Monday, April 26, 2010

Wifi at conferences

In the Bay Area, at least, we take wifi for granted.  It is everywhere, almost.  When I go to a conference, I just expect it to work.  This expectation is a triumph of hope over experience, because it almost never does.

Last week's Startup Lessons Learned conference was the latest example.  It was held at the Westin Market Street in SF, where they ought to have a decent tech crew.  Apparently, they were not prepared to have the number of devices trying to connect vastly outnumber the number of attendees.  Welcome to the brave new world!  I tried to connect 3 devices--iPhone (because AT&T sucks), iPad and laptop.

So, we brought the network to a crawl.  To make matters worse, it would not actually let my iPad or iPhone log onto the network, because their authentication page does not support Mobile Safari.  Ahem!  Did you read the memo, guys?  iPhones are a bit popular.  I hear they sold a few iPads too in SF.  To make matters worse, it is common for attendees to watch the livestream of the conference while they are sitting in the audience, so they are sucking bandwidth and air.

I have been going to tech conferences for years, and the wifi has always been a challenge.  At TechCrunch40 3 years ago, it compeletely fell apart.  The next year, it was not much better, so they worked all night to drag ethernet cables to most of the seats.  This last one, they finally got it right--and it cost them a lot of money to do so.  But, there is now apparently a vendor who knows what they are doing.

At the Future of Money conference today, the wifi, provided by, is solid.  The crowd here is not as bandwidth intensive as the more geeky conferences, but so far connections are stable, fast, and easy.  There is a 20MB symmetric pipe for the conference, with no encryption or authentication required.

It seems like this is a problem that should have gone away a long time ago.  I personally solved it by carrying a Verizon MiFi, which is a credit card sized device that connects to the 3G cellular data network and creates a mini wifi hotspot.

Conferences should be willing to pay the extra tax to get the network right, because having people twitter and blog during the conference is a value add to the organizers.

Friday, April 23, 2010

I can't get left!

I was thinking about roundabouts (rotaries on the Continent) and why we don't have them in the US.

Roundabouts are unquestionably more efficient at moving traffic than stop signs, and generally more efficient than stop lights for most intersections. It does not make sense to stop when you are the only car at an intersection, and yet that is what we do in America. Almost everywhere else, especially where gas is expensive, they use roundabouts, even for very small intersections. I have seen roundabouts in the UK on an old narrow lane. The roundabout's center was barely larger than a Bott dot.

The reason I am now so sensitive to this is that I travel more miles on my bicycle each week than I do in my car. Coming to a stop and then getting up to speed again is a huge waste of energy. In your car, it just makes your right foot a bit tired and your pocketbook lighter (and the sky browner). On a bike, you have a literal seat of the pants feel for energy usage. It takes a little bit of effort to squeeze the brakes and come to a stop, and a lot of effort to get going again. If you feel your rims after coming to a stop, they are warm, because the energy of your forward motion has been converted to waste heat. The same thing happens in your car. So, you warm the planet coming to a stop, and then warm it some more burning fuel to get going again.

So why do we have so many stop signs, and almost no roundabouts? I think I have seen only a handful of roundabouts in the US. Three are in Beaver Creek after a recent roadway redesign. US drivers seem confused by them. That is not surprising...more than half of US drivers manage to be below average drivers. The standards for getting a driving license here are lower than in other developed countries.

I would have thought that in newer housing developments, they would put in roundabouts because they are more attractive, greener (literally and figuratively) and seem Euro and sophisticated. And I would be wrong.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Tech - Twitter is crushing dreams

Twitter has been on a tear this week, upsetting the whole real-time web ecosystem.

First, they launch their own Blackberry client. Then they buy Tweetie, a leading iPhone and Android client. That seriously upsets the apple cart of all the other third party clients (Twitterific, Seesmic, etc.).

Tonight, the news leaks about their new advertising product. One day after Bill Gross of IdeaLab tells us about TweetUp, which basically does the same thing. Or it did. Now it is DBA (dead before arrival).

Many entrepreneurs have had a rough week, as there are a lot of little FNACs (Feature Not A Company) around Twitter. People used to worry about Microsoft competing with them, then Twitter is the dream killer.

Mind you, I think Twitter is making the right moves to control their destiny and avoid disintermediation. If you are an FNAC, your only sensible strategy is to be purchased, and Atebits (the company behind Tweetie) knew this.

Cycling - The Hell of the North Bay

Paris - Roubaix took all the attention yesterday....rightfully so--it was an awesome race. It showed again why I love the Classics. 92km to go, in the Trouée d'Arenberg, and the eventual top 5 were "present and correct", to quote Paul Sherwen, in the top 5 positions of the lead group (I am conveniently ignoring the breakaway, which was already doomed).

But there was another Hell of the North going on yesterday--The Spring Hill Road Race, held west of Petaluma. And it at least featured weather worth of a Classic. It was 48º and raining steadily the whole morning. The night before I was planning to skip it, but in a burst of enthusiasm, I thought I should go ahead and experience a little bit of what a northern European spring race is like (minus the cobbles).

