Ninja and Kylie Jenner, Who Owns the Future

Supertree Grove at Gardens by the Bay Singapore

In his book, Who Owns the Future, Jaron Lanier discusses the idea of real-time income and wealth generation. He presents the topics through the lens of sharing songs in the music industry, but the principle applies to today’s sharing economy.

Copying a musician’s music ruins economic dignity. It doesn’t necessarily deny the musician any form of income, but it does mean that the musician is restricted to a real-time economics life. That means one gets paid to perform, perhaps, but not paid for music one has recorded in the past. It is one thing to sing for your supper occasionally, but to have to do so for every meal forces you into a peasant’s dilemma.

The peasant’s dilemma is that there’s no buffer. A musician who is sick or old, or who has a sick kid, cannot perform and cannot earn. A few musicians, a very tiny number indeed, will do well, but even the most successful real-time-only careers can fall apart suddenly because of a spate of bad luck. Real life cannot avoid those spates, so eventually almost everyone living a real-time economic life falls on hard times.

Who Owns the Future, Jaron Lanier

The hope is that creators can make a living from what they create and do so in a way that allows value from previous creations to drive development of the next. Without insurance, musicians may have to record new albums while on a concert tour instead of taking time away from concerts to create new songs. Yet the issues of real-time income are not scoped to the music industry, as they have found their way into many social media driven businesses.

Twitch

Twitch is a video game streaming platform that runs on virtual subscriptions, much like Netflix. However, instead of subscribing to Netflix to unlock all content on the service, Twitch subscriptions are to individual creator’s channels (like Ninja’s).

Imagine paying $5 a month to watch Stranger Things and another $5 a month to watch Orange Is the New Black (plus additional $5 for every other show you want to watch). Would you pay for such a subscription? Sure you could subscribe for a weekend to binge watch an entire new season, but what is your incentive to stay subscribed to Stranger Things while the next season is in development? The show is “off the air” for over a year and you only get to watch re-runs in return for your subscription.

Aggregate movie and music subscription services like Netflix and Spotify garner a recurring subscription fee because there is consistently new content, even if it’s not always from your favorite show or artist. You can watch the entire back catalog of hundreds of other shows, while you wait for the next Netflix original to season to be released.

The economics work a little differently for singular channel subscriptions on Twitch, but the underlying struggle to maintain attention remains the same. There is no monthly subscription to Twitch.tv. Access to all Twitch content is free and ad supported, and viewers can subscribe to multiple streamers’ channels, each with a $5 subscription (or more depending on tier). Because all the content comes from a single source, creators must supply a near constant stream of gameplay to maintain relevancy and keep subscriber count high.

Ninja

Right now, Tyler Blevins (aka Ninja) is the most popular source of gameplay on Twitch and the biggest name in video gaming. He rose to super-stardom in less than a year with the popularity of Fortnite, but his way to the top was not immediate. He’s been at it non-stop for eight years, yet even after such a level of investment, his future success still hinges on him showing up to stream games every day.

Blevins compares himself to the owner of a small business, and the only product is Ninja. He weighs every decision to leave his computer — to travel to a celebrity-heavy event like the Pro-Am in Los Angeles or even to visit family — against the financial repercussions

There’s the constant threat of fading popularity. “The more breaks [streamers] take,” he says, “the less they stream, the less they’re relevant.”

Fortnite legend Ninja is living the stream via ESPN

By default, Twitch creates a business model that plants its creators squarely in a real-time economics life. Ninja and the most popular streamers have some level of recurring revenue through a back catalog of highlights uploaded to YouTube, but staying current is of utmost importance. Attention is fickle and people will quickly find ways to spend their time elsewhere. Over the course of a weekend, Ninja lost thousands of subscribers (equating to nearly a quarter million dollars in lost revenue for the month).

“I lost 15,000 subs yesterday,” he says. Even though he’s headlining today’s celebrity event, because he’s not livestreaming on Twitch, he’s losing subscribers — 40,000 of them, to be exact, by the end of the two days he’ll spend in LA

Yet, his hard work is paying off as Ninja is currently bringing in close to $1 million a month from Twitch subscriptions, donations, YouTube revenue, and sponsorships (up from ~$80,000 in 2011), but others in the long tail of Twitch success are not in such a fortunate position. Streamers and YouTubers are working just as hard, just as often as Ninja and still not at the level of 2011 Ninja. And all Twitch stars are worrying about what comes next.

Say this ends tomorrow, we don’t have enough for the rest of our lives. I tell Jess, “Honey, we’re not going to have that much quality time this year, or even next year. But if we do this right and I continue to grind for a couple more years, we can set ourselves up, and our family and our family’s family, for the rest of our lives.’

Kylie Jenner

Ninja isn’t the only one making waves for tremendous individual online success. Compare the story of the biggest new entrant in the world of sports and with the work of fashion mogul and world’s youngest billionaire: Kylie Jenner. Both have tremendous followings and leverage their social media influence to build greater notoriety. The difference is in the kind of work they do.

Kylie Jenner is different than other pure social media stars who rely almost solely on ads and sponsorships, whereas her main source of income comes from her business that sells products (not just brand merchandise). She pieced together various technology services to generate supply, ship orders, and orchestrate the operation from her social media accounts. Instagram and Snapchat are tools in her business strategy rather than arbiters of wealth such as YouTube and Twitch on which so many (like Ninja) rely for their livelihood. And what’s the result? Jenner has transcended all other social media influencers. She is not just the most popular social media icon, but the most business savvy (by far). One can imagine she is the first of many to come.

Forbes wrote an article detailing Jenner’s business success in August:

Kylie Cosmetics launched two years ago with a $29 “lip kit” consisting of a matching set of lipstick and lip liner, and has sold more than $630 million worth of makeup since, including an estimated $330 million in 2017. Even using a conservative multiple, and applying our standard 20% discount, Forbes values her company, which has since added other cosmetics like eye shadow and concealer, at nearly $800 million. Jenner owns 100% of it.

Her near-billion-dollar empire consists of just seven full-time and five part-time employees. Manufacturing and packaging? Outsourced to Seed Beauty, a private-label producer in nearby Oxnard, California. Sales and fulfillment? Outsourced to the online outlet Shopify. Finance and PR? Her shrewd mother, Kris, handles the actual business stuff, in exchange for the 10% management cut she takes from all her children. As ultralight startups go, Jenner’s operation is essentially air. And because of those minuscule overhead and marketing costs, the profits are outsize and go right into Jenner’s pocket.

How 20-Year-Old Kylie Jenner Built A $900 Million Fortune In Less Than 3 Years via Forbes

To compound her success, contrast Ninja’s schedule with Jenner’s. To maintain the Ninja audience, Tyler and his wife Jess keep a tight schedule of 12+ hour days.

They typically spend half an hour together in the morning, then he streams, usually for about six hours while she takes business calls. They take a break around 4 p.m. before he gets back on the stream around 8 p.m. for another six hours. He goes offline one day a week, which they call a “date day,” though recently they’ve been skipping it because he’s been so busy.

And Kylie Jenner?

Basically, all Jenner does to make all that money is leverage her social media following. Almost hourly, she takes to Instagram and Snapchat, pouting for selfies with captions about which Kylie Cosmetics shades she’s wearing, takes videos of forthcoming products and announces new launches. It sounds inane until you realize that she has over 110 million followers on Instagram and millions more on Snapchat

Which job would you rather have? For Jenner, certainly there is more work involved than just posting photos, but the idea remains the same. Her business will continue to operate even when she is not online. Instagram posts can continue to bolster sales, but there is less of a risk of loosing 20-40% of your customers in a weekend.

Yet, like Ninja, Jenner is not immune to the risks of fleeting interest.

It seems far-fetched to think the brand, whose customers are mostly women ages 18 to 34, will last that long, much less independently. Especially with a business tied to the fickle world of personal fame. Stars fall out of public favor or lose interest.

“All of them could change their minds,” Shannon Coyne, an equity research analyst at BMO Capital Markets, says of the influx of celebrity makeup entrepreneurs. “Kylie seems to want to create this beauty empire, but anything can happen, and she’s so young.”

When you can make such quick cash, who needs a big exit? Kylie Cosmetics has already generated an estimated $230 million in net profit.

In either case, both Ninja and Kylie Jenner are doing well for themselves, but it is worth considering the leverage applied to scaling a business. While the next big thing in gaming or fashion may dwarf the current leaders in popularity, maybe future business minds should focus less on “the grind” and more on creating things that last.

Additional reading

Antifragile by Nassim Taleb

Perennial Seller by Ryan Holiday

(Somewhat) Unrelated reading

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Sunday Reading: Thoughts on The Tech Industry’s War on Kids

Person sitting at a table reading a book with a bowl of cereal and cup of tea

Reflecting on The Tech Industry’s War on Kids: How psychology is being used as a weapon against children

Richard Freed is a child psychologist who focuses on helping families work through “extreme overuse of phones, video games, and social media.”

Preteen and teen girls refuse to get off their phones, even though it’s remarkably clear that the devices are making them miserable. I also see far too many boys whose gaming obsessions lead them to forgo interest in school, extracurricular activities, and anything else productive. Some of these boys, as they reach their later teens, use their large bodies to terrorize parents who attempt to set gaming limits. A common thread running through many of these cases is parent guilt, as so many are certain they did something to put their kids on a destructive path.

