Make better use of air travel: Write code

Long flights can be pretty boring, especially if like me, you have a rock-bottom boredom threshold. I routinely fly from London to San Francisco , an 11-hour daytime flight. 

What to do…what to do… Maybe I watch a movie, then what? Watch another four? No matter how much reading, snoozing, eating I can do, it’s a lot of time to fill. Eleven hours is quite a lot of time in any scenario; it can feel like an eternity if I am bored. So, I discovered that programming is the best way to make any journey fly by.

Here are three tips if you plan to take a crack at coding on your next long-haul flight:


First thing you need of course is an environment where you can build and run your code. These days many planes have WiFi, but it’s not reliable enough to allow you to get in to any kind of flow (amazing if it works at all, but it does have limits). This can be easier said than done of course, but it’s worth investing the time before you travel to get something that works on your laptop – a build and test environment for the part of your application you want to work on while flying.  If you really don’t have an option to build and test your main project locally, then it’s worth carving out some smaller piece or even a side project. Or just learn that language you’ve been meaning to look at but haven’t yet found the time. 

The best thing you can do, as with most things, is practice. I started my company Undo in my spare time as an evenings and weekends project, so I learned to grab every spare few minutes to write a few lines of code or progress that bug a bit. An 11 hour flight was therefore a dream opportunity. 

One open question is whether or not you should pay for the in-flight WiFi, even when it’s available. It can be very useful to get to the web to look something up. But it’s also great to have a long stretch of time with no emails or other online distractions. I tend to sign up for the shortest duration if I find I really do need to, say, go Stack Overflow, but otherwise, WiFi is off, and I’m in the zone.


Once you’ve got a machine you can work on, the next most important thing is the seat. Like many of us I’m usually back in economy. If the person in front of me moves their chair backwards, it’s game over (leaving you folded up and attempting to type like a short-armed dinosaur). So I will happily pay the $50 or whatever to get an exit-row seat or one at the front of the cabin. If you’re getting 11 hours of productive work for that $50 it’s very reasonable to expense that back to your employer. Not all front row seats are the same. E.g. from London I often have a choice between British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. In Virgin, the little table in your arm-rest on the left usually rests its corner on the armrest between you and the seat on your right. This gives a much more stable working environment than BA, where they’ve saved a few ounces and the table rests in midair, and so is quite bouncy every time you press a key, which can be annoying. Either way, the $50 is worth it. 

There are some downsides to the front of the cabin – one is that you need to put all your belongings in the overhead locker. You’re not supposed to put your laptop in the little pocket in front of you with the safety cards in it, but I find in practice the cabin crew doesn’t care – much better to beg for forgiveness than ask permission on that. There is also the risk that there will be a baby right by you as this is where the bassinets go. However, I fly a lot, and while I’ve often had babies making a lot of noise on the ground, I find almost always as soon as you’re airborn and settled, they calm down and just sleep (lucky them!). In the rare event you get a screamer who cries all the way, being a few rows behind in economy won’t make much difference.

Sometimes it’s even possible to get in to Premium Economy for something like $150. It’s worth asking when you check in. The variance in price is huge — it can be anything up to $2,000 depending on how busy the flight is — it’s a simple supply vs demand thing and the supply is about as inelastic as it gets.

Beware of new laptops that drain too much power. On a recent flight, my ThinkPad X1 would trip the breaker after less than a second. There is an “at-seat power mode” that you can configure, but only from Windows. I run Linux. 

I ended up plugging in my UK plug via US->UK adapter — even though in theory I didn’t need it, as it was a universal socket — but this meant the laptop would draw enough power so that I could remain connected for my 11-hour flight. 

Most seats on most long-haul flights have at-seat power these days, but not all — it’s worth checking before you fly. e.g. BA has this handy guide. Figure out which aircraft you’re on and do a bit of Googling; if you have a choice of route/airline this might be a key consideration.


Some people swear by noise-cancelling headphones, although I find after a while my ears get too hot. Once I’m in the flow of programming the background noise gets filtered out by my brain just as well as noise cancelling headphones can do.

That said, if you’re still prone to auditory distraction, a pair of custom moulded ear plugs can also be well worth the investment when used across tens or hundreds of flights.

