translated this post into Belorussian!


20
May 09

Introducing Jetpack

jetpack_logoToday, Mozilla Labs announced Jetpack, a new and experimental way of creating add-ons in Firefox.  The best way to explain the Jetpack experience is by showing how add-ons are created using the new platform.

To get started, install the new Jetpack Extension and restart the browser (this will be the only time you’ll need to restart when doing development).  When Jetpack installs, you’ll be taken to the about:jetpack page, which contains a couple of sample Jetpacks (the name for extensions created with the Jetpack API).

Install some demos and check them out!  For the time being, the experiment is limited to status bar widgets, but I was able to put together a Delicious Notifier Jetpack Feature in less than an hour using simple JQuery, CSS, and html. All I did was install the GMail Notifier widget and pasted it into Bespin, read the 20 lines of code that made it work, and started hacking away to get the information i wanted.  Since I didn’t have to restart and could inspect and debug via Firebug, development was painless.

If you have Jetpack installed, check out my Delicious Notifier, I find it incredibly useful when browsing the web, as the count of saves in Delicious is a great indicator of how interesting a particular page on the internet can be.

As with all experiments, there’s a lot of polishing to do with Jetpack, but we felt that it was true to Mozilla’s values to get this out early and involve the community in determining its future- please let us know what you think!


09
Feb 09

AMO is a Renegade Craft Fair

Seriously.  Think about this- addons.mozilla.org has over 6,000 add-ons and add-on developers.  Our add-ons are created by large corporations as well as people with day jobs.  Our number 1 add-on was created by a hobbyist in his spare time and has been downloaded 40 million times.  Our add-ons can turn Firefox into a kid-friendly browser or a Twitter application.  Like the Renegade Craft Fair, we’ve got an amazing array of stuff but we fall short in one key way- we’re not as fun.  We want to change that- we want to replicate the excitement of finding the unexpected so that our visitors always something they want, even if it’s not something they expect.  We want to make “serendipitous discovery” the way most people interact with AMO.  Any ideas?


31
Dec 08

Unlikely adversaries: cars and personal electronics?

Via Autoblog, I found this article in the Detroit News, which says that Japanese automakers are worried about sales in Japan because young people are shifting their interest away from cars and towards gadgets.

The appeal of driving yourself boils down to personal space and freedom.  But nowadays we spent most of our driving going to one of two places, and portable devices allow you to create a personal space virtually anywhere.  While they don’t erect a physical barrier with the outside world, an iPod or Kindle allows its user to effectively shut out the outside world, even in the middle of a crowded train.

Technology has also diminished the significance of physical location; half of Mozilla’s employees are remote and they seem to have no trouble getting as much done as the rest of us.  How long will it be until commuting and travel become obsolete altogether?