Friday, May 26, 2017

Review: Radical Candor

Radical Candor is an ex-Googler's book about management. Kim Scott was the manager for Adsense's sales team, and grew the team for several years before joining Apple and then working with Twitter and Dropbox. That gives her resume great credibility.

She's not afraid to illustrate the number one rule to getting ahead in big corporations: know the senior boss personally (in this case Sheryl Sandberg), and have her support you no matter how you screw up. After she joined Google (immediately as a manager, by the way --- she didn't have to work there as a leaf node), she managed to piss off enough of her team to lose several team members to transfers and departures. She writes:
The great thing about working at Google was that the company gave me a chance to fix my mistake. My boss explained exactly what I’d done wrong—and then let me hire people to replace those I’d lost. I was able to bring several people who’d worked for me at Juice to Google. (Kindle Loc. 1558)
Sounds kinda like she got rewarded for pissing off  and demoralizing her existing team, doesn't it? In my experience, that was par for the course at large corporations, so don't hold it against her.

In any case, the book is actually a good one.  Her thesis is that everything in management starts from relationships. Fundamentally, you have to have great relations with your team, to the point where when you provide negative feedback, they see it as being helpful, rather than becoming defensive or quitting. The tools she provides in the book to do so are labeled "Radical Candor." Her example is that if you see someone with their fly down, you should call it out instead of ignoring it and not giving them a chance to correct it. The same applies to verbal tics, annoyances, and of course, poor performance on the job. The book covers many such examples.

One of the best points of the book is that you need both "Rock Stars" and "Super Stars." The idea is that "Rock Stars" are high performers who are satisfied with their role, while "Super Stars" are constantly looking for the next challenge who will leave if you don't move them up quickly enough. This initially sounded to me like she was encouraging you to pigeon hole your employees but fortunately she mentions that the whole point of relationship building with your team is that you understand what phase of life she's in, and what she expects out of her work. She points out that because it is human nature to over-worship "Super Stars", you shouldn't actually make a big deal out of promotions:
Announcing promotions breeds unhealthy competition for the wrong things: documentation of status rather than development of skill. (Kindle Loc. 3656)
Note: Google isn't a great example: promotions were always a big deal, at least in engineering. Similarly, I'll note that Twitter had a singularly poor engineering culture, so her constant use of Dick Costolo as being a great manager kinda lost points with me rather than being the great examples she intended. Of course, Costolo himself might or might not have been responsible for Twitter's poor engineering culture, but bear in mind that her book's probably not intended to apply to engineering management.

With all that in mind, I enjoyed the book. Everything she writes about 1:1s, skip reporting, and management by walking around rings true. The emphasis on asking for feedback in order to model desired behavior (you want every employee to be constantly asking for feedback in order to improve) is first rate. The book's readable and full of specific examples and case studies.

My biggest criticism of the book is that Scott's ego-centricism means that she barely references prior work and doesn't even mention classics of management literature (I suspect that this means that she never read them!). But that in itself is not enough for me to avoid recommending this book for every manager, engineer or not.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Review: Becoming a Great Essayist

I started listening to this expecting a lecture series on how to write a great essay. It turns out to be a survey course on great essayists, the taxonomy of essays, and recommendations on further reading.

While the content and change of pace was nice (I'm tired of people telling me how to string together a sentence, and yes, writing is revision), I wasn't particularly inspired by the material. Part of it is that the lecturer still pretends to want to teach you how to write (by providing essay assignments), and part of it is that her definition wasn't very clear.

So along the way, we get various discussions of polemics, the food essay (!!), the comedic essay, the personal reminiscence, and so on and so forth.

In and of itself, the lecture series wasn't bad, but I expected much more from a Great Courses sequence. Not recommended.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

First Impressions: Wahoo Elemnt Bolt

I've been very happy, and continue to be very happy with my Garmin Edge 800. For a complete set of features it's unparalleled, and if I were touring the Alps this year I wouldn't even consider buying a new bike computer. However, the plan this year is to tour England with my 5 year old son. What Arturo and I discovered last year in our final leg of the tour through Germany was that in flatter areas with dense road networks, the penalty of stopping at every intersection to check maps is very high. While you can pre-plan routes with ridewithgps and load them to the Garmin Edge ahead of time, you can't easily do that "on the fly."