A few other things to consider before takeoff:

Pick a project that you can complete well within the flight time so you land with a sense of accomplishment rather than stopping midway.
Pick something fun and creative to work on, it will help cut through the monotony of the flight.
Make sure you have a good battery or are close to a power outlet (bring an adapter for international travel)!

Once you get used to it, the plane is a surprisingly productive environment — no one is going to come up to you and quickly ask you a question and so ruin your concentration. A sense of accomplishment after a long flight is a rare emotion, and one worth seeking out. Your fellow passengers get off the plane tired, groggy, and half-aware that they have just wasted many hours eating bad food, drinking subpar wine, and re-watching old movies, but you leave having accomplished something.

You do need to get used to certain limitations. A reference book and a laptop together will not work within the confines of an airline seat. Unless you are lucky enough to be flying Emirates First Class, you’ll need to rely on documentation on your laptop. Also, no separate mouse. One of the reasons I prefer ThinkPads is that after you get used to it,  the little nipple mouse is better than a trackpad. But then who uses a mouse much when coding anyway? Personally, I find the biggest limitation is you can’t practically use pen and paper to assist you. While there are certainly limitations such as these, you must trade them off against long periods guaranteed distraction-free and with nothing else to do.

With the strategies above, I get loads done, and the journey flies by (so to speak). What are some of your favorite mid-air productivity hacks? 

The post Make better use of air travel: Write code appeared first on SD Times.

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How to use Amazon and advertising to build a D2C startup

Matt Altman & Tyler Elliston

Matt Altman runs the Amazon practice area for VMG Ignite, an eCommerce consultancy that helps early to mid stage CPG companies achieve growth. Tyler Elliston is the founder of VMG Ignite. Clients include Sun Bum, Perfect Snacks, Aloha, Pill Club, Solid Gold, and many more.

Entrepreneurship in consumer packaged goods (CPG) is being democratized. Every step of the value channel has been compressed and made more affordable (and thereby accessible).

At VMG Ignite, we have worked with dozens of direct-to-consumer startups trying to both find product-market fit and achieve scale through Amazon and online advertising.

This article focuses on customer acquisition, particularly Amazon and online advertising, for the direct-to-consumer (D2C) CPG venture. Selling on Amazon, specifically third-party (3P), has become an increasingly important component of the D2C playbook. About 46% of product searches start on Amazon, which makes it a compelling source of sales even for early-stage ventures.

Table of contents

How to find product-market fit
How to get started with Amazon
Maximizing sales on Amazon 

Image stack
Bullet points
Backend details
Browse nodes
A+ content

Getting started with Facebook ads
Growing sales after you have product-market fit
What tools and technology to use for your D2C business 

How to find product-market fit 

People say that ideas are a dime a dozen. They aren’t valuable. But finding product-market fit? Now, that’s hard. The gap between an unexecuted idea and proven product-market fit can seem vast. Yet it’s a critical first step because, ultimately, marketing amplifies your product and value proposition.

If they aren’t compelling, marketing will fail. If they’re compelling, even mediocre marketing can often be successful. So start with a great product that people love.

How do you create a great product, you ask? A/B test your product configuration like you A/B test your landing page, copy, and design. Your product is a variable, not a constant. Build, ship, get feedback. Build, ship, get feedback. Turn detractors into your customer panel for testing.

Early-stage D2C companies typically get their first customers through three channels:

Begging your friends and family to buy and promote your product.
List it on Amazon as a 3P seller. Figure out the platform and start selling!
Advertise on Facebook. Start with a daily budget of 10x your price point to get started and start tinkering with creative, audiences, and settings to minimize cost per order.

The companies that succeed are often the ones that iterate the fastest. In his book Creative Confidence, IDEO founder David Kelley and his co-author (and brother) Tom relay a story of a pottery class that was split into two groups.

The first group was told they would each be graded on the single best piece of pottery they each produced. The second group was told they would each be graded based on the sheer volume of pottery they produced.

Naturally, the first group labored to craft the perfect piece while the second group churned through pottery with reckless abandon. Perhaps not so intuitive, at the end of the class, all the best pottery came from the second group! Iteration was a more effective driver of quality than intentionality.