Kids might be struggling with technology, but adults may also act like children if older folks had to go a day without technology. Maybe we should all take a digital detox.

Captology

BJ Fogg directs the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab. There is tons of research and design practices used by today’s most popular apps, websites, and games, but we can still use this newfound power for good. Although, whether good or bad, the techniques are still shaping human behavior without consent.

Fogg’s website also has lately undergone a substantial makeover, as he now seems to go out of his way to suggest his work has benevolent aims, commenting, “I teach good people how behavior works so they can create products & services that benefit everyday people around the world.” Likewise, the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab website optimistically claims, “Persuasive technologies can bring about positive changes in many domains, including health, business, safety, and education. We also believe that new advances in technology can help promote world peace in 30 years.”

Why don’t we make it easy for kids and adults to spend their time doing the things society deems productive. Part of the challenge is exposing kids to new opportunities and experiences to help them understand their real world potential, even at their age.

While persuasion techniques work well on adults, they are particularly effective at influencing the still-maturing child and teen brain. “Video games, better than anything else in our culture, deliver rewards to people, especially teenage boys,” says Fogg. “Teenage boys are wired to seek competency. To master our world and get better at stuff. Video games, in dishing out rewards, can convey to people that their competency is growing, you can get better at something second by second.” And it’s persuasive design that’s helped convince this generation of boys they are gaining “competency” by spending countless hours on game sites, when the sad reality is they are locked away in their rooms gaming, ignoring school, and not developing the real-world competencies that colleges and employers demand.

Motivation/inspiration, Ability/capability, Trigger/feedback

According to B.J. Fogg, the “Fogg Behavior Model” is a well-tested method to change behavior and, in its simplified form, involves three primary factors: motivation, ability, and triggers. Describing how his formula is effective at getting people to use a social network, the psychologist says in an academic paper that a key motivator is users’ desire for “social acceptance,” although he says an even more powerful motivator is the desire “to avoid being socially rejected.” Regarding ability, Fogg suggests that digital products should be made so that users don’t have to “think hard.” Hence, social networks are designed for ease of use. Finally, Fogg says that potential users need to be triggered to use a site. This is accomplished by a myriad of digital tricks, including the sending of incessant notifications urging users to view friends’ pictures, telling them they are missing out while not on the social network, or suggesting that they check — yet again — to see if anyone liked their post or photo.

It seems we should be able to reframe the three motivation, ability, and triggers behavioral factors into a more productive framing of inspiration, capability, and reinforcement. For example, a kid who enjoys watching YouTube creators may be inspired to make a channel of their own. YouTube, influencers, or another service, can help kids build their movie making capabilities. Feedback on work can help reinforce learning and growth. In the end, kids are still spending time where they want to, but the behavioral model focuses on a healthy balance of creation and consumption leading to development in modern day, “real world capabilities”.

Mostly terrifying

the startup Dopamine Labs boasts about its use of persuasive techniques to increase profits: “Connect your app to our Persuasive AI [Artificial Intelligence] and lift your engagement and revenue up to 30% by giving your users our perfect bursts of dopamine,” and “A burst of Dopamine doesn’t just feel good: it’s proven to re-wire user behavior and habits.”

Ramsay Brown, the founder of Dopamine Labs, says in a KQED Science article, “We have now developed a rigorous technology of the human mind, and that is both exciting and terrifying. We have the ability to twiddle some knobs in a machine learning dashboard we build, and around the world hundreds of thousands of people are going to quietly change their behavior in ways that, unbeknownst to them, feel second-nature but are really by design.”

Facebook Messenger Kids

How has the consumer tech industry responded to these calls for change? By going even lower. Facebook recently launched Messenger Kids, a social media app that will reach kids as young as five years old. Suggestive that harmful persuasive design is now honing in on very young children is the declaration of Messenger Kids Art Director, Shiu Pei Luu, “We want to help foster communication [on Facebook] and make that the most exciting thing you want to be doing.”

Facebook’s narrow-minded vision of childhood is reflective of how out of touch the social network and other consumer tech companies are with the needs of an increasingly troubled generation. The most “exciting thing” for young children should be spending time with family, playing outside, engaging in creative play, and other vital developmental experiences — not being drawn into the social media vortex on phones or tablets. Moreover, Facebook Messenger Kids is giving an early start to the wired life on social media that we know poses risks of depression and suicide-related behavior for older children.

In response to the release of Facebook’s Messenger Kids, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) sent Facebook a letter signed by numerous health advocates calling on the company to pull the plug on the app. Facebook has yet to respond to the letter and instead continues to aggressively market Messenger Kids for young children.

Conscious workflows vs impulsive habits

President John F. Kennedy’s prescient guidance: He said that technology “has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man.”

From Cal Newport:

Workflows are arguably more important than your high-level habits when it comes to impacting how effectively you produce valuable things (my preferred definition of “productivity”), but they’re a topic that’s often ignored.

Indeed, for most people, the workflows that drive their professional life are processes that haphazardly arose without much intention or consideration.

This fall, in other words, consider spending some serious time evaluating your workflows before turning your attention to the habits that help you deal with the obligations these flows generate.

Technology gives us the tools to do more. It’s up to us to decide how we leverage our new powers.

The best analogy I’ve ever heard is Scientific American, I think it was, did a study in the early 70s on the efficiency of locomotion, and what they did was for all different species of things in the planet, birds and cats and dogs and fish and goats and stuff, they measured how much energy does it take for a goat to get from here to there. Kilocalories per kilometer or something, I don’t know what they measured. And they ranked them, they published the list, and the Condor won. The Condor took the least amount of energy to get from here to there. Man was didn’t do so well, came in with a rather unimpressive showing about a third of the way down the list.

But fortunately someone at Scientific American was insightful enough to test a man with a bicycle, and man with a bicycle won. Twice as good as the Condor, all the way off the list. And what it showed was that man is a toolmaker, has the ability to make a tool to amplify an inherent ability that he has. And that’s exactly what we’re doing here.

Additional reading

BJ Fogg commented on the article and provided a list of his works to raise awareness about the ethics of persuasive tech.

A recent Atlantic article, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?,” by Dr. Jean Twenge

Stratechery article on Tech’s Two Philosophies: Some problems are best solved by human ingenuity; others by collective action

Short Codes (aka Messages & Two Factor Authentication from Random Five to Six Digit Numbers)

There are some cool new security features in the latest versions of iOS and Android to help you keep your accounts secure. Android’s updated Messages app and iMessage in iOS 12 both bring simplified one-time passcodes and two factor authentication (2FA) management.

iMessage – iOS 12

iMessage Security code AutoFill
Security code AutoFill. SMS one-time passcodes will appear automatically as AutoFill suggestions, so you never have to worry about memorizing them or typing them again.

 

Android Messages

Copy one-time passwords with one tap
Copy one-time passwords with one tap
Now, when you receive a message with a one-time password or code from a secure site—such as your bank—you can save time by copying that password directly from the message with a tap.

 

With both Apple and Google updating their messaging apps to ease use of text message (SMS) based two factor authentication, I’ve been thinking about why copying a verification code is the feature we need to bring more people to use 2FA. While cutting down steps required to use 2FA will make for a more streamlined experience, there seems to be an opportunity elsewhere to improve general usability of SMS based 2FA.

Understand there has been plenty of discussion regarding the security risks of these features, but putting aside discussion of the entire 2FA ecosystem and the shortcomings of SMS based 2FA, let’s look at a quirk of how people experience 2FA on their phones.

An example

Android Messages two factor authentication shortcut

Take the Capitol One notification from this article discussing the “copy 2FA code” feature in Android Messages. The message from number 227898 says “From Capitol One” and provides a code: 939966. There are two things we need to figure out here. One, that this is in fact the message from Capitol One, and two, this message contains the 2FA one-time passcode we need to complete the log on process.

First off, while the message says it’s from Capitol One, we know from our phishing lessons that we shouldn’t use the content of a message to influence our trust decision making process. The timing of getting this message in relation to attempting to log in to a bank account would make it seem like the message is legitimately from Capitol One, but how can we be sure? What is that 227898 number? Can we look it up like a phone number to verify it is registered to Capitol One?

The second bit of confusion is recognizing the 2FA verification code is 939966 not the big bold 227898 number at the top of the message. Usually the distinction between sender and message is clear with a regular 10 digit phone number or a message from someone in your contact list, but when you are sent a six digit code from a six digit number you need to do more mental processing choose the right number. Google has partially resolved the issue by giving an explicit action to copy the 2FA code, but it feels a little strange not being able to see the actual code in the message.

An aside

Slightly off topic, but while researching YubiKeys (after listening to Scott Hanselman’s podcast with Sarah Squire), I came across Two Factor Auth which maintains a list of sites that support, well, two factor auth. Exploring the various service, I noticed very few banks support usb hardware tokens. Wells Fargo seemed the only big bank with support. Clicking though the WF link from the Two Factor Auth chart, I ended up on the Advanced Access page trying figure out how WF does U2F. It turns out they use RSA SecurID (not usb U2F) which was uninteresting, but the footnote caught my attention:

We always send our text messages from 93557. Incoming calls with an Advanced Access code will come from 1-800-956-4442. We recommend adding these numbers to your phone’s address book so you can easily identify our incoming text messages and calls.

via Wells Fargo Advanced Access

Is this really the case? Every Wells Fargo communication and two factor authentication message comes from 93557? What’s the significance of 93557? And does every company always use the same number?

