Interesting Finds: Issue #6

Self Worth, Walls of Death, Pandemic kids art and counterfeiting

Each week, I publish this short newsletter curating some of the most interesting content I come across. Welcome to Issue #6!

You are Brilliant and Beautiful ☀️

Everyone needs to be reminded. This is your reminder ❤️

r/GetMotivated - [Image] The Importance of Self-Worth

For other great comics, follow @katalystcomics on IG.

Wall(s) of Death 💀

r/pics - Getting paid on the Wall of Death in Rajkot, India

Starting in the early 1900s, there’s been the phenomenon of creating these structures where motor vehicles drive around a barrel-shaped cylinder at insane speeds, often resulting in death. From Wikipedia:

“The wall of deathmotordromesilodrome or well of death is a carnival sideshow featuring a silo- or barrel-shaped wooden cylinder, typically ranging from 20 to 36 feet (6.1 to 11.0 m) in diameter and made of wooden planks, inside which motorcyclists, or the drivers of miniature automobiles, travel along the vertical wall and perform stunts, held in place by friction and centrifugal force.”

In Rajkot, India, it’s translated as the “Well of Death” and is a temporary structure that has made a recurring appearance over the last decade. Here is a photo from 2016:

Here’s a video with a look at the crazy drivers and the structure itself:

If you’re thinking “that seems dangerous”, you’d be right. There have been numerous tragic accidents over the years. I’ll spare you the details and photos, but if you’re interested, down the rabbit hole you go.

The Evil of Autoplaying Videos 📣

Auto playing videos are horrible: bad for battery life and your data allowances on your mobile phone plans. For some inexplicable reason, autoplaying videos have become commonplace over the last 5 years. Twitter has it and Facebook too. Many news sites (even CNN) have auto playing first-party videos (not ads) playing in the sidebar when viewing pages on desktop. It’s even spawned an entire subset of optimization work to maximize ad clicks.

Aside from the battery and bandwidth concerns, there is a huge impact to people with impairments. For example, if you are vision impaired and rely on a screen reader, auto playing videos literally drowns out the screen reader 🤦‍♂️.

I have some loss of hearing at higher frequencies and have worn hearing aids for about five years to compensate. I can get by without them, but my life is much easier day to day with them. Hearing aids in 2020 are very smart and are the latest class of devices to join the IOT family. My hearing aids are MFi (Made for iPhone) certified, connect to my iPhone via BLE and are supported in ways you probably had no idea about. They also integrate with IFTTT so I can do crazy things like log battery life periodically to a google sheet, or get audio notifications in my hearing aid of events of my choosing such as a smart doorbell ringing, or it’s about to rain (neither of which I do). What I do use IFTTT for is to dynamically change the sound profile to better suit the location I’m at. For example, when I was still commuting to our office in Seattle, our HVAC was pretty loud, so I created a profile to filter background noise more aggressively. With IFTTT, it removes the need to manually change the profile when I got off the bus and made my life just a slight be easier every single day.

My hearing aids being connected to my phone is also incredibly handy since audio goes straight to them so I’m getting audio closer to my ears and not relying on the phone’s speaker. Great for phone calls in noisy places, or even watching videos without disturbing others around me. I can’t begin to tell you how awesome this is, it’s like having a bizarro super power.

Now going back to the scourge of auto playing videos. When videos autoplay, the audio goes straight to my hearing aids. All these companies assume that I’m going to control audio through the hardware switch of my phone, but for connected hearing aid users like me, this isn’t the case. Imagine scrolling through your Facebook or Twitter feeds, and continually having videos autoplay and blasting audio through your hearing aids. Yes, it sucks.

Now you’re thinking, what if they autoplay but set the video mute? That helps partially, but is still a huge problem. Most connected hearing aids are set to also lower (aka “ducking”) the external microphone while audio is playing through them as to avoid amplifying external sounds when you are trying to listen to a connected audio stream.

The problem is that even when videos are muted, the act of them being played has the most phones (including iPhone) to triggering hearing aids to hearing aid microphone ducking. This effectively makes my hearing worse because the microphones are being muted for no reason other than to satiate a crazy PM’s decision to autoplay videos. The only way to resolve this is to toggle Bluetooth off on my phone which severs the connection to my hearing aids which then causes the ducking to stop. Not a great solution but it’s the only one we’ve got 🤦‍♂️.

If you work on a software product team and debating whether autoplaying videos is a good feature, for the sake of the world (and me), please stop it. Please.