The best thing about cycle touring is the ability to change plans "on a dime", according to weather and wind, as well as how you feel from day to day. Because of this, the ability to navigate a preferred course while touring can make a break a tour, especially one where a 5 year old in the back seat of the tandem will frequently ask: "How long until we get there?"

Pamela Blalock navigated through Ireland last year on a solo tour using the previous version of the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt, the Wahoo Elemnt. By all accounts, the difference between the two units is basically $70 and the smaller screen on the Bolt, with a 15 hour battery vs a 18 hour battery life. There's no way Bowen's going to stay on a bike for even 10 hours a day, so 15 hours was more than good enough.

Now if you search the web for Wahoo vs Garmin, you'll see a lot of rave reviews about the Wahoo and how it's a Garmin killer. After several rides of experience, I'll say that while the Wahoo is competitive, it's by no means a Garmin killer. There are many places where the Wahoo unit is inferior in many ways, so let me get all those out of the way.

Mounting: Garmin's industrial strength rubber bands are the best bar none as far as mounting solutions are concerned. Wahoo copies them, but made several decisions that make them inferior. First of all, instead of using rubber bands they chose to use zip ties. I've had many more zip tie failures than Garmin rubber band failures. They're less reliable, and of course, every time you need to move the mount from bike to bike you pretty much have to cut the zip tie. The Bolt comes with 2 mounts (like the Garmin did), and one of the mounts is an off-the-front mount. This mount interferes big time with my handlebar bag. I'd buy more mounts but Wahoo wants $15 per mount, which is ridiculous. By contrast, Garmin will sell you 2 for $10. Winner - Garmin.

Boot Speed: Since I have both the Garmin 800 and the Bolt on the tandem (the 800 on Bowen's position), I get to compare their start up time. The 800 wins handily, and that's a 6 year old unit! This goes doubly when you do a "warm start." The typical scenario for touring is that you ride up to a supermarket (or playground or museum or side trip area) and turn off your bike computer while you eat lunch (no sense wasting battery). After you're done, you startup the units again. To its credit, the Bolt "resumes" the ride correctly (the Garmin 820 and 810, both inferior units to the 800 don't always do so). But it takes a very long time to boot. I'd already be riding for half a minute before it wakes up. Winner - Garmin.

Settings: The Bolt can only be setup by a smartphone app. That's OK. But what's frustrating is that the Bolt does not appear to "listen" to the smartphone app. Try as I might, I can't turn off Live Tracking on the Bolt. I also can't get the Bolt to display e-mail notifications. It's would be very frustrating if not for the fact that I have a Vivoactive HR which handles it just fine. Now, the 800 obviously can't do any of that, but whatever settings I want to change, I can change it directly on the computer. Winner - Tie.

Battery Life: Because the Bolt turns on Live Tracking (which I can't seem to turn off, no matter what!), the battery life is reduced. About 6 hours of riding depletes the battery by about 50%, so the actual battery life appears to be 12 hours instead of 15. The Garmin 800 when new had about 15 hours of battery, and now appears to have about the same battery life as the Bolt. Winner - Tie.

Bike Profiles: Like the later Garmins, the Bolt does not do per bike statistics collection. By contrast, my Garmin 800 has a separate odometer per bike, and I can tell it which bike I'm riding. It even knows how much each bike weighs so its calorie estimates are correct. By contrast, the Bolt thinks I'm riding a lightweight carbon fiber wonder, so its calorie estimates are ridiculously low. I turned off calorie expended from my screens on the Bolt because it was so far off as to be useless. Winner - Garmin.

Mapping and Navigation: The Bolt cannot do off-line navigation and rerouting. At all. All it can do is to follow a track you gave it from the Smartphone App. That it can do so wirelessly is a great feature! I tried it multiple times during dry runs, and it's amazing to tap out a route on ridewithgps and have it download immediately to the Bolt and then be riding the route with navigation entries. But if you're stuck without a cell signal or your smartphone battery is dead, you're so screwed if all you have is the Bolt. The Garmin 800 can do smart navigation even when off-line without a smartphone. The penalty is that you have to pay Garmin for maps or go through the 3-5 day procedure to load maps to your Garmin, while OSM base maps for the entire world is included in the Bolt. It's a wash in the Alps when road networks are not dense, but when you're touring a country with dense road networks the Garmin will frequently get confused or take a long time to recompute a route if you miss a turn. This is a toughie. Winner: Bolt (by a bit). Garmin really should give up on trying to make money off map sets.

