Tuesday, January 26, 2016

San Francisco Days 9 and 10

In which we go for a bile ride, meet some Luther grads, and head back home

On Sunday, we went for a bike ride across the Golden Gate Bridge. We started from the Fisherman's Wharf area and followed a rather popular biking and walking trail. The ride across the bridge itself was cool, bit there were a decent number of people, so you had to keep going and couldn't really stop to admire the sights. After we finished the ride, Kirby, Aidan and I went back to the house to avoid the overpriced Wharf food.

On Monday we had to finish up the food we had left. Though I did eat six and a half eggs before leaving, we finished the two flats of eggs. 60 eggs in a week, I'd say we made good progress. At the airport I was talking about Paideia when I overheard someone say "did he say Paideia?" We turned around to find a group of women who were 1999 and 2000 Luther grads.

Now we're back in the cold, snowy Midwest! Hopefully I can go snowboarding before class starts.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

San Francisco Day 8

In which I spend a day at the beach and dissect a mouse

Today a small group took the public transit down to the beach by Fisherman's Wharf to hang out and play Frisbee. We stopped back at In-N-Out and I picked up an oder of well done animal style fries. These are some of the options on the secret menu. Animal style fries add the sauce from the burgers as well as cheese and sautéed onions. Well done is exactly what you'd expect, crispier fries.
During our frisbee game, there were a few dangerous throws that landed in the bay (oops) that led to all of our pants getting soaked and almost losing the frisbee. One throw left the disc underwater for a solid minute and we had almost given up hope before it washed up on shore.
Also this happened...
On the way back, we stopped at Ghirardelli and I got an Espresso Escape Painted Lady. (hot fudge sundae with coffee ice cream) The fudge was amazing, but the ice cream could have had a stronger coffee flavor.
After returning, I was using my tablet and mouse when suddenly my scroll wheel seemed loose and nonfunctional. Naturally, the first thing I did was take it apart. This confirmed the tank-like build quality of the E-3lue Mazer, but unfortunately  the weakest link is the support bar for the scroll wheel. It may be fixable, but worst case, my cheap mouse still last me 2 years.

Friday, January 22, 2016

San Francisco Day 7

In which we wrap up class and I go on an adventure

Today was our last discussion, but these pictures are cooler.

Corona Heights Park:
Here's a full 360 degree 64 megapixel panorama!

Some Posers


Tank Hill Park:
A smaller panorama. (If you look just a bit left of center and zoom really far in, you can see some blurry orange pixels that represent the Golden Gate Bridge)

Twin Peaks:
This panorama is super overexposed.

More posing

An HDR image of Market Street made by stitching together 3 images of different exposures
Side note: Microsoft uses the Creative Commons license system on the Photosynth website! Relevance!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

San Francisco Day 6

In which we learn about licensing and bug tracking

Our first destination today was the Oakland office of Tim Vollmer, who works for Creative Commons. You see Creative Commons licensing all over the internet and even sites like Wikipedia use them, so Creative Commons must be pretty big right? Wrong. To my surprise, they only have 15 full-time employees, and don't even have a central office anymore. They used to have an office in San Francisco, but due to the San Francisco rent prices and the fact that most people chose to work remotely anyway, they decided to move away from it. Now the Creative Commons employees are scattered throughout the world. Inspired by MIT's OpenCourseWare, Creative Commons established a content licensing system that allows people to distribute material freely on the internet. There are six combinations of the Creative Commons tags and they all have three layers. The combinations are just choices for how you want to license your material, so I won't get into that. The layers consist of a "traditional legal" layer that consists of the stuff that nobody wants to read unless they are in court, a "human readable" layer which is the basic information about the license, and a "machine readable" layer which is metadata that allows for content to be searched and sorted by license type. Creative Commons licenses are useful for people like me who like to create stuff and post it online but don't want to deal with complicated legal terms. If I need assets for something I'm making, I can search and use the Creative Commons machine readable metadata to sort by license. Other than this, they are very useful for colleges that want to share their course material with other colleges or people who want to learn on their own. This is great because it lowers the barrier to education and anyone can learn as long as they have access and the patience to teach themselves.

Later, we went over to a company called Crittercism which does crash analytics for apps and websites. Their job is to sift through the crash dumps and make it something that people can read and get useful information from. They also analyze how much money a company will lose from app crashes given the crash point. They offer a free service to smaller apps or developers who are making an app as a hobby. This service is not particularly useful for larger apps that have scaled, and for that they conveniently have an enterprise edition. This uses a breadcrumb system to tell what led up to the crash and let the developer know where they need to look to fix the issue. There are some pretty big companies that use Crittercism's services including Snapchat, Pinterest, Barnes and Noble, and several banking apps. While we were there Jack gave us some advice on working in the tech field. He moved directly to the bay area after graduating from Luther in 2009. Originally he worked for a small search recommendation startup but his work there stagnated, and despite the paychecks lost interest in the company. He then went over to a larger company, but there it was too difficult to make changes due to the bureaucratic structure. After that he ended up at Crittercism, which he likes a lot more. He said the classic advice of finding a job that you enjoy doing and want to do everyday, but also that you can, especially in the bay area where there are so many tech companies, be picky with your acceptance. This is interesting, and sort of comforting (I guess) along with his statement that the demand for graphic designers is increasing (though not as fast as programmers).