Postal Service Got Bank. JK. 🏦

Give Up - Wikipedia

The US Postal Service (USPS) has continually been in the news the last few months, and yet-another-pawn in this election cycle now mostly focused on whether there is risk of voter fraud this November.

Out of curiosity, I started digging around to find out more information about the financial state of the USPS. I was pretty shocked at these two Interesting Finds:

  1. They are losing gobs money: “Since 2007, the Postal Service has experienced nearly $80 billion in cumulative losses – with FY 2019 approaching $9 billion and 2020 closing in on $11 billion in losses despite a statutory requirement that the Postal Service be self-sustaining”. In other words, they have seen 14 consecutive years of losses. (source)

  2. They have $13 billion of cash on hand: They’ve got a ton of cash on hand according to their most recent 3rd quarter financials, but don’t let the politicians and faulty news spin this: cash on hand is NOT the same as a surplus. Think of it like a cash register in a grocery story: it could be full of cash but the store can still be losing gobs of money and be in debt. So ignore any politician, on either side of the isle, that tries to spin this as a surplus.

I’ve heard that the USPS is considered more of an essential service because it services postal addresses in rural areas that UPS and Fedex won’t deliver to. I've tried to substantiate this claim but had a hard time tracking down concrete information that was up to date for 2020. If you’ve got a pointer, send it my way!

Counterfeiting in 2020 ©

Earlier in the week, it was revealed by Customs and Border Patrol sized what they believed to be $398k worth of “counterfeit AirPods”:

Hilariously, these were new wireless earbuds from OnePlus that just happened to look amazingly like the AirPods.

Some interesting stats on counterfeiting:

  1. The counterfeiting market is worth 1.82 trillion by the end of 2020 which includes “equipment/products from defence equipment’s to counterfeiting of watches” (source)

  2. 3.3% of all world trade is comprised of counterfeit goods, and of that, 38% is footwear and clothing! (source)

  3. Unsurprisingly, counterfeit goods are a huge problem on Amazon even for Nike. In 2019, it’s reported that Amazon blocked 6 billion listings due to counterfeiting suspicion. The problem is so bad on Amazon, earlier this summer they created a dedicated “Counterfeit Crimes Unit” to combat the issue. (source)

The Pandemic is Changing us 🖍

There’s no question the COVID-19 pandemic is changing the world as we know it. Nearly a million people have died worldwide, with the USA leading all countries with ~200,000 deaths.

For the majority of parents, school is back is session and students of all ages are attending class remotely through video conferencing. Our daughter is using Microsoft Teams with her first grade class for several hours a day. Setting the expected technical problems aside, I think the teachers are doing an incredible job in extraordinary circumstances. If you are a teacher or educator, THANK YOU for everything you are doing 🙌.

It’s debatable what the long term impact will be on our kids of being quarantined and engaging in remote learning in this way. Despite your perspective, I think it’s inarguable there will be some impact.

We generally speak very plainly to our children about what is going on in the world, so they are aware of why we are doing what we are doing (such as wearing masks every time we leave the house!).

Seems like our lessons are sticking because these are 2 drawings my daughter created during her play time the other day.

First, is a drawing of me, her and my son out for a bike ride with my wife waving from the patio. Notice the 3 of us are wearing face masks 😷:

Second, are drawings for her “grocery story” she setup in our living room. Notice the instructions to stay 6 feet apart and to wear a mask.

Evidently, our kids are listening to what we’re saying about keeping safe during this pandemic. Mission accomplished?

Other Interesting Finds 🔎

  • 🤣 Hot on the heels of Sony PlayStation 5 pricing announcement, there’s a rash of sellers on eBay selling “PlayStation 5 Paper editions” which are literally pieces of paper featuring a photo of a PS5. Gotta give kudos for creativity?

  • 📣 Donald Trump expressed interest in a 4-hour debate with Joe Biden moderated by Joe Rogen. What a strange world we live in.

  • 🤿 Microsoft has been experimenting with submerging data centers in the ocean for cooling and reliability benefits. They recently pulled their one of them out of the sea near Scotland and reporting they experienced 1/8th the failures rates of traditional data centers.

  • 🏷 Home Depot is cancelling Black Friday by not having a sale on that day. Just kidding, they are having 2 months of sales instead. 🤔

  • 🎵 Billie Eilish made an appearance on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series.

  • 📷 Self promotion, but here’s a photo I took 7 years ago of the Northern lights in Iceland.