Screen: The Bolt has a black and white screen which is very high contrast. This is nice, but the UI display is not done intelligently. When you have an upcoming turn on the Garmin, it doesn't matter what screen you're on as you approach the turn: the Edge will flip to the map screen and zoom into the intersection and show you how to navigate the turn. The Bolt won't do that! Instead, it'll flash a "left turn" or "right turn" arrow and the name of the street. So if you're following a route you must keep the display on the mapping/navigation screen. Even so, you might find yourself frantically pushing the zoom in or out button when approaching a complex intersection or traffic circle. This is an idiotic way of doing things and it's clear that Garmin's background in car based navigation units has transferred over to their bike units. Wahoo's PMs clearly have not thought through how people use navigation systems. By the way, the LEDs on the Wahoo are pretty much unusable in bright sunlight. I turn them off as a waste of battery. Winner: Garmin.

Looking at the above, I can see how you might love the Bolt if you owned a later model Garmin (810 and later). Those later models are not fully debugged and are missing features that the older Edge has. But if you have the Edge 800, the Bolt's a much less obvious upgrade. Now when it comes to current model Garmins vs the Bolt, it's still a tough call. Obviously, if you're a tourist on unfamiliar roads in places with dense road networks you want the Bolt. My experience, however, is that most cyclists don't do what I do. They do organized rides with arrow markings on the ground or follow the leader in group rides or rides in places that they know. In those cases, the Garmin units are probably way better.

I'm keeping my Bolt, but my guess is that in the long run when I'm not touring it will play second fiddle to the Garmin Edge 800. My solution for my upcoming tour is to bring both units. If I get into trouble with the Bolt, I'll grab the Garmin off my son's handlebars for navigating.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Review: Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tire with Smart Guard

I don't usually review tires unless I've ridden them down to the tire carcass. But in the case of the Marathon Plus tire, I'll make an exception.

The history: when I had the triplet built, I opted to use my own wheels, and I supplied the bike shop with some of tires from my stock. For whatever reason, one of those tires blew off the rim when the shop installed it, and in a state of panic the shop opted to "comp" me the Marathon Plus.

The tires weigh 750g each. Yes, that's 1.6 pounds per tire, or 3.2 pounds for a set. They weigh and ride like iron. Usually when I swap out one tire for another, it's a barely noticeable difference. Swapping saddles usually make a bigger difference than tires. In this case, when I finally (after 2000 miles) swapped out the tires for Michelin Pro 4s, not only did I notice a difference, my son commented, "This is now the fastest bike ever!"

The tires claim to be flat-proof (and the reviews on the internet all claim that as well). Not true. I managed to get a flat once while riding through Cupertino. That was when I realized how heavy the tires were. Not only were they heavy on the bike, it was a massive pain to get them off the rim to remove the tube and install a new one. I bent a Minoura Tire Lever getting them off! I'd never had such a frustrating time fixing a flat!

I'm always amazed at how Europeans seem to like riding tires that are way over-built and heavy. The ride quality of the bike on these tires are horrible, and if not for the fact that they were on the triplet I probably would have gotten rid of them well before the 2,000 mile mark. I think these tires are only appropriate if you make a habit out of riding on Munich bike paths, where drunk people smash beer bottles on the bike path and these tires might have a chance of getting through them without a flat. Even then, woe upon ye if you did get a flat as these tires will then be nigh impossible to fix. They're not as bad as the famous Torelli master rim where I broke steel tire levers getting tires on and off the rim, but they're pretty close.

Needless to say, I'm done with these tires. If you want them, let me know and I'll "comp" them to you. NOT RECOMMENDED.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Review: Shimano PD-T400 Click'r Pedal

Ever since I got Bowen his SPD shoes and mounted cleats on it, we've been riding with him fully cleated. He loves it because his feet never come off the pedals, which is a hazard on the tandem because the pedals won't stop spinning just because your feet came off!

The big challenge, however, has been getting him in and out of the pedals. Our solution was to use the kickstand, and then have him on the bike and I'll click him in by hand. There are two problems with this: first of all, it gets pretty old fast. It makes even stopping for a restroom break a chore. Secondly, when we tour, we'll have a load on the panniers, and between the load on the panniers and a 35 pound kid, this might very well overload the kickstand hardware! I reduced the spring tension on our SPDs all the way down to the bottom, but he just couldn't clip himself in or out, even when he got the position right.