Don’t know how to manage Amazon or Facebook? Here are some best practices:

How to get started with Amazon

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SD Times news digest: Microsoft adds exFAT technology to the Linux kernel, SmartBear announces acquisition of BitBar, and ActiveState replaces Readme with CLI tool

Microsoft announced that it is supporting the addition of Microsoft exFAT technology to the Linux kernel. exFAT is a file system used in Windows, as well as many SD cards and USB flash drives.

“It’s important to us that the Linux community can make use of exFAT included in the Linux kernel with confidence,” John Gossman, Microsoft distinguished engineer and Linux Foundation board member wrote in a post. “To this end, we will be making Microsoft’s technical specification for exFAT publicly available to facilitate the development of conformant, interoperable implementations.”

Microsoft also said that it expects to include a Linux kernel with exFAT support in future revisions of the Open Invention Network’s Linux System Definition. 

SmartBear announces acquisition of mobile app test automation platform BitBar
SmartBear announced that it is acquiring Bitbar, a provider of a mobile test automation platform and device cloud. 

With the acquisition, Smartbear said it plans to expand the company into CI/CD pipeline integration for mobile test automation and to bolster its device cloud offering. 

“We built Bitbar to make developers’ lives easier, helping software organizations to be agile and flexible,” said Marko Kaasila, the CEO and co-founder of Bitbar. “Joining SmartBear means bringing the most flexible web and mobile app testing platform to more forward-thinking DevOps teams.”

ActiveState replaces Readme with CLI tool
ActiveState introduced its State Tool, a CLI tool that automates the tasks that frustrate developers, such as the setup of development and test systems. 

The State Tool lets developers:

Deploy a consistent runtime environment into a virtual environment on every machine
Centrally create secrets that can be securely shared with all team members more easily than using a password manager
Create and share cross-platform scripts that can include secrets in order to kick off builds and run tests
Centrally automate all of the development workflows that developers typically address

“With the trend toward microservices, more projects are getting started more often, which translates into more projects needing to be maintained,” ActiveState wrote in a post. “ActiveState has built the State Tool to address many of the tasks that plague developers at project setup or worse, when they have to dive back into an older project.”

Accusoft announces FormSuite for Invoices with machine learning capabilities
Accusoft announced the release of FormSuite for Invoices, which incorporates machine learning technology to improve table recognition. 

With FormSuite for Invoices, developers can build their own custom accounts payable (AP) data entry automation solution with premium components in semi-structured forms processing and developer toolkits. 

The company added that with the latest advancement, table accuracy improved on average by about 50 percent and field accuracy improved on average by about 2 percent.

The post SD Times news digest: Microsoft adds exFAT technology to the Linux kernel, SmartBear announces acquisition of BitBar, and ActiveState replaces Readme with CLI tool appeared first on SD Times.

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Google will shut down Google Hire in 2020


Add another one to the Google Cemetery.

Google has disclosed that it will shut down Google Hire, the job application tracking system it launched just two years ago.

Google built Hire in an effort to simplify the hiring process, with a workflow that integrated things like searching for applicants, scheduling interviews, and providing feedback about potential hires into Google’s G Suite (Search/Gmail/Calendar/Docs etc.)

It was built mostly for small to medium sized businesses, with a price that ranged from $200 to $400 a month depending on how many G Suite licenses you needed.

Hire came into existence after Google acquired Bebop — a company started by VMWare founder Diane Greene — for a reported $380 million in 2015. Greene went on to act as the CEO of Google’s Cloud division, but left the role in early 2019.

In an email to customers, Google says:

While Hire has been successful, we’re focusing our resources on other products in the Google Cloud portfolio. We are deeply grateful to our customers, as well as the champions and advocates who have joined and supported us along the way.

On the upside: it’s not getting the axe immediately. In fact, you can keep using it for over a full year; Google says it won’t actually be shutdown until September 1st of 2020. Just don’t expect any new features to be added.

Google also notes that it intends to stop taking payment for the product in the meantime, saying in a support FAQ that customers will see no additional charges for Google Hire after their next billing cycle.