I was not even sure how to dress for such conditions. On a training ride, I would dress up in the nearest coffee shop until the rain stopped.

First, I oiled myself up like Pippo Pozzato with "warming oil" on my legs and back.

Then I wore a Rapha wool long sleeve undershirt, my jersey, and a Rapha rain jacket. I wore bibs and my Capo windstopper knee warmers on the bottom, along with shoe covers. I thought about wearing my Gore waterproof overshorts to keep from getting swamp ass, but thought I might be too warm.

I raced in the 35+ Cat 3/4 class--basically the slow old (but not really old) men. It is always fun to see the road jewelry in this class. These are guys with real jobs, and real credit cards, and they spend to go fast. I might have been the only guy on a metal bike, and there were lots of deep carbon wheels.

I had a short warmup because I was running late, and did not really get warm, but it was enough to keep from going into shock as we hit the first little hill right after the start. I let myself slide back through the pack of about 75 riders on the first couple of climbs because I wanted to warm up slowly. After two crashes in the first few miles, I decided that maybe I should be up front, and I spent the next lap and a half in the first 5 riders, doing a lot of work along the way.

There was a brief moment, about halfway into the first of the two 22mi laps, where I had finally warmed up and felt sort of comfortable. That was to be short lived, as the rain and road spray soaked through my shorts and knee warmers. Hmmm....should have worn the waterproof baggies. Or maybe more oil.

Conditions were sketchy, with slight flooding in some areas of the road. I decided that 75 people was too crowded and spent the next 45 mins working hard to blow the group apart. Lots of little accelerations and I cranked it up the climbs as we came through the start/finish again. The start/finish area is a great place to do damage to a pack on a miserable day. Faced with their warm car so nearby, many riders will abandon.

The efforts tired me out, but it kept me warm and safe, and cut the group to a manageable 20 riders. But, I was too tired to respond to what turned out to be the winning move with half a lap to go--dumb. No one else seemed to want to work at that point, and we watched the leaders slowly wander up the road. Frustrating.

I guess that is why I will never be a good racer. I want to ride hard. A lot of the guys just wanted to hide and then contest the sprint--though, to be fair, many probably just wanted to survive for a pack finish. At one point, with only 3 miles to go, I slowed to what felt like a crawl, and still no one would come around to break the wind. I sat up, hands off the bars, and just coasted for a bit. Then I waved my arm to invite someone to do some work. Saving all that energy, they got to sprint for 7th place. Approaching the line, my legs just would not answer the call for more power, and I was glad to be done. I think I got around 12th place, but it was hard to tell as different classes got mixed up at the end.

Three different guys came up to me afterwards to compliment me on how much work I had done, and ask me where I had placed. Hmmmm.....lots of work, no podium. Clearly I am not doing this right.

Being so cold made it feel like my legs were not working, but looking at the data, I actually did a lot of work. The cold just muddled the sensations. 320 watts normalized power means I basically ran at lactate threshold for over 2 hours. Of course, that is an average measure. The killer was all the little accelerations. I spent over 20 mins above 400 watts, and 34 mins between 300 and 400 watts. That is a lot of matches being burned, though obviously not at the right times.

It took over an hour for feeling to return to my toes...excuse me while I go check to make sure I still have 10 of them.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Cycling - The Hell of the North

Paris Roubaix. It is the Queen of the Classics. Set the Tivo for Versus at 3pm PDT on Sunday.

What makes this race so special? There are no hills, so you don't see the classic climbing duels that most Americans associate with epic cycling.

It rarely finishes in a bunch sprint that is so exciting to watch.

But what it has is everything else, and in massive, painful quantities. Wind, rain, mud. Oh, and Pavé. And not just any old cobbles. Nasty old cobbles. Cobbles that make the pavé of Belgium look tame.

The closest analogue I can come up with to explain Roubaix to a non-cyclist is this--imagine the Super Bowl, but you are playing without pads......against the 1970s Raiders.

This video shows it all. This is the Saxo Bank team doing a recon run a couple of days ago.

Note how much the bikes (and cars, for that matter) are bouncing around. The tires have so little pressure in them for comfort that they are hitting the rim on bigger cobbles. Watch the chain bounce around. All that bouncing is also going straight into their butts and hands.

They face 60km of cobbles on Sunday.

Here is a look from the handlebars at the fearsome Trouée d'Arenberg.

....and when the pros do it

These sections are so difficult, dangerous and critical to the race selection that the peloton is basically sprinting on the approach, with everyone fighting to be at the front. Hmmmm.....that sounds like a good idea.....let's wring ourselves out at 35mph to get to the front, so we can wring ourselves out for 1.5mi over vicious cobbles. Then, a brief respite, and we do it again.