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

San Francisco Day 5

In which we are inspired to run and be creative

Today we started off by visiting a company called Strava. they produce an app that allows you to track your running or biking and compete with others using different challenges. It was an interesting change after visiting all the larger tech companies in the past few weeks. Despite being a smaller company, one of the tenets of Strava is "balance" so this means that they will respect the division of work and family and exercise time, but that they also strive to pay fair wages. The original goal was to build up the company in an entirely sustainable way. This would mean that they would not depend on the venture capitalists for money. Despite this seeming like a good business practice, it takes a lot to get a company started, so they unfortunately had to give in and pitch to the venture capitalists. This meant that they had to meet the profit expectations of the venture capitalists and hire more people when they didn't necessarily want to. This made it difficult to pay competitive wages for the developers and maintain good wages for the non-tech employees, but they are still striving to keep the balance.
Side note: right across the street from the Strava office was a great mural of the TV show Rick and Morty.
After this, we walked over to Pinterest to check out their campus. We were in their new building which was still being renovated, but it was very nice. They started off well by showing us their cafeteria where we had lunch. It turns out that Pinterest is a much smaller company than I had thought, they only have about 700 employees. We spoke to with Dan, a data scientist about what he does for Pinterest. Most of Pinterest's service consists of giving the user more content based on what they have previously pinned. This gives a lot of data about the users and plenty of opportunity to analyze it to see how to get users more involved. Recently Dan worked on expanding Pinterest to non-US based users. This consisted of determining how to determine what is "local content" and displaying what is relevant to the particular user. Based on the data analysis he did, users responded better to content in their language as compared to content from their country. Conveniently, this was much easier to detect too. This was actually hypothesized to be true before the testing, but the purpose of a data scientist is to test hypotheses such as this. When we discussed ethical economics, it seemed that Pinterest is too concentrated on staying alive as a company to be concerned with the expenses associated with fair hiring at the moment. The main ethical concerns that Pinterest has been faced with seem to be appropriate content, as they strive to be family friendly.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

San Francisco Day 4

In which we make microloans

This morning, since we would later be going to Kiva, the microloan company, we all took a look at the website and loaned $25 to various causes. I chose to finance a loan for someone in Pakistan to make repairs to their lathe which they use for car repairs. Kiva allows for people who need loans but would not be able to get them from banks for various reasons to get loans from the people of the internet. Because these are loans not donations, they will (theoretically) be repaid after a certain amount of time which can range from 3 months to 11 years. The current repayment rate for Kiva loans is over 98%, so much better than a lot of bank loans. The main Kiva program operates through field partners, which are microloan companies that are based in the areas that Kiva serves.

Recently, Kiva has been working on a project called Kiva Zip that would allow for them to interact directly with the people taking out the loans and hopefully eliminate the need for interest on the loans. Currently this program is operating in the US and Kenya. This program operates by combining standard loan risk metrics such as credit score and cash flow with peer trust. Basically, if somebody is able to get a certain amount funded by $25 commitments from their community, Kiva Zip will post the rest of the loan. This development allows for people who are trustworthy but not currently in a position to repay a loan to get money to help get them on their feet.

The idea of microloans is spreading, with other companies adopting Kiva’s style. This is good because it will increase the options that people seeking loans have. As well as this, some banks are partnering with Kiva to administer loans. They are able to do this by either using Kiva to give people small loans at very low interest, or to supplement their maximum loaning capacity for someone of that risk by adding on a Kiva loan.

I think that programs like this are a great way for people to work their way up the economic ladder. The fact that Kiva uses loans instead of donations incentivizes people to make something out of the money they receive. This way, instead of using a donation to subsist, people will be motivated to do something with the money that will make more money in the future. As well as promoting more responsible use of money on the receiving end, I think models like this will (or should) attract more donors. People will see it as a way to help people out without definitely losing the money they put into it. Kiva’s microloan style has inspired me to recycle my money that I donated, and add more in the future. I think this is an attractive feature that may draw more people to donate than the traditional donation where you can’t recycle your money.

Monday, January 18, 2016

San Francisco Day 3

In which we go to a science museum

Today we went to the Exploratorium, a science museum on the bay. Unfortunately, being Martin Luther King Junior Day, there were quite a few children there on break from school. Despite this, I still managed to look at a fair few exhibits. This museum is set up in an interactive fashion, so it really allows you to feel involved with each exhibit. Some notable ones include a mirror setup that allows you to make part of someone's face vanish and a Theremin. The mirror setup works by diverting the vision of one eye to a blank white panel and allowing the other to look forward. Your brain then takes merges these two images together and takes what it thinks is important (the face). When you move your hand in front of the white panel, your brain sees movement and assumes something important is happening, so the part of your friend's face that you wave your hand "in front of" disappears. The Theremin is cool because it's a musical instrument that is played by waving your hands in front of metal appendages that change the pitch and volume based on how far away your hands are. After watching some other people struggle with it, I walked up thinking to myself "I've watched a few Clara Rockmore videos, I'll be able to do this with no problem." Nope. It seems that Theremins (or this particular one which may be more of a science project than a musical instrument) have very little pitch range, so my attempt to play it failed miserably. Ah well it was still fun.
After leaving, Kirby and I stopped by a sourdough bakery (because San Francisco sourdough) before heading back to the house.