If so, this is a fantastic piece of advice buried in a random support page

We recommend adding these numbers to your phone’s address book so you can easily identify our incoming text messages and calls.

Why doesn’t every company and service mention this?

An investigation

To figure that out, I first needed to learn what that 5 digit non-phone number is really called. Naturally, I went online and searched “what is the number for two factor sms?”

This article from The Verge was at the top: Facebook admits SMS notifications sent using two-factor number was caused by bug

Not what I was looking for, but at least a clue.

Facebook uses the automated number 362-65, or “FBOOK,” as its two-factor authentication number

So these numbers have some T9 significance (remember landlines and flip phones?).

I figured that if facebook’s number is known, maybe there are some resources that include more of these numbers, so I quickly searched 362-65 and got 297. 😑

After getting rid of the minus sign, there was this Facebook Support link with people confused after receiving a random text seemingly from Facebook with a link to “fb.com”, a non-“facebook.com” website (here’s another example).

They are right to be concerned.

A little more searching, and boom: short codes

Short Codes

Is this a name people knew about? It’s the first time I came across the phrase “short code” even though I have been using the things for some time now.

It turns out there is an official US Short Code registrar run by CTIA and icontectiv:

Short Code Registry

Short Codes offer marketers unique opportunities to engage their audiences via text messaging. Short Codes are five- or six-digit codes that may be personalized to spell out a company, organization or a related word. Many organizations may choose to use Short Codes to send premium messages, which may charge subscribers additional fees for informative or promotional services such as coupons or news updates.

The Short Code Registry maintains a single database of available, reserved and registered short codes. CTIA administers the Common Short Code program, and iconectiv became the official U.S. Short Code Registry service provider in January, 2016.

For more information, please see the Short Code Registry’s Best Practices and the Short Code Monitoring Handbook.

The iconectiv site routes to https://usshortcodes.com/ where you can learn all about registering, case studies, and best practices. But I still want to know how to verify the sender of that 2FA message.

This is where US Short Code Directory comes in.

The U.S. Short Code Directory and the team at Tatango has assumed responsibility for the indexing of these unique phone numbers, creating the industry’s only public address book.

via https://usshortcodedirectory.com/about/

What do you know, the first code in the directory: Facebook, 32665. But wait, that’s not what’s listed in the Verge article… That’s 32665 vs 36265. Not sure what the deal is there, but may be a typo by The Verge (3-F, 2-B, 6-O, 6-O, 5-K in T9).

Just for a sanity check, does the Wells Fargo short code match their Advanced Access list? Yep! And so does the Capitol One code.

Cool! We figured out a way to verify the sender of SMS based 2FA! Remember though, this does not only apply to 2FA, but also other SMS based communication from the company.

Short Codes in the Wild

Check out this recent Wells Fargo ad on YouTube.

Wells Fargo account alert text message from YouTube ad

At the 17 second mark the narrator mentions “alerting you to certain card activity we find suspicious“. How do they do this? By SMS of course. And what number is the alert from? 93733!? NOOOOO! That’s not 93557.  WF was so close. Missed an opportunity to tie everything back to that random support page. The ad has a caveat “Screen images simulated”, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. For what it’s worth the phone number to call is in fact for WF Customer Service.

Questions, Concerns & Opportunities

This feels like the tip of the short code iceberg and I still have a lot of questions. How long do short codes last? Do companies change numbers? Can short code be reused? Can I trust that the next time I receive a message from a short code number that it is from the same company as last time? Can messaging apps label the code like caller id?

I don’t have all the answers, but there are definitely more things to be done to help fight the next generation of phishing. As more companies continue to recommend 2FA and send updates over SMS, we need tools in place to ensure we can trust the messages we receive.

Wells Fargo’s advice to add their numbers to your address book is good, as long as the short code (and normal telephone) numbers do not change over time. While it may be uncommon, it is possible for companies switch numbers, and (possibly more common) previously used numbers can become available for a different company to re-register. In the former, people will see an unknown number seemingly masquerading as a service they do use, which should be a cause for suspicion (although benign). For the latter, people will assume trust in the content from number they recognize (creating a phishing opportunity). While instances of these issues may be unsubstantiated (there’s very little info on how short code numbers change hands and “Best Practices” are all about marketing), this is a reason to have service driven trust management keeping track of ownership and identity.

There is an opportunity for services like US Short Code Directory and tatango to provide access to their index of short codes, so companies like Apple and Google can continue to improve their messaging services. If the Short Code Directory had a public API to query and verify short codes, messaging apps could implement a new style of caller id (essentially a DNS for SMS, but not this) to let you know the message from 227898 that says its “From Capitol One”, is legitimately from Capitol One.

At the end of the day, it should be easier to stay safe online, even if improving short codes are just an obscure part of the solution. Now to see if I can get Wells Fargo and The Verge to fix their typos.

Popular Company Short Codes

Disclaimer, I have not received messages from all of these numbers, so I cannot verify their legitimacy nor comprehensiveness. Given the issues noted above, these numbers may change or companies may start using additional numbers for SMS communication (Google already has at least 5. They may consolidate or add another).

Facebook: 32665 and 3266

Twitter: 40404

Google: 22000, 23333 and others

Apple: 272273 and others

Microsoft: 365365, 51789 and others

Amazon: 262966, 58988 and others

Capital One: 227898 and others

Chase: 28107,  24273 and others

Wells Fargo: 93557 and others

Bank of America: 73981 and others

American Express: 25684 and others

Intuit: 75341 and others

Discover: 347268 and others

PayPal: 729725777539

Venmo: 86753

AT&T: 88170, 883773 and others

Verizon: 27589 and others

T-Mobile: 37981

FedEx: 37473 and others

USPS: 28777 and others

Walmart: 40303 and others

Twilio: 22395 and others

Uber: 82722289203

Additional Reading

Economics of driving the Tesla Model 3

Long exposure photo of car lights on a highway at night

Long exposure photo of car lights on a highway at night

So I test drove a Model 3, and I have some thoughts.

Backstory

I feel like everyone has a story about when they got interested in Tesla. For me it was summer of 2012 just before the official release of the Model S. I was at Coit Tower in San Francisco and on the way back to the parking lot when I noticed a black Model S. I don’t remember how I’d heard about Tesla, but when I saw the car that day I remember doing a double take after realizing it was a Model S. Seeing it was so unexpected, but the thing was the coolest gadget: an all electric car with a giant touch screen. From that moment on, I wanted one. The only problem, the price tag was prohibitively expensive. (I settled for buying a few shares of stock in the company, yet not enough to afford a car now)

So six years later, the Model 3 is rolling out to the general public with the allure of a $35,000 Tesla. Still all electric with a giant touch screen, plus crazy features like autopilot no one would have imagined to be possible back in 2012.

Before the test drive, I had never been in a Tesla on the road let alone driven one. I was purposely avoiding the car knowing I would want one even more after I went for a test drive. But TL;DR, surprisingly that wasn’t the case. I’ve spent so many years thinking about the economics of owning a Tesla while listening to others talk about what the cars are like to drive and own. When I got to actually drive the Model 3, I already had my expectations and mind set on not buying one. I tend to be pretty frugal, and try to be rational about buying things that I really need instead of overspending on cool things that are just for fun (looking at you DJI Mavic…), so I knew going in that the car would be a blast, but an unnecessary purchase for me at this time. Maybe a few years down the road, when my current car starts to show its age and EV costs have been subsidized further by increased production, I’ll finally be ready to get a Tesla. For now, driving a Model 3 was just a fun thing do on one hazy Sunday morning.

Test Drive Experience

I signed up to test drive the $55,000 model with long range battery and dual motor. I specifically did not want to try the upgraded performance model because it was out of my price range (even more so than the mid tier model), and I didn’t want my first impression to be with the highest end model. The test drive started out with a warning that someone had backed the mid tier model into a wall, so we’d be driving the high end performance model. (Um, how does that happen? Aren’t all the cameras and sensors supposed to be able to prevent such a thing from happening? My question went unanswered and we hopped into the car.)

I immediately realized there would be a steep learning curve to understanding the controls. The first thing I usually do when setting out to drive a new car is adjust the mirrors (as I try to be a good driver), but there is no dial on the driver door panel. It turns out you have to tap the “car” button in the bottom left of the screen to bring up the controls menu, but without the sales associate to point me to the menu, this would have been a complicated task of searching through menu options.

Settings & controls

I could see myself sitting in the car for 30 minutes to an hour just figuring out what it can do and customizing it all to my liking. A Tesla feels like a gadget and tries to bring the simplicity of a smartphone design to a car. It works to an extent, and definitely would take time to get used to. When I found myself wondering if there was a setting to adjust the rearview mirror, or if I could just reach up and do it manually, I knew I was a bit overwhelmed by all the changes to the controls. Luckily, the controls for seat position adjustment are still on the side of the seat, so some of your muscle memory may still transfer over. It’s just hard to tell when that’s the case.