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SD Times news digest: Fauna introduces serverless database service, IoT Plug and Play now available in preview, and Oculus Insight

Fauna announced the general availability of FaunaDB Managed Serverless. The new service is a managed cloud database offering that aims to make it easier to obtain a serverless experience in the cloud. 

“Developers wanting a powerful data management component for cutting-edge app development can use FaunaDB, while companies wanting to avoid hands-on cloud configuration and maintenance can choose our managed serverless offering,” Fauna wrote in a post. 

The new FaunaDB managed service supports AWS and Google Cloud Platform and the company is working to provide support for Azure soon. 

Features include enterprise-grade support and SLAs, change data feed or stream, query log auditing, operational monitoring integration, and backup and restore capabilities. 

IoT Plug and Play now available in preview
Microsoft announced that IoT Plug and Play is now available in preview. Developers can start using Azure IoT Central or Azure IoT Hub to build solutions that integrate with IoT devices enabled with IoT Plug and Play.

IoT Plug and Play, which was announced at Microsoft Build this year, aims to simplify device integration by enabling solution developers to connect and interact with IoT devices using device capability models defined with the Digital Twin definition language, Microsoft explained

“Azure IoT Central integration with IoT Plug and Play takes this one step further by allowing solution developers to integrate devices without writing any embedded code. IoT solution developers can choose devices from a large set of IoT Plug and Play certified devices to quickly build and customize their IoT solutions end-to-end,” the company wrote in a post. .

Oculus Insight for VR headsets
With the release of Oculus Quest and Rift S VR headsets, Facebook detailed the AI systems in Oculus Insight that leverage state-of-the-art computer vision (CV) systems and visual-inertial simultaneous localization and mapping, or SLAM.

Facebook explained that the algorithm stack enables a VR device to pinpoint its location, identify aspects of room geometry (such as floor location), and track the positions of the headset and controllers with respect to a 3D map that is generated and constantly updated by Insight, using three types of sensors built into Oculus’ hardware. 

“Oculus Insight is the foundation for the new, wireless state of the art in AR and VR, providing Quest users with the untethered power- and compute-efficient precision to keep them within the playspace boundaries they have set while avoiding real-world obstacles,” Facebook wrote in a blog post. 

The post SD Times news digest: Fauna introduces serverless database service, IoT Plug and Play now available in preview, and Oculus Insight appeared first on SD Times.

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US border officials are increasingly denying entry to travelers over others’ social media

Travelers are increasingly being denied entry to the United States as border officials hold them accountable for messages, images and video on their devices sent by other people.

It’s a bizarre set of circumstances that has seen countless number of foreign nationals rejected from the U.S. after friends, family or even strangers send messages, images or videos over social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and encrypted messaging apps like WhatsApp, which are then downloaded to the traveler’s phone.

The latest case saw a Palestinian national living in Lebanon and would-be Harvard freshman denied entry to the U.S. just before the start of the school year.

Immigration officers at Boston Logan International Airport are said to have questioned Ismail Ajjawi, 17, for his religion and religious practices, he told the school newspaper The Harvard Crimson. The officers who searched his phone and computer reportedly took issue with his friends’ social media activity.

Ajjawi’s visa was canceled and he was summarily deported — for someone else’s views.

The United States border is a bizarre space where U.S. law exists largely to benefit the immigration officials who decide whether or not to admit or deny entry to travelers, and few protect the travelers themselves. Both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals alike are subject to unwarranted searches and few rights to free speech, and many have limited access to legal counsel.

That has given U.S. border officials a far wider surface area to deny entry to travelers — sometimes for arbitrary reasons.

On a typical day, U.S. Customs & Border Protection processes 1.13 million passengers by plane, sea and land and deny entry to more than 760 people. Sometimes a denial is clear, such as a past criminal conviction or the wrong documentation. But all too often, no specific reasons are given, and there are no grounds to appeal.


A U.S. immigration form describing why a traveler was denied entry to the U.S. (Image: Abed Ayoub/Twitter)

CBP also claims to have what critics say is broadly unconstitutional powers to search travelers’ phones — including those of U.S. citizens — at the border without needing a warrant. Last year, CBP searched 30,000 travelers’ devices — a four-times increase since 2015 — without any need for reasonable suspicion.

