Thursday, December 12, 2013

AWS's premium support - a model for good customer service

Nothing new here, but had jotted down notes from the Amazon all-hands over the summer that was focused on being customer-centric.  I was particularly struck by how AWS is offering premium support.  If a customer buys, premium support:

  • There is no contract length they’re bound to.  They can terminate service anytime.
  • There is no maximum number of contacts.  Ask away without being charged or hitting a limit.
  • They get Trusted Advisor, which provides automated tools informing the customer how to optimize, improve security, and save money.  

I love the last part, where the tool actually recommends the customer descale or use cheaper options, which causes Amazon to earn less.  This is definitely the right thing for the customer, and builds long-term loyalty rather than short term gain.  Good stuff.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Mavericks' Apple Mail with Gmail - Getting back to pre 10.9 behavior for deleted messages, drafts, and sent mail

Mavericks' Apple Mail brought some changes to Gmail (as well documented elswhere).  I personally liked the pre-10.9 behavior, which included:

  • Drafts weren't stored on the server.  It would be ideal to have drafts on the server, but too often I found that the message would stay in draft form and be duplicated in the thread, even though the message was sent.  In practice, I never needed to start a message on my laptop and finish it on my phone.
  • Deleting a message from the inbox would archive it.  The message would be visible in the Gmail "All Mail" label, but it wouldn't be in the Gmail "Trash" label.  This is important because search results in Gmail by default filter out messages in the "Trash".  You have to explicitly click show messages in Trash.

  • I didn't need to enable the "All Mail" label for IMAP.  This prevents thousands of messages from being downloaded on to my local machine.  If I want to search old messages, I just log into Gmail's web interface.
Some solutions to get back to this kind of behavior involve enabling the "All Mail" label for IMAP.  See:
This is a no go for me as don't want to be downloading gigabytes of old messages.  I haven't gotten back to the pre-10.9 behavior by doing the following:
  • Quiting Apple Mail
  • Preventing "Drafts" and "Sent Mail" showing up in IMAP.
  • Launch Apple Mail and telling it not to store messages on the server for Drafts or Sent Messages.

With those steps done, the only deviation you will find is that when you delete messages, they will move out of your inbox, but will have the "Deleted Messages" label.  I'm ok with that because at least they don't have the "Trash" label and will thus show up in my search results by default.

Also, you'll want to move all your messages out of the "Trash" in the Gmail web interface after you've done the above.  If not, those messages will be deleted within 30 days.  I moved them to my "Deleted Items" label.

Monday, November 11, 2013

"Bank is a 4 letter word"

Many of my summers growing up involved spending two weeks at my grandparents' house in Manitoba.  My grandpa always weaved education into the time, and I remember one such trip had a focus on financial institutions.  We drove out to the country side and he took me to Steinback Credit Union.  He had lots to share about credit unions and banks.  I remember one of his phrases that "bank is a 4 letter word".  I definitely appreciate that exhortation to use locally based institutions like credit unions.  If you're not using a credit union, why not?

Here's a quick blurb the credit union we use (WECU) sent out on why credit unions are not the same as banks:

When you walk into a WECU® lobby, or call a loan officer, what makes a credit union different from a bank isn’t immediately apparent. The two financial institutions may offer similar products and services but the similarities stop there. Crucial differences exist - in structure, in cost of borrowing money, and in use of services.
Credit unions are member-focused non-profit financial cooperatives dedicated to improving members’ lives. More than 95 million members are part of 7,100 U.S. credit unions with combined assets of $1.02 trillion.  
Credit unions are the only democratically controlled financial institutions in the United States. You and other members elect a volunteer board of directors to oversee the credit union. The manager or president/chief executive officer reports to this board. Bank directors, however, are paid and legally bound to make decisions that benefit stockholders. 
Credit unions have the best rates. Credit unions price loans, pay interest on funds you’ve deposited, and charge fees to provide you with high-quality, low-cost services. Banks price products, fees, and services to make a profit. At credit unions, money market, savings, and interest checking accounts carry higher rates - giving back more to members. Interest rates on credit cards average three percentage points lower than bank rates, and auto loans average about one and one-half percentage points lower than bank rates. Credit unions make consumer loans and member business loans.  
Credit unions educate members about money matters. They provide publications to keep you advised of rates, loan sales, and financial trends that affect you. WECU® stresses education, providing materials and holding seminars on financial planning as well as car and home buying to help you make informed buying decisions. 

Amazon Smile

Amazon recently announced Amazon Smile: .  It's the same standard Amazon, but Amazon will give .5% of all your purchases to a charity of your choice.  Pretty sweet.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Don't forget about expiring documents!

We were cruising up to cross the border yesterday, only to find my Nexus card had expired :(  In hopes of never hitting this situation again, we've put the expiration dates for the following documents on our calendar:
  • Passports
  • Nexus cards
  • Driver's licenses
To get reminders about upcoming document expirations, we have Google calendar email us about these events.  There are a host of other reminder solutions, including using Evernote with a "reminder" set for the expiration date.  Just wanted to pass this on in case others are as forgetful about such items.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Crud the game

I was recently at a company offsite that really epitomized for my why Amazon is such a great place to work.  The mix of creativity, passion, and fun made for a highlight of the year.  It occurred to me that a great entertainment event for future would be a Crud tournament (see and  Have others played this, or seen it deployed at a larger scale (150 person) setting?


  • Multiple pool tables required.  
  • You can have a nice round-robin, and then get into a tournament bracket to establish champions.
  • You could imagine using projectors well for the tournament bracket (NCAA March Madness style).

Reasons I'd advocate for Crud:

  • Unique - most people haven't played it before.
  • Newcomer welcome - anyone can learn to play.
  • Good mix of skill, strategy, and luck.  This helps newcomers feel like they can contribute, but also keeps people engaged because there's opportunity to get better.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Funniest thing I've seen in 2013

This is geared towards the developer, but I couldn't stop laughing at work.  Absolutely hilarious.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

On getting better and making progress

I recently met with an old coworker who is making some big life changes by moving to another country and team. It was great to catch up and share about some of the decisions we've both made in the last year to learn/experience new things, better support our families, etc.  As we were parting, she made the comment along the lines, "as long as we're getting better, that's what's important".  The "getting better" part has been bouncing around in my head, stirring up some thoughts.

When we say that we're "getting better", what do we mean?  Similarly, when does it really mean for someone to "make progress" or to be "progressive"?  I believe all of these phrases assume some sort of end state or goal.  When we say them, are we thinking about the end, or are we following a cultural current to make the same decisions as those who came before us?  For example, Patrick, who is 3 years older than me, was a level X in his company at my age, and now is a level Y, so that is what I'm shooting for too.  Or Bill and Mandy did Z by the time their first child was one year old, thus we should as well.

At some point (and ideally sooner than later), we need to ask ourselves what the objective is - what's the point of all our toiling and labor?  Unless we have clarity on this, we can't claim to be making progress.  C.S. Lewis takes this one step further by bringing up "right" and "wrong" in his discussion on progress:
We all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.
Are we willing to humbly explore with ourselves and others whether we're on the "right road"?  What is the right road, and how do we know if we're on it?  I by no means have all or many answers here, but let me know if it's a topic you want to dialog on.  I certainly welcome it as an invigorating and worthwhile discussion!