Steering

I drove the 3 out of the parking lot, the first thing I noticed was how heavy the car felt and the weight of the steering. The car feels strong, big, and solid. Turning the wheel takes effort, but not an absurd amount, just enough to give you firm sense of control. I wonder now if this is another setting Tesla programs into the car. Could there be a “light” steering mode that reduces the tension in the wheel? I don’t know why they would do such a thing, but it seems possible.

Turn signals are confusing.

Because the controls are reduced to a wheel, two stalks, and a screen, many of the controls act differently than a normal car. The turn signal for example always returns to the center, which is confusing because for all the car’s I’ve ever drive, a turn signal in the center position means its off. Pushing to the up or down position will turn right or left. I learned there is a short and a long press to the turn signal stalk, but I didn’t figure out exactly how it worked. All I know is that as long as you ignore the fact the stalk always returns to the middle position, you can signal for starting and completing turns by pushing up or down the same way you would on any other car. The 3 is even smart enough to recognize when you’ve completed a turn, but in some cases when I put the signal on too early, the car decided to turn the signal off before I even made it to the turn.

Blast off

The Model 3 goes 0 to 40 goes by in a flash and you don’t realize how fast you’re going because it happened so quickly. Just to reiterate, I was trying the Performance upgrade, so the pick up probably won’t be as powerful on lower models, but the immediate feedback and roller coaster feel, should be transferrable. There was a car ahead as I merged onto the highway, so instead rocketing by at the last minute, leaving the car in of in a cloud of dust, I decided to play it safe and drive like a normal person.

Enhanced Autopilot, lane keeping, and distance control

The vision system gives the Model 3 a super cruise control mode. In addition to maintaining speed, the car will help you stay in your lane if you start to drift, and keep the same distance between the car in front of you whether the car speeds up or slams on its brakes. Tesla notes, “Enhanced Autopilot includes additional driver assistance features. Every driver is responsible for remaining alert and active when using Autopilot, and must be prepared to take action at any time.”

Full Self-Driving Capability with hands nearby and automatic lane changing

This was just nutty. Pull down twice on the right stalk to engage full self driving mode, and you can take your hands off the wheel as the car drives itself. The same lane keeping and distance controls apply to the full self-driving mode as they do with auto pilot, but now they are the sole means of maneuvering the car down the freeway. I (eerily) quickly grew accustomed to the car driving me as we stayed in the same lane, but the craziest part is changing lanes. Simply pull down or push up the left stalk to let the car know you want to turn left or right. The car determines the lane is clear and moves on over. It’s wild. We’re not quite at the point of removing the steering wheel, but this still feels like the future. Again, Tesla includes a disclaimer, “This functionality is dependent upon extensive software validation and regulatory approval. It is not possible to know exactly when it will be available, as this is highly dependent on local regulatory approval, which may vary widely by jurisdiction.”

Other Tesla and EV specific things

Hold mode puts keeps the car in place when you push in the break all the way at a stop. Creep had to be programmed in because EVs do not inch forward in the same way a gas engine does while idling. Unlike a cell phone or laptop which has charge limiters for batteries, you have to set the max charge for a Tesla (~90% while city driving, and 100% for long road trips). Avoiding a full charge helps keeps the battery in good condition for longer.

Features & Pricing

The whole point of the test drive is to make a decision about buying the car, right? So what configuration do you want to get? Most of us bought into the allure of a $35,000 Tesla when the Model 3 was announced two years ago, but we still aren’t quite there yet.

Base configuration Model 3 available in 5 to 8 months

This is all brilliant marketing by Tesla to lure you in with the $35,000 option, anchoring your first impression of the car to a lower price, while only selling configurations that can cost upwards of double the base price for the next 5 to 8 months (as of late August 2018).

So the $35,000 (or $27,500 when considering the $7500 credit) you were expecting to pay immediately goes up by $14,000 for the Long Range model with rear wheel drive. Want Long range and Dual motor? That’s another $5000 or $19,000 over the price of the base model. You could buy one Model 3 or three cars for $54,000, and that doesn’t even include the “cool” Tesla features like Autopilot or Full Self-Driving mode add-ons (for an additional $8000). At the high end, the Performance model can cost up to $80,500. How is that affordable?

A formative view for my understanding of the value of the Model 3 came from Mr. Money Mustache. He thinks about buying a Model 3 while considering cost-per-use in relation to the base $35,000 model and upgrade options.

“I’m thinking of springing for the $9000 long-range battery in my upcoming Tesla Model 3 order” – this one strikes straight at my own heart, because I crave a long range Model 3 myself. But even for a serious roadtripper, this works out to $125 per hour of charging time that you manage to avoid. Aren’t you willing to take a few minutes occasionally to walk around and admire your beautiful car if you get paid $125 per hour after tax for it? If you are, standard range will do.

Calculations:

Tesla Battery Upgrade: The only time you use the longer range is on roadtrips over 230 miles. If you do a 600-mile trip once every month, you have to make two extra 30-minute charging stops per month. Figure the $9000 battery costs you about $1500 in extra capital cost and depreciation per year, or $125 per month. However, if you are a Tesla fan like me and you want the company to make more profit to continue their mission, you may still opt for the extra options since you have nothing better to do with that money anyway.

All wheel drive car: if the car costs $5000 more up-front plus an extra $200 per year in fuel and maintenance, you could estimate it as about $500 per year more expensive to own. Then, how many times do you truly get stuck in a front-wheel drive car with really good dedicated snow tires on winter rims? (because snow tires always come before buying AWD!)

via MMM The Twenty Dollar Swim

If you are trying to decide to buy now or wait, a commenter brings up a valid point: “Getting the larger battery gets you the full $7500 tax credit, getting the smaller battery likely doesn’t.” This is because Tesla’s US federal tax credit will expire at the end of 2018. The lucrative $7500 will only apply to vehicles delivered (not ordered) before December 31, 2018. Afterwards the credit will decrease by half and expire at the end of 2019.

Let’s consider how this pricing scheme came to be because it all seems a bit out of proportion.

Upgrade Perception

Before we get into Model 3 pricing, first think about what you get by upgrading from public transit to a car (of any kind), then move to what you get for the base line Model 3 and above.

Owning a car is a luxury allowing you to move around on your own time and optimize the routes you drive. You don’t have to adhere to bus schedules, try to find rides with people, or spend time going out of your way. A car takes a psychological load off your mind that gives you the freedom to engross yourself in your work without ever worrying about rushing to make a bus that leaves in the next 5 minutes. In many places a car is not a necessity, but it can be a quality of life improvement.

On the other hand, not owning a car has its upsides. For one, there is a significant cost savings when factoring paying for a car, insurance, gas, tolls, parking, and maintenance. It’s not unreasonable for owning a car to cost upwards of $10,000 a year (with a rough estimate of $400 a month for loan, $250 for parking and tolls, $150 for insurance, $150 for gas). Plus, you can get a lot done on the bus/train/taxi when you aren’t the one who must be engaged behind the wheel.

Ok, so for any car you decide to go with (or not) you’ll have to weigh these pros and cons. Driving a Tesla does not magically change the dynamics of owning a car any more than driving a Subaru does (yet. We’ll have to wait for advancements in autopilot and changes to regulations). If owning a car is a luxury, owning a Tesla is an opulence.

Let’s say you’ve decided against the advice of the Millionaire Next Door and are in the market for a new car under $50,000. What would persuade you to upgrade from a $35,000 Model 3 to a more premium package?

The Model 3 is a curious case of behavioral economics. It is more common for car brands to price multiple models across a $35,000 to $80,500 price range with visibly distinct prestige of owning a higher end car. Just look at the BMW line-up, they (logically) use a numbering scheme that increases with perceived prestige. For the Model 3, the body looks the same for all price configurations of the car, the only distinguishing factor is the tires (and this little badge on the back). Is it any wonder why the upgraded wheels cost an arm and a leg? It’s how you show you got the nicer car. Tesla is not the only company to do this. Apple is a constant offender, tweaking iPhone design to show make newer models easily recognizable, and adding a big red dot to their latest and greatest watch.

This makes business sense. For a company to make the most from its high end customers in order to subsidize lower end products is nothing new either. Apple also does this with the iPhone and Mac in regard to spec upgrades. The build quality, apps, OS, customer support, and general Apple ecosystem are all the same no matter of the type of iPhone or Mac you decide to purchase.

The majority of Apple’s margins come from upgrades that cost them a tens of dollars that they sell to you for hundreds (or thousands).

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. It’s how Apple continues growing even with a trillion dollar valuation.

when you raise prices and a segment of your customer base will only buy the best, you can achieve higher average selling prices — over $100 higher year-over-year ($796 versus $694) — which means higher revenue.

Charging its best customers more for iPhones wasn’t the only reason Apple’s revenue was higher, though: remember that Apple is making more off of every customer over time via Services. And there is one more piece: Apple is selling its best customers more and more devices.

Apple’s Middle Age via Stratechery

And Tesla is doing the same thing. The baseline $35,000 Model 3 gets you the same build quality, software upgrades, autopilot hardware, customer service, brand prestige, and roller coaster acceleration. Higher margin cars will subsidize the more affordable models at larger scale, they even called it out as their master plan ten years ago:

  1. Build sports car
  2. Use that money to build an affordable car
  3. Use that money to build an even more affordable car
  4. While doing above, also provide zero emission electric power generation options

Tesla’s Master Plan

However, making business sense does not absolve companies of the psychological manipulation they employ with these pricing strategies. By singling out the one feature you get for a disproportionately large amount of money over the cost of the base product, companies frame upgrades to make you forget about all you get when you initially decide to opt for their product without the extra bells and whistles. Just look at the similarities across the iPad lineup. If Apple only pointed out the commonalities, people would question upgrading, so Apple makes the differentiators big, bold, and right at the top.