Complicating matters, the Trump administration in June began to demand that foreigners who apply for U.S. visas disclose their social media handles and profiles. Some 15 million are expected to fall under the new rule.

A spokesperson for Customs & Border Protection did not comment.

Summer Lopez, senior director of free expression programs at PEN America, a human rights nonprofit, said in a statement that the immigration policy on social media “demonstrates all too well the damage these ill-conceived policies can do.”

“That should not be the price of entrance to the U.S., let alone that one’s friends should have to censor themselves as well,” said Lopez.

But Ajjawi’s denied entry is not an isolated case.

Abed Ayoub, legal and policy director at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said device searches and subsequent denials of entry had become the “new normal” over the past year.

“We hear about this happening to Arab students and Muslim students coming into the U.S. today,” he told TechCrunch. Although all travelers are subject to having their devices searched, Ayoub said the government was “holding [the Arab and Muslim] community to a different level” than other backgrounds.

Ayoub said he’s had clients that have been turned away at the border for content found in their WhatsApp messages.

“It’s probably the most popular app in the Middle East,” he said. Because WhatsApp automatically downloads received images and videos to a user’s phone, any questionable content — even sent unsolicitedly — under a border official’s search could be enough to deny the traveler entry.

In one tweet, Ayoub posted a photo of an expedited removal form from one of his clients — also a student with U.S. visa — who was denied entry for an image he received in a WhatsApp group. The student strenuously denied any personal connection to the images and argued it had been automatically saved to his phone. The border official wrote that as a result of the device search the student was “inadmissible” to the U.S. The student was only a couple of semesters away from graduating, but a rejection meant the student can no longer return to the U.S.

“This is part of the backdoor ‘Muslim ban,’ ” Ayoub said, referring to a controversial executive order signed by President Trump in January 2017, which barred citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries entry to the U.S.

“We don’t hear of other other individuals being denied because of WhatsApp or because of what’s on the social media,” he said.

Correction: an earlier version of this report said the Harvard student was Lebanese. He is a Palestinian national living in Lebanon. 

US border agents assert ‘broad unconstitutional’ power to search citizens’ devices

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Kentucky Fried Chicken goes beyond chicken in partnership with Beyond Meat

Kentucky Fried Chicken is going beyond chicken with its latest partnership.

As other chicken chains vie for chicken sandwich dominance, KFC is doing its bit for the planet and taking its first fledgling steps to move beyond the chicken coop with a plant-based chicken nugget in partnership with Beyond Meat.

The first nuggets are going on sale for one day (August 27) at a single restaurant in Smyrna, Ga.

KFC has already experimented with vegetarian offerings outside of the U.S. In the U.K. the company has an “Impostor Burger” on the menu that’s made from mushrooms and was developed with the English company, Quorn.

Beyond Fried Chicken’s one-day-only offer from KFC is significantly different from the month-long citywide rollout that Burger King did for the Impossible Whopper (its Impossible Foods menu item) earlier this year. But it comes as most fast food chains are trying to come to grips with rising consumer demand for vegetarian alternatives to traditional menu items.

Beyond Meat’s foray into fast casual chicken comes after several big wins for the company with Dunkin’ Donuts, Del Taco, Tim Hortons, Carl’s Jr. and TGIFridays.

“KFC is an iconic part of American culture and a brand that I, like so many consumers, grew up with. To be able to bring Beyond Fried Chicken, in all of its KFC-inspired deliciousness to market, speaks to our collective ability to meet the consumer where they are and accompany them on their journey. My only regret is not being able to see the legendary Colonel himself enjoy this important moment,” said Ethan Brown, founder and CEO, Beyond Meat, in a statement.

Chicken is one of the next battlegrounds for the alternative protein purveyors, although they’re not just looking at plant-based chicken substitutes. Companies like Memphis Meats (and, reportedly, Just) are working on lab-cultured meat cultivated from animal cells.

News of KFC and Beyond Meat’s challenge to conventional chicken chains sent Beyond Meat’s stock price up nearly 6%, or $8.28 per share, to close at $155.13.

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