What I didn't realize was that Shimano makes an entire line of pedals that a light release action called Click'r. The marketing literature claims that they have 60% less activation force when clipping in, and 50% less activation force when clipping out. Since I didn't have to use much force with my hand when clipping in Bowen by hand, I figured that might be sufficient for him to clip in and out. For $23.25 per pair, it was a cheap experiment (also, I bought it from Amazon for easy returns).

The pedals showed up and installing them was as easy as my M520s: unlike high end pedals, these came with wrench flats, which are great. We tried them as is, an no-go. His feet just wouldn't clip in. So we got out allen keys, and pushed the tension down as low as it could go. We also switched the cleats on his shoes to the ones that came with the pedal, just in case that made a difference.

Sure enough, that did the trick. Bowen can now clip in and out of his pedals by himself, and he liked it so much he practiced doing it 10-15 times so he could get it right. We took the bike for a short test ride, and after that I asked him to spin the pedals backwards as quick as he could to see if he would unclip by accident. Nope.

Bowen asked about getting these for his single bike but I pointed out that his feet never came off the pedals on that bike, and even if they did, the pedals wouldn't keeping spinning so it wasn't a dangerous situation. In fact, if you couldn't clip out fast enough you might fall over. He thought for a bit and then agreed.

These are great pedals, and I can foresee that I might be buying at least another pair in the future for his brother. If you have kids on a tandem, or if you're new to clipless pedals, get these. Recommended.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Review: Spigen Rugged Armor Moto G5 Plus Case

The Moto G5 Plus proved to be too slippery for me. Furthermore, the rear camera protrudes from the bottom, and sooner or later I'm going to leave the phone on the ground somewhere and end up scratching the lens, so I decided to buy a rubber case for it. The Spigen Rugged Armor case came with good reviews. In particular, it's just thick enough that the camera lens is flush with it, so I can put it down without the phone being wobbly. In practice, Motorola should have just made the back of the phone thicker by sufficient amounts and given me even better battery life, but then I guess no one would have a reason to buy the Moto Z Play.

The case is easy to put on, easy to take off, grippier but not too sticky when putting it into and out of pockets. It's easy to reach into my jersey pocket to pick up the phone and shoot pictures while cycling, which is mostly what I ask of it. I hope never to test how well it protects the camera if I should drop it, and while the raised lip of the case on the front should protect the phone from scratching if it falls face down onto a smooth surface, it won't protect the screen from keys in your pocket, etc, so I would still put a screen protector onto the phone.

The case weighs 32g, which is much lighter than an Otterbox, and not very objectionable at all.

Recommended.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Review: ThinkTank Mirrorless Mover 10

If you use your camera enough, sooner or later you end up with a closet full of camera bags. The key is you want to be able to travel with just the right amount of equipment for the job, and different bags have different jobs.

We bought a Think Tank Mirrorless Mover 25 back when we started with the EOS M3. It's a great bag, and we've filled it up with the EOS M3, the 22mm prime, the 11-22 wide angle zoom, the EF-S 55-250 zoom (with adapter), a small flash, spare batteries and lens cleaning accessories. But there are days when I'm carrying 2 kids up (or down) a mountain and it's just a bit much. On those days, I'd just hang the 11-22 zoom on my shoulder, but of course, it would dig into my chest or get hammered by the kids.

BestBuy had a sale on the Mirrorless Mover 10, and I ordered it to see how it would work. The good news is that it fit nicely on the Deuter Kid Comfort III's waist belt, even with it cinched tight. It has sufficient capacity for either just the EOS M3 with the 11-22 zoom + the small flash, or the EOS M3 with the 22mm prime and the 40mm (with adapter), a spare battery, and lens cleaning kit. On the side there's enough room for a mini tripod. Together the entire kit would weigh 1kg (2.2 pounds)

The bag comes with a shoulder strap, but in practice I'll probably never use it, and would detach it before traveling. The idea is that on a car based touring/hiking trip, you would have the full kit in the car. If you drive to a trailhead and then have to carry 2 kids up a steep hill, you'd move what you need into the Mirrorless Mover 10 and then you'll have a lighter weight kit that would leave you hands free (for kid carrying) when you're going up and down a mountain. Or you could carry a spare body and lens while your wife carried the main camera.

When BestBuy shipped me the camera bag, it didn't have a strap. I called ThinkTank, and they didn't even ask for a receipt: they just immediately shipped me a camera strap. Whatever else you may think of the company, they have fantastic customer service.

Recommended.