Whether you just have money to spend and only settle for the top of line, or have been saving for years only to wait a few months longer, consider the return on investment when spec’ing out a Model 3 (and anything else you buy). Maybe you ski every day and need all wheel drive, or live so far away from charging station that the larger battery is a must, but if that’s not the case for you, is the baseline good enough? After all, you’re still getting a Tesla.

So buy now or wait?

This totally depends on your budget. For me, I’ve had my current car for three years, and plan to keep it for at least 10. If you need a new car right now, and are looking at a Tesla, maybe this helps to think more rationally about the purchase. A used Chevy Volt is a decent alternative that checks many of the same boxes as a Tesla.

And if you’re set on a Tesla, just consider if driving down the highway knowing you’re safe with your hands off the wheel is worth $8,000, It is fun to be an early adopter, but why not let others subsidize your cost a bit? Are you going to buy one of these?

Google, Data Privacy, and Unconscious Oversharing

Pushpins overturned on a map of the world

Pushpins overturned on a map of the world

Google is tracking your location. Did we not already realize this?

Yesterday the Associate Press released a story titled Google tracks your movements, whether you like it or not. The gist of the article is there are at least two settings on your Google account relevant to your location, “Location History” and “Web and App Activity”, and you need to be aware of how you’ve configured both to limit the extent to which Google tracks and saves your location data.

Privacy Settings

via Google’s Activity Controls:

Location History

Saves where you go with your devices to give you personalized maps, recommendations based on places you’ve visited, and more.

Web and App Activity

Saves your activity on Google sites and apps to give you faster searches, better recommendations, and more personalized experiences in Maps, Search, and other Google services.

Question

Which setting do you need to disable to stop Google from saving locations of the places you’ve been?

(Second question: Did you know these settings exist?)

For the first, what did you go with? Location History? That seems to make sense but turns out not to be enough.

Answer, from AP and Google

To stop Google from saving these location markers, the company says, users can turn off another setting, one that does not specifically reference location information. Called “Web and App Activity” and enabled by default, that setting stores a variety of information from Google apps and websites to your Google account.
When paused, it will prevent activity on any device from being saved to your account. But leaving “Web & App Activity” on and turning “Location History” off only prevents Google from adding your movements to the “timeline,” its visualization of your daily travels. It does not stop Google’s collection of other location markers.

Um, what? Actually, this is not too surprising. Leveraging location makes Google services better. Knowing your location allows Google Search to show you the conditions outside when you search for “weather” instead of a definition for the word. It also lets you see concert tickets at venues in your city and movie times at your local theaters without the need to include your physical address in the search. Plus, driving directions in Maps would be useless if you didn’t let Google know your GPS coordinates.

Unconscious Over-sharing

The real issue here is not that we give up some privacy to make online services better as we use them, but the fact that transparency is virtually nonexistent into how companies use our data in ways we don’t consider. We are unconsciously over-sharing our personal information.

Take Maps again as an example. Not only does the service help us get from point A to B without the need of a physical map, but it also gets us there on the fastest route, optimized to include time in traffic.

Did you specifically let Google know that you are sitting in traffic? Unless you’re an active Wazer, the answer is probably no. So how did they determine there is a slowdown ahead? Remember, data lets companies improve their apps and services in ways indirectly related to the original value proposition. So while you are going 20 on the highway, using Google Maps to direct you home, Google is using your changes in location to measure your position and speed and recognize you are sitting in traffic.

Do you like that Google Maps includes traffic data? How would you feel if Google removed the “Traffic” feature from Maps? No one focuses on the benefit that’s given to you when you hand over your data and the service gets better.

It would be interesting to learn exactly how Google implements Traffic in Maps. As a thought experiment, would Traffic still work if everyone on the planet disabled Web & Activity Data? Clearly for Google Maps to give you directions, you must give it your location. But is the transaction single use? Does Google read your location, update your directions, then throw away your GPS point? They could reuse your location data to help improve the service for everyone else. They could even go as far as saving that data point for later, just in case another service could benefit from the information in the future. Each of these are not a “could”, Google is doing all of this.

But because the industry is so shady in its reporting practices for collecting data, it’s confusing what benefit you’re actually getting because it’s all just very opaque I give you my data and what am I getting out of it? This confusion leads to a default reaction is to turn off all data sharing settings, but in reality the services don’t work if they have no data. Kind of a Catch-22.

Companies have also streamlined the app onboarding experience and skirted away the finer details of what apps give and take. Google’s activity controls are not mentioned when you set up an Android phone or create a new Google account. So how are we supposed to be proactive about the privacy settings?

We need to flip the script on data privacy and give people the information they need as they need it. Not retroactively as a “clean up” feature.

Random thoughts

Ad Market Cap. Ad companies like Google and Facebook need as much information as possible about you to create a profile about you to sell ads and show ads to people like you. Facebook still knows a lot about you based on how you’ve used Instagram even if you’ve never posted a single picture. They can track scrolling, clicking, stopping, screenshotting.

Inastapaper GDPR. We still have no idea what Intapaper and Pinterest were doing that was against GDPR in the EU. It would be nice to know how companies use the data we so generously hand over.

Facebook and Google “Shadow profile”. All the data and information we didn’t explicitly give, but is intuited by algorithms from less visible forms of input (location from ip address, activity by linking signed in & out accounts). Even with all these settings disabled, to some unknown extent, Google et all stills know about our location and how we use the internet. It’s our right to know they know.

We need apps people pay for.

Product & service privacy settings

If you are concerned about companies knowing too much about you and your whereabouts, be sure to double check privacy settings for Location Services on all your devices.

Devices

iPhone
Settings > Privacy > Location Services

Android
Settings > Security & location > Location

Mac
Apple menu > System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Location Services

Windows
Settings > Privacy > Location

Chromebook/Chrome
Settings > Advanced > Privacy and security > Content settings > Location
(or search “Location”)

Apps & Services

Google

Microsoft

Apple

Instagram

Facebook
(Use a VPN)

Strava
So many toggles… read the article

My settings

Just saying, turn everything off. Google won’t be the same, but at least you’ll be in greater control of your data privacy.

Activity Controls

Screenshot of Google's Activity Controls permissions settings webpage

My Activity

Screenshot of Google's My Activity control page

Oh, and pot, meet kettle

“They build advertising information out of data,” said Peter Lenz, the senior geospatial analyst at Dstillery, a rival advertising technology company. “More data for them presumably means more profit.”

How to do a triathlon

A group of people floating in open water at dusk

The lazy person’s way*.

There are tons of resources online that will help you go from 0 to 27.2 miles in some amount of time, but I’ve been running and biking for longish distances for a while now. Working up from a 1 mile run wasn’t something I needed. I wanted a plan that would help me go from running most of the way for 10km to running the entire 10km (after swimming a mile and biking for 20). That’s not to say I ignored all advice out there. I read this book and also heard this one was good too.

For me the swimming was going to be the hardest leg of the race. Starting out, I had never swam in open water for any significant distance (other than wading around in the ocean). I knew how to swim, but going for a mile seemed impossible.

I also have been exercising, weight training and playing sports consistently for several years now. So this is more of a guide detailing how to work training for a triathlon into your usual exercise routine with some tips and tricks for doing the best you can in the race.

Getting Started

Here’s my steady state training routine:

Cold/Wet Weather

Weight lifters use this time to “bulk”, eating anything and everything to assist gaining muscle (and fat) in preparation for the spring “cut”. But we’re here for lifelong health, so you don’t have to do anything too extreme. Just keep to your normal diet and adjust your workouts for the weather.

When it’s dreary outside it’s mentally tough to go for a run or a bike ride. You can do it, and if you do, it will give you a psychological boost for warm weather. If, you’ve done it in the rain, you can definitely do it in the sun. In recent years, I’ve invested in cold weather and water proof training gear, so I can ignore the weather and exercise outside all year round.

Inside, the winter is for weight training and cardio in the pool. Use the opportunity to build or maintain strength and work on your swim technique. I exercise 4 to 6 times a week and keep to a ratio of 3:1 strength to cardio in the winter. My rotation generally progresses through legs/shoulder, chest/triceps, back/biceps, and swimming. I find this to be a good balance in the winter as I’m not a fan of cardio on stationary bikes or treadmills (they just remind me I’d rather be outside). I also include abs most days and like to warm up on the rowing machine (or erg, as I recently learned they are called). I try to keep my workouts from getting too repetitive, but center my training on bench press, squat, deadlift, and shoulder press variations.

Swimming is the fun part. I am terrible. Up until I really started focusing on getting better for the triathlon, I could not string together many laps in the pool. I blame my inability to float (although I am now certified for the capability, see week 13), but it’s really that I don’t swim enough to develop into a strong swimmer. That didn’t discourage me from trying. Swimming is tremendous cardio exercise and it’s low impact. Plus it’s humbling watching people many (many) years older than me out stamina me, swimming for what seems like days, while I struggle to do four laps in a row. Every time I jump in the pool, I’m determined to do a little bit better than I did last time. It’s exhausting, both physically and mentally, but rewarding, when I finish swimming faster or longer than I had before.