That is why there are no fluke winners of Paris Roubaix. The roll call of champions is cluttered with the hard men of cycling--Boonen, Cancellara, Museeuw, Merckx, DeVlaeminck, Moser, Kelly, Hinault, Coppi.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Tech - iPad Review

I went down to the Apple store on 4/3 to get an iPad. I was not going to buy one because with a desktop and laptop, I really don't need one. But, curiousity got the better of me, and I wanted to see for myself whether this could be the Next Big Thing (John Doerr seems to think so).

Is this really "the computer for the rest of us"? No. But it is an amazing device, and will be quite useful once version 4 of the iPhone OS is released later this year.

  • Onscreen keyboard is surprisingly easy to type on. I was using a bluetooth keyboard, but decided I don't need it.
  • Small and light.
  • Great battery life.
  • The iPad-specific apps are awesome.

  • Power users will be frustrated.
  • No multitasking means a lot of switching in and out of apps--to email an article, for example.
  • Mobile Safari is still somewhat crippled.
I am going to use it for meetings and conferences where I am not going to be cranking out long docs or spreadsheets, but rather checking email, taking notes, and doing some simple web browsing. I have a Verizon MiFi card that creates a wifi hotspot off the 3G data network, so I can connect wherever I am. A MacBook Air might work better with only a small weight penalty, but the battery life is too short.

I consider myself a laptop "power user", so I am really not the target market for the iPad. Who is?
So far, my kids are all over the iPad, especially my 4.5 yr old. She loves to type on it and interact with the Cat in the Hat app. My 2 yr old likes watching videos, which he can do just fine on an iPhone.

I can see that there is a whole class of people who have a desktop computer for most of what they do, and would like a lightweight option for when they are moving around. Next test....what do my mother and mother-in-law think of it.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Cycling - What does being Godlike look like?

I remember after the "Twitter Time Trial" in Hawaii that Lance put on, there was a shot of his SRM computer showing his average speed, which was impressive at over 35mph (though he had a tailwind). But, he demured when it came to show his power output--booo!

Thankfully, Fabian Cancellara is not as bashful. After winning the Ronde van Flanderen yesterday, he kindly shared his ride data with Markus Neuert (@CycleFilm), who kindly shared it with the world.

So, for 259km over about 6:26 of racing.......
Max.Speed:80km/h - Max.Cad:147 - Max.HR:190 - Max.Power:1450W - Tot.Calories: 6459
Avg.Speed:40km/h - Avg.Cad:73 - Avg.HR:143 - Avg.Power:285W

That is why they call the man "Spartacus". 285W average is mind boggling when you consider all the easy riding in the early part of the race, and the coasting downhill. The average cadence of 73 indicates a fair amount of coasting. An average speed of 25mph for over 160 miles. According to Boonen, at the end he was doing over 30mph and still losing ground to Cancellara. I can maintain that kind of speed for about 300m, they did it for over 10km, with 250km already in their legs. 6459 kilojoules of work

The best sprinters can uncork up to 1600 watts for a short burst at the end. Spartacus hit 1450 watts in dropping Tom Boonen up the Muur, and probably held that level for around 30 seconds. Apparently he did not even mean to attack, he just decided to go a bit harder. "Ooops, I am sorry, did I just crush your dreams with my little acceleration." Boonen is a legitimate Hero in the cobbled classics, and Spartacus outclassed him on the Muur (Boonen cramped up, which did not help). Skip to about 2 mins into this video.

This is why I love the Classics--there are no accidental winners. No lucky breakaway that gives a domestique a chance to grab glory (well, almost never). The Classics are won by the most fearsome of the peloton's elite. Everyone knew Spartacus' gameplan. Only Boonen could answer to the first attack on the Paterberg, and on the Muur it became an anaerobic victory lap.

It is appropriate that there is a chapel on top of the Muur (or Kapelmuur, as it is also known), because it is one of the cathedrals of cycling. Heros are anointed here by the rabid crowd and steep cobbles. I could go on about cycling's cathedral's, but I think I will make that another post.

On a side note, Lance did pretty well to get 27th place. He was always up amongst the leaders, which I was glad to see after his lackluster performances earlier this season.

Bravo, Spartacus! I look forward to Paris-Roubaix this weekend.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Is the future of news here?

Further to my post a while ago on the future of news, today it arrived. I went down to the Apple store and picked up an iPad. The store was crowded, but they still had the 32GB and 64GB in stock. I went before 3pm, because at 3pm they were going to put back into stock machines that had been reserved but not picked up, but this did not matter.

Anyway, I have been playing with it, and in particular I wanted to see the Wall Street Journal app. The video above gives you a good sense of it. I find it very slick. It looks like a paper, but with the convenience of an electronic device in terms of navigation, emailing and saving articles. You can download into the device up to 7 days of the whole paper (hmm...what else to call it) for reading if you are offline. It works well in portrait or landscape mode.

The ads are unobtrusive for now, and the ads themselves are much more interesting because they can be interactive. It will be interesting to see how these monetize for the WSJ. Of course, since they are charging $18/mo, that will help the business model.

[Update: The app is slow to get going. Once you open it, you have to wait for 10-15 seconds while it loads the latest edition before you can do anything. That should be fixed.]