Warm/Sunny Weather

In the summer I flip the weight training to cardio ratio, opting to spend as much time outside as possible. I’ll bike two or three times a week, run once or twice, and go to the gym only once or twice. Swimming isn’t generally part of my summer work our routine, as I hadn’t started open water swimming until this summer, and I despise being in a stuffy indoor pool when it’s nice out (outdoor pools are hard to come by here).

Training Schedule

With that background in mind, here’s how I’ve adjusted for the triathlon.

I signed up for the triathlon three months ahead of the race day. The race is Olympic distance, which in this case, entails a 1 mile swim, 20 mile ride, and 10 kilometer run (the standard Olympic distance has a 40km/25 mile bike ride). I knew from the beginning that swimming was going to be my weakest link, and it would be the hardest leg mentally for me to train.

Feel no compulsion to stick to this schedule. I know I will do something completely different for my next race. This is just a way to show how you can do a triathlon at your own pace when starting with a solid background.

Week 1 (4/15-4/21)

Monday:
Sign up for the race. (Take the week off and start training on Saturday)

Tuesday
Strength training (legs & shoulders)

Wednesday:
Strength training (back & biceps)

Thursday:
Strength training (chest & triceps)

Saturday:
14mi bike ride (50 min) and 6km run (32 min)

Week 2 (4/22-4/28)

Monday:
Ultimate frisbee (90 min)

Tuesday:
11.6 mi bike ride (56 min)
11.9 mi bike ride (55 min)

Wednesday:
7.5 km run (38 min)

Friday:
Strength training (legs & shoulders)

Saturday:
Strength training (back & biceps)

Week 3 (4/29-5/5)

Sunday:
Strength training (chest & triceps)

Monday:
Ultimate frisbee (90 min)

Tuesday:
1250 yd (.7 mi) pool swim

Wednesday:
1400 yd (.8 mi) pool swim

Thursday:
Strength training (back & biceps)

Friday:
1800 yd (1 mi) pool swim

Saturday:
5.5 km run (26 min)

Week 4 (5/6-5/12)

Monday:
12.1 mi bike ride (52 min)
11.7 mi bike ride (50 min)

Tuesday:
Ultimate frisbee (90 min)

Wednesday:
5 km run (32 min)

Mother’s Day weekend:
Take a few rest days (maybe 4)

Week 5 (5/13-5/19)

Tuesday:
12 mi bike ride (53 min)
11.8 mi bike ride (57 min)

Wednesday:
6km run (28 min)

Thursday:
11.9mi bike ride (51 min)
11.8mi bike ride (55 min)

Saturday:
Strength training (legs & shoulders)

Week 6 (5/20-5/26)

Sunday:
Strength training (chest & triceps)

Monday:
1225 yd (.7 mi) pool swim

Tuesday:
Ultimate frisbee (90 min)

Wednesday:
13 mi bike ride (1h 1m)
Volleyball (60 min)

Thursday:
28.6 mi bike ride (1h 48 m)

Friday:
2325 yd (1.3 mi) pool swim

Saturday:
6.5 km run (32 min)

Week 7 (5/27-6/2)

Sunday:
5 km run (30 min)
Strength training (back & biceps)

Wednesday:
6.75 km run (36 min)

Thursday:
2025 yd (1.1 mi) pool swim

Friday:
11.8 mi bike ride (54 min)

Saturday:
17ish mi bike ride (1h 34m)

Week 8 (6/3-6/9)

Sunday:
2000 yd (1.1 mi) pool swim

Monday:
Ultimate frisbee (90 min)

Tuesday:
11.9 mi bike ride (52 min)
11.8 mi bike ride (52 min)
7 km run (34 min)

Wednesday:
Volleyball (60 min)

Saturday:
0.5 mi open water swim

Week 9 (6/10-6/16)

Monday:
Ultimate frisbee (90 min)

Wednesday:
8.5 km run (50 min)

Thursday:
11.9 mi bike ride (59 min)

Friday:
14 mi bike ride (1h 4 m)

Week 10 (6/17-6/23)

Monday:
Ultimate frisbee (90 min)

Tuesday:
1775 yd (1 mi) pool swim

Wednesday:
7 km run (37 min) do this at noon on the hottest day of the year

Friday:
2000 yd (1.1 mi) pool swim

Saturday:
7 mi hike

Week 11 (6/24-6/30)

Sunday:
0.25 mile open water tubing

Tuesday:
Ultimate frisbee (60 min)

Wednesday:
1 mile open water swim (44 min)

Thursday:
10 km run (50 min)

Week 12 (7/1-7/7)

Monday:
11.7 mi bike ride (52 min)
11.4 mi bike ride (49 min)

Tuesday:
(do the a trial tri just for kicks)
1 mile swim
20.1 mi ride (1h 13m)
10 km run (57 min)

Saturday:
6.5 mi hike (~3 hr)

Week 13 (7/8-7/14)

This week I started to taper my training. I didn’t want to feel depleted for the race, but I still wanted to stay in form. It was odd to limit strength and conditioning training for means of consistency instead of progression. If you’re used to keeping a regimented workout routine, it may feel strange to ease off for a while (it did for me), but the process paid off. I felt strong on race day, with the energy to make it through each leg.

Tuesday:
1.4 mi bike (46 min)

Wednesday:
2000 yd (1.1 mi) pool swim

Saturday:
10 km run (53 min)

Sunday:
10 minute pool float (0 mi)

Week 14 (7/15-7/21)

Tuesday:
11.3 mi bike ride (47 min)
11.6 mi bike ride (51 min)

Thursday:
1800 yd (1.0 mi) pool swim

Race day (Sunday 7/22)

1 mile open water swim (25 min)
20 mile bike (1hr 6min)
10 km run (53 min)
2:31:35

Post race thoughts

Only wear a wetsuit if you really need it for the water temperature. It will save you valuable minutes and seconds if you can run out of the water and jump on your bike. For me it helped with training in the weeks leading to the race as the water warmed up, but on race day, the water was warm enough to swim without a wetsuit. I decided to wear the suit given I mentally prepared to wear it, but for the next race I think I’ll go with just the tri-suit.

Energy gels are nasty and leave a weird taste in your mouth. Stick to the energy chews for a quick burst carbohydrates to restore glycogen. And go with an electrolyte water for your bike ride. Sugary sports drinks can weigh you down.

Did you get one of those neon buoys for swim training? If you didn’t you should (and go with one that has an insulated pouch for your keys). But they also come in handy for wearing your bib number across the finish line. I’m not sure this is the case for all races, but for mine, it was required to have your number on your bike and helmet, and to wear your bib number `during the running leg. I pinned the number to a shirt that I put on for the run, but others pinned their number to the belt of their swim training buoy. It was an interesting idea I hadn’t considered.

Bring a towel to lay down at your transition spot, so you can quickly dry your feet. And only bring the bare essential accessories with you into the transition area. For me that included water, snacks, headphones (for getting in the zone during warmup), extra goggles, and a towel. Of course you also need your bike, helmet, cleats, running shoes, number, swim cap, and goggles. I brought everything in a reusable mesh grocery bag so it could collapse down easily.

Rapid-fire miscellaneousness: Get to the race an hour before it starts (and at least an hour before your start time). Bring headphones to keep you focused and calm. Eat a regular breakfast, but not heavy (I had eggs and pb&j). Stay hydrated the day before. Don’t eat dinner tool late the night before; give yourself time to digest. Stay mindful of the start time of the race and using the restroom beforehand. Inflate your bike tires either the night before or at the race (I didn’t bring a pump, but some people did). If you are cheering on a racer, bring a giant poster cut out of their face. Prep your bag the night before, so you can wake up grab the bag and go. Enjoy the race! Once it’s starts, it will be over in an instant. Take count of everything going on and have fun.

Looking forward to the next one

I’ve always exercised to enjoy the outdoors and strive for lifelong health. People think I’m crazy, but I actually like to go for a run or bike ride. Because of this, it didn’t feel like I did much different outside of my normal routine. Going into it, I had never swam in open water, let alone continuously for a mile. With a little coaching and a lot of practice, I was able to complete the swim, and was congratulated by my screaming fans “YOU FINISHED THE SWIM!” as I ran out of the water.

For the next race, I need to work on the running most to yield the most improvement for the effort. The biking was fine, but it took a while for my legs to warm up. Combined with cutting down the transition times I could be in pretty good shape for a 10-15 minute improvement. Always something to keep pushing for.

So that’s it! Completing a triathlon takes mental and physical preparation, but with a little determination you can do it without deviating too much from your normal routine. You just have to stick with it!

Footnote

*By lazy person, here I mean person who doesn’t want to stick to a new, strict, and  regimented schedule because said person has been exercising for consistently for a few years and already has a good routine going. So more of an “avoiding change” lazy, than a “sit on the couch all day” lazy (although said person enjoys that kind of lazy too).

Screen Time with iOS 12

Screen Time is Apple’s take on the growing trend of operating system level features that help you discover how you are really spending your time with your digital devices. These features and metrics provide you the baseline information to understand where your time is going, and give you the power to make changes to your habits. You are in control of how you use your device, and Screen Time, like Android’s Digital Wellbeing, will not inherently force you to act in a certain way. The tools can shape your behavior, but it is not Apple or Google prescribing how you should use your time. You are still the one making the choice to eat your vegetables.

So how does it work?

There are four main features (and one minor) under the “Screen Time” setting: Device Screen Time, App Limits, Downtime, Content Restrictions, and Bedtime.

Device Screen Time

Device screen time gives a detailed look at where you spend all your time on your Apple devices. You can see your daily and weekly usage trends, your most used apps, how often you pick up your device, and how many notifications you get.

In the last week, I’ve used my iPad for 10 hours and 45 minutes, with over and hour of that time coming during my defined device downtime. You can tell I spent some time organizing my calendar last weekend.

The average length of time per device “pickup” isn’t displayed (nor is most common amount of time), but a quick calculation given the weekly time spent and total pickups shows roughly 2 minutes and 45 seconds per interaction with my iPad. I’m wondering how this compares with others, and how many meaningful interaction people have with their devices in a day. Lowering the number of times we glance at the time or check for notifications could increase the average time, but is session length is not necessarily an indicator of time well spent.

It’s fun to see all this data, but there are no recommendations of how to use your device more intentionally. Apple lets you do all the analysis and any subsequent action you decide to take is entirely your decision.

App Limits

Once you’ve decided you need to take action, App Limits let you reign in your usage of certain apps.

You can set limits for individual apps or categories of apps.

Apps will act the same way whether or not you have screen time limits enabled. While you have time remaining, you can keep using the app, but once time runs out, that’s it. No more for today. You can always go through the block, but Apple tallies up all the times you were bad.

Interestingly, because my time on Twitter and Outlook is a scarce resource, I now find myself using the entire time limit every day. Previously, I would only go on Twitter once or twice a week, but when I did, I found myself engrossed in the content for a while. I figured Twitter would be a prime candidate for trying the new app limits. I wasn’t wrong, but now, since I know I’ll only be there for at most five minutes, I find myself spending time on Twitter every day.

Downtime and Always Allowed Apps

Downtime is the more interesting feature. While screen time limits are opt in for certain apps you think you use too much, Downtime is default opt out for every app on your device. Enable Downtime and you will be locked out of all your apps from the start to end time.

You can individually toggle on apps you want to use an app during downtime. This is a two part set up, first by enabling the Downtime setting, then returning to the Screen Time menu and selecting Always Allowed apps to select the apps available during Downtime.

This feature triggered the most significant, and positive, behavioral shift for me. I start Downtime a little while before I generally go to sleep, and end it a little after I generally wake up. I only enable apps where I most intentionally create and consume content. For me, this means I can read the articles I set aside for myself earlier in the day, and can write what’s on my mind. That’s it. (Phone, Messages, and FaceTime are also enabled by default). Since I installed the iOS 12 beta on my iPad, I’ve stopped watching YouTube hours on end before going to sleep, and I’ve stopped immediately checking notifications right after waking up.

Parental Controls to Block content and set a Screen Time passcode


These are also under the Screen Time setting, but it feels like they were just moved here because they make sense in relation to the other settings . Nothing too interesting, but you can set a Screen Time passcode for your self if you really want to lock your self out of some apps.

Expanded “Do Not Disturb” settings with Bedtime mode


You should really create your own Bedtime mode using Downtime as I described above. The new Bedtime mode toggle under the Do Not Disturb Setting will dim the lock screen, silence calls, and send all notifications to notification center. It’s really only an extension on the existing Do Not Disturb mode. Nice to have, but not a major improvement compared to the other Screen Time features.

Not so final thoughts

Apple’s Screen Time features are available now in the iOS 12 public beta but you may just want to wait for the general release this fall before trying everything out (it’s telling I accidentally typed “bug” while trying to write “public” just then). Betas allow developers to fix issues in software before the official release, and running beta software can cause some headache when your main device does not work as expected.

Tuesday’s Links and Quotes

Today I explored the internet. There was no common thread other than reading stories and articles from various people of interest to me. Just some divergent thinking to spark new ideas and connections.

Cosmik Debris from Kneeling Bus

“Let little bits of your daily existence dissipate into the air rather than having them vacuumed up by a global machine that will alchemize them into advertising gold.”

How to Avoid Card Skimmers at the Pump from Krebs on Security (also All About Skimmers)

“look for fuel pumps with raised keypads and horizontal card slots. And keep in mind that it may not be the best idea to frequent a particular filling station simply because it offers the lowest prices: Doing so could leave you with hidden costs down the road.”

Map of Bay Area Memespace from Julia Galef

“Business in general is good real-world rationality training: you test your theories, you update your models, or you fail. And startup culture in particular promotes a “try things fast” attitude that can be a perfect antidote to the “sit around planning and theorizing forever” failure mode we’re sometimes prone to.”

“You take the thought as something your brain produced, which may or may not be true, and may or may not be useful — and this ability to take a step back from your thoughts and reflect on them is arguably one of the building blocks of rationality.”

 

How Asia (and social networking) Works

After over three years on the bookshelf, I finally picked up the Bill Gates recommended, How Asia Works by Joe Studwell. The review sparked my interest in the book then, but the intrigue was rekindled recently when I discovered Strange Parts on YouTube (don’t ask how it took me so long to find Scotty). Seeing another side of technology, the technological fringe, so to speak, I was fascinated by how the electronics manufacturing and recycling industries worked. So looking for a more worldly view, and with years of anticipation, I started reading How Asia Works.

And then, still in the roman numerals, I put the book down because I was so surprised at how taken aback I was by this comment.

“If a country does not trade and interact with the world, it is all but impossible to get ahead in the development game” – How Asia Works, page xx

The idea was not meant to be a large part of the story, as it was literally telling why Studwell would not be including further discussion about countries low on the United Nations Human Development Index, but the impact of the implication in today’s globally networked world really struck me. It’s silly, but I haven’t been able to continue reading the book because the thought has been on my mind for the last week. I had to make sense of this line before moving on to the next.

I am having trouble reconciling the positive benefits of networking in the digital age with the draining effects of the attention economy.

Will those who abstain from social networking share the same demise as the “politically and economically introverted” countries Studwell mentions? Or is it still possible to develop when withdrawn from our hyper connected society.  Existentially, does this mean I am going the way of these disconnected countries? I have a Facebook account, but I don’t use it, and I rarely post on Twitter.

Cal Newport on Social Networking

There is a way to connect digitally with others, and Cal Newport calls it the Social Internet from his post On Social Media and Its Discontents.

The social internet describes the general ways in which the global communication network and open protocols known as “the internet” enable good things like connecting people, spreading information, and supporting expression and activism.

Social media, by contrast, describes the attempt to privatize these capabilities by large companies within the newly emerged algorithmic attention economy, a particularly virulent strain of the attention sector that leverages personal data and sophisticated algorithms to ruthlessly siphon users’ cognitive capital.

I support the social internet. I’m incredibly wary of social media.

So do I. I am trying to contribute to the social internet, but it is difficult to be found without the leverage of the social media’s network effects. Newport has thoughts on this too:

The tricky question, of course, is how exactly one enables a useful social internet in the absence of the network effects and economic resources provided by the algorithmic attention economy.

One intriguing answer is the idea of augmenting the basic infrastructure of the internet with social protocols.

In short, these protocols would enable the following two functions:

  • A way for individuals to create and own a digital identity that no one else can manipulate or forge.
  • A way for two digital identities to agree to establish a descriptive social link in such a way that outside observers can validate that both identities did in fact agree to form that link.

There are few serious technical obstacles to implementing these protocols, which require only standard asymmetric cryptography primitives. But their impact could be significant.

This has glimmers of dana boyd’s Faceted Id/entity thesis, but the key point of Newport’s idea is this:

In this ecosystem, many different applications can leverage this distributed social graph to offer useful features to users. By eliminating the need for each such social application to create a network from scratch, a vibrant competitive marketplace can emerge.

Ben Thompson talks about open sourcing Facebook’s social graph all the time, more from the perspective of fostering competing services, but still the idea is similar:

All social networks should be required to enable social graph portability — the ability to export your lists of friends from one network to another. Again Instagram is the perfect example: the one-time photo-filtering app launched its network off the back of Twitter by enabling the wholesale import of your Twitter social graph. And, after it was acquired by Facebook, Instagram has only accelerated its growth by continually importing your Facebook network. Today all social networks have long since made this impossible, making it that much more difficult for competitors to arise.

via Manifestos and Monopolies and here and here

Strategies and Future Developments

Blockchain could flip the internet paradigm on its head, creating a decentralized network akin to Pied Piper, which could solve the online identity problem.

For all their brilliance, the inventors of the open protocols that shaped the internet failed to include some key elements that would later prove critical to the future of online culture. Perhaps most important, they did not create a secure open standard that established human identity on the network. Units of information could be defined — pages, links, messages — but people did not have their own protocol: no way to define and share your real name, your location, your interests or (perhaps most crucial) your relationships to other people online.

via Beyond the Bitcoin Bubble

So while we wait for blockchain to save us, what are we stuck with for the time being? We can “change [our] relationship with these services to shift from compulsive to controlled use“. Or, how about some slightly ironic info about how to use Twitter, from someone on Twitter. It’s actually quite optimistic and intellectual:

Follow weird stuff. Follow unusual corners. I enjoy Nigerian tech twitter. I enjoy short-story twitter. I enjoy urban design twitter. I enjoy the zillions of clever bots . I keep meaning to get into opera twitter, but never quite manage it.

via @michael_nielsen

Hey, at least he’s contributing to the network.

That’s all for now

I’m still thinking about all this, but I had to get some initial thoughts out of my head so I can keep reading the book. I’ll let you know what happens after the introduction.

One more thing, here’s John Oliver on the subject of China.

The Genius of Fortnite’s Business Strategy

Fortnite is all the rage right now. It came out a little less than a year ago considered nothing more than a free PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) knockoff, but in that time, Fortnite has come to dominate the gaming industry. Some background for the non-gamer types, Fortnite is a free to play video game which means a majority of the game is available to play at no cost. There are many variations on free to play business model, but for Fortnite, the full gameplay functionality is available to everyone. There is one map and one game mode that all people play no matter what you’ve paid for the game. While you don’t need to pay money to play, costumes and skins for your character are available for purchase. These features aren’t too intriguing on their own, but when combined with a uniquely designed quarterly season pass, called the Battle Pass, the package becomes a multimillion dollar a day phenomenon.

BATTLE PASS

The Battle Pass is a $10 opt in quarterly subscription that is tied to “seasons” in the game. Every three-ish months Fortnite gets a huge update that comes with changes to the map, different character skins, and a new Battle Pass. While everyone is still playing the same underlying game, the pass unlocks new challenges and a leveling system with rewards that adds a reason to keep playing Fortnite. On top of that, everyone’s level resets at the start a new season, so it’s a chance to rank up again to collect all the new items, emotes and experience points. It’s amazing this setup makes any money at all because there is still no need to purchase anything to play the game the exact same way with everyone else. Everything you can purchase is purely for looks**.

Once players buy in to the Battle Pass they are more inclined to continue paying because the game loses some of its intrigue without the content unlocked from the pass. Fortnite reverts to a singular leveling system without much of a goal to the game other than to keep winning and just have fun. You can keep playing on the free tier, but for many (which is quite a lot of people judging by the sales figures) the point of the game is to unlock more content for your character. And what’s the way to do it? Keep playing the game. Keep buying the Battle Pass.

Aside from the joy of almost winning, there is not as much feeling of accomplishment in the free tier. Yet the paid tier continues to be fun because there are just more things to do, even if all sense of additional achievement is fake (not sure what that says about playing video games in general). But the irony is all players are still playing the same base game whether they are paying or not. The progression is purely superficial.

RARITY VS ACHIEVEMENT

And quantity vs quality

The Fortnite development studio, Epic Games, understands their position of reliance on in game purchases, and the Battle Pass for the new Season 4 doubles down on the business strategy. The same leveling and unlockable content system continues to exists from previous seasons, but now there are two skins (Carbide and Omega) than can be upgraded by playing the game more. With the introduction of these upgradeable skins, Epic has created two categories of unlockables based rarity and achievement. In reality however, both tie back to how much you play the game.

fortnite1.png

Because there is no visible ranking in game, to show prestige players can either purchase skins or spend time leveling up their character models. This balance of rarity and achievement serves a dual purpose for the individual player and the entire player base. For the player, upgrading your character visibly reinforces how they stack up against other players in the game. Because there is a time limit to each season, the sooner players have a new upgrade, the better they are assumed to be at the game (or they just played a lot).

fortnite2.png
The green cost line, for context, and not entirely to scale. For that matter, if we’re going to put disclaimers everywhere, this graph is purely a visual aid and has no scientific grounds.

For the rest of the community, this creates a “Stars Upon Thars” environment where those without skin feel inferior to those with the upgraded look. In the game, if you see someone coming at you a rare skin, you shudder at the thought of their skill, even though their character’s costume has nothing to do with how good they are at the game. Nevertheless, new players are naturally drawn to want better looking skins because it feels like once you have them, you will somehow play with improved performance. At that point, Epic only needs to convince new players that Battle Pass is the most economical way to get the skins, and they are swept up into the money machine that is Fortnite.

As an aside, it would be an interesting psychological experiment flip the dynamic by giving new players rarer skins and force experienced players to use the default skins just. Would the better players who were brought up with the skin prestige dynamic experience a role reversal? Maybe give new players a random rare skin for their first few games for a psychological boost against other players (and an advertising boost for Epic).

fortnite3.png

For Epic, building a leveling system into the paid version of the game is a genius idea. For players, it’s akin paying for your own soma holiday. The underlying game you’re playing does not change whether you decide to pay or not. What does change, however, is your perception of the game you are playing. The new layer of intrigue and achievement gives a reason to keep dropping in, playing game after game, and trying to win the base game does not afford. The Battle Royal genre of games has proven to be exhilarating, and Epic built a psychological goldmine on top of the core concept that reinforces itself and keeps people playing Fortnite instead of PUBG (and any other game for that matter). If you want to build a character, why not just play Sims?

BUSINESS MODEL

Many successful services in other industries employ business strategies where plans start with a free tier to get people on board and only pay as they scale. This benefits both those entering the market as they begin using the service with a few users and the service provider as successful clients are locked in and pay more overtime. There’s a similar funnel for Fortnite. Since the game is free, the sum total of people who know about the game is the mouth of the funnel. These people get to play the game but don’t see much additional benefit. Moving down the funnel, Epic needs to convert as many of these people into paying customers to profit on their investment. How does Epic do it? They increase the value for players as players decide they want to invest more time in the game. People want to pay more as they play more. It’s an amazing phenomenon.

In principle, Fortnite’s business model is simple: release a free to play game for everyone to try, include fun character outfits with no effect on the core gameplay, let players buy the outfits individually or through a leveling system. In practice, Epic executed the strategy to give all players from the most frugal to the most invested a way to play the game the way they want.

You don’t have to buy the Battle Pass. If you just want skins, you can pay for them individually. Although, the rarest can cost upwards of $20 and only a few are available per day, adding to the allure and impulsiveness. For the more frugal gamer, investing in a Battle Pass just feels like the better option. It includes many more items and gives players V-bucks, the in game currency, just for playing. If you are patient, you could purchase one Battle Pass and use all the V-bucks collected from playing the game to finance the next season’s pass. But with so many cool new things to purchase, how many players are really going to pass the marshmallow test?

Buying in to the Battle Pass unlocks an entirely new experience, reserved for those in the “elite” class who are truly invested in the game. While you can play without a Battle Pass alongside your friends, listening to them rank up and go for challenges can make you feel left out. For Epic, this desire to be “part of the club” is bolstered by the fact that Fortnite is the most popular game to watch on Twitch, and when people aren’t playing Fortnite, they are watching their favorite streamers use literally every new skin in the game. From a marketing perspective, Fortnite generates so much value that the free advertising from watching streams of the game is even a multi-million dollar enterprise. With this level of attention from such a captive audience, it’s crazy we haven’t seen Fortnite repeat Apple’s In App Purchase fiasco from years past (you can now refund Fortnite purchases).

COMPETITION

For many games, micro-transactions are unsuccessful and linked to abusive gambling techniques. Recently there has been a large backlash against micro-transactions in the gaming community. For these games, the additional transactions are added on top of a paid game, making it seems as though your initial purchase only unlocked a piece of the full game. Plus the core gameplay provides replay-ability that does not require additional enhancements to stay fun.

I mention this up because the old behemoth, Call of Duty, recently announced a battle royale mode, called Blackout, in its upcoming Black Ops game. CoD isn’t going to rip out its tried and true multiplayer prestige system and replace it with a free to play system like Fortnite’s. There is too much history of success riding in the existing $60+ a year model. Instead the game will remove it’s single player campaign opting instead to bundle Blackout with the purchase of the game.

Psychologically, spending $60 upfront more feels like a greater investment than spending $60 in $10 or $20 increments. So while Blackout could be popular, the initial investment narrows the funnel of possible players and limits the number of people who might be willing to pay less than the sticker price. For a direct comparison with the previous battle royale king, PUBG sells for $30 and is losing ground to Fortnite.

GAMING PSYCHOLOGY

Everyone is playing Fortnite because the core of the game is a blast, and Epic is making boatloads of money because the paid model adds a level of replay-ability that keeps the core gameplay fresh. This is why the Battle Pass is genius. The game is fun, and people want to keep playing, but on its own, the game gets repetitive over time. Epic developed a solution. Pay $10 to have fun, play more, get hooked and pay more in the future. Once bought in, players become invested in their progress and will continue paying to maintain their status. Plus going back to the free tier is boring, so why do that? The intrigue of the game is baked into the business model.

With all this said, I still can’t get over the fact that there are two versions of Fortnite. One that you pay for and one that’s free. The one you buy into feels more fun and engaging because you have a sense of purpose in addition to just trying to win games. But once you jump in and start playing, there is no underlying difference between the free and paid game. Truly a testament to the nuance of human psychology. Epic is playing us at an entirely different game than we think we’re playing.

 

*Disclaimer/skin in the game: I bought the Season 4 Battle Pass and wrote this while waiting for the Battle Bus.