Personal Technology

IT Crowd says Hello Car

We switched from a gas sipping mini van (yes, a mini van) to an all electric vehicle this week. We decided to shake up 2020 just a little bit as it waned and bit the dust. No phoenixing there 2020!

Fast charging is in it’s infancy. Chargers are sprouting up at Whole Foods, Fred Meyer, Target, Outlet malls and other places. I’ve not looked for the Super chargers yet.

The average time to charge from 20% to 80% is around 45 minutes. That’s a long time to be waiting, so have to combine with taking calls or shopping or eating out.

Electrify America is a network of chargers. It’s free to charge with my EV vehicle. Oh! – no “charge” for charging was my friend’s dad quip.

It’s not fun to charge when it’s nasty rain. Double not fun when charging errors happen multiple times. Timeout, starting errors, you fool. I felt like I was staring at my browser while holding a live current handle in wet rain.

After trying another location and failing three more times, I called the support number. I had assumed it was a vehicle issue but my car support suggested I call the charging vendor. They rebooted the charging station remotely and then I was able to charge the vehicle.

You wonder why I’m not charging at home. We wait for 220v to the garage. Until then, we have to charge outside. It’s a good practice run too.

Oh, how it feels when you are paying to test the product. Have you tried turning it off and turning it on again?

Business Finance Technology

Ain’t a Snowflake

A snowflake is a political insult for someone who is perceived as too sensitive. This post is not about that.

Snowflake, the Bay Area company could become the largest software IPO of all time. It starts trading tomorrow.

It was initially priced between $75-$85, upped to $100-$110 and again upped to $120. At that price, it would be valued ~ $40B. Some banks are going to make a killing.

I started hearing about Snowflake a few years ago when a few data oriented startup companies mentioned them often. They were compared with Looker. Looker was acquired by Google in 2019 for $2.6B.

The other interesting tidbit was that Bob Muglia, an ex Microsoft veteran who last ran Server and Tools served as CEO for this company for three years until he was ousted in March 2019. His ouster apparently came a week after he said that Snowflake didn’t have to IPO soon as it had a ton of cash at hand. The guy who founded ServiceNow is now the CEO. Talk of the Hot Hand. On that note, the new book Hot Hand by Ben Cohen is a good read.

They had revenue of $265M last year, a 173% growth. NRR was 158%. It makes sense that NRR is that high. Being a complex data integration project, it’s hard for a customer to switch to another platform quickly.

Snowflake’s data cloud platform breaks down data silos, enabling customers to consolidate data into a single source of truth to drive meaningful business insights, build data-driven applications, and share data, delivered through a customer-centric, consumption-based business model, only charging customers for the resources they use. Snowflake allows companies to use/access data across the big three public cloud computing vendors AWS, Azure and Google Cloud. Snowflake is a customer and competitor to the large public cloud vendors, but their respective offerings don’t offer the agnostic cross platform capability, so its independence is a key differentiator.

Berkshire and Salesforce are each buying $250M in the offering. Convincing Berkshire to buy in the offering is indeed a coup.

If it opens at $200 / share, that would be like 100x sales.

If you are one of the lucky ones to get an allocation, hold onto it. Chasing this one is likely to take a strong gut.

Let it Snow! Let it Snow!

While Main Street is hobbling, tech IPOs and Wall Street are humming. The tale of two Americas.

Life Personal Technology

A Zoom Wedding

Two weeks ago, my niece got married. Congrats to the new couple. The wedding was in Bangalore. The audience was limited and lots of safety precautions was in place.

Due to the pandemic, we could not attend the wedding. Many of our family could not attend as well.

While there was a live stream connected to a private YouTube channel, I quickly recognized that it would not be interactive. I envisioned friends and family gathered in the online world, chatting with each other or providing a running commentary.

Zoom to the rescue. My wife had a Pro subscription that we have put to good use over last six months. Zoom deserves all the kudos it can get for providing a usable, resilient service.

We had the professional livestream one one browser tab. On Zoom, I shared this tab via screen sharing so all attendees could watch the same stream in the same space. Each one didn’t need to watch the livestream all by themselves.

Then, the social dynamics took over. Lots of comments were exchanged. The Zoomers could also follow every detail of the Wedding.

On the wedding event, we used the waiting room and when a guest was admitted, the welcoming party greeted them with garlands and scented water. Just like on the ground.

The other cool thing was that due to a few phones in the wedding hall, they could join into Zoom and provide their unique perspective as well catch up. When the producer spotlighted a video (attendee) everyone would watch that by default.

We recorded the entire event on Zoom cloud so the raw recording was instantly available.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

Technology Travel

Autonomous Vehicles

We are living in the dawn of the age of autonomous driving. It’s still awhile before a vehicle capable of driving by itself under all conditions begins to take the road. That would be Level 5 automation. At Level 4 you get High Automation, where the vehicle is capable of all driving functions under certain conditions. In Level 4 and 5, the driver may have the option to control the vehicle. Level 3 is conditional automation, wherein a driver is a necessity, but not required to monitor the environment. The driver must be ready to take control of the vehicle at all times with notice. Level 2 is partial automation, where functions like steering and braking is automated but the driver must be engaged with the driving task and monitor the environment at all times. We are somewhere between Level 2 and Level 3 now.

Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) bring us safety. Imagine the number of accidents that can be prevented that happen now due to human error. That would be a huge win. AVs enable people of disability to lead a fuller life. AVs would improve productivity by enabling drivers to work or do something else useful while on the road. Family summer trips could be much more fun.

On the flip side, AVs won’t be accepted until they are as safe as human drivers. Humans have become extremely good drivers and vehicles are safer than ever. The technology to develop AVs is incredibly expensive. On top of it, a connected car can be hacked.

Tesla’s Elon Musk said on April 22 2019 – “Next year for sure, we will have over 1 million robotaxis on the road”. We are past April 2019 but the roads are quiet, for a different reason.

Technology wise bad weather, uneven terrain and difficulty of identifying and anticipating movement of moving objects remain a significant hurdle. Lots of legal and regulatory standards remain to be crafted. Insurance liability is one key hurdle. How does a AV decide when confronted with the decision of hitting a pedestrian vs crashing itself and potentially injuring it’s occupants? Consumer distrust and cyber security fears round up the challenges.

How does an AV see and navigate the world around it? There are a number of technologies:-

  1. LiDAR – Light Detection and Ranging. It fires millions of laser light pulses per second and uses the reflection to scan surroundings and create high resolution 3D maps of the vehicle’s surroundings. It’s able to detect if an object is a bicycle or a motorcycle or if a pedestrian is facing forward or backward. The drawback is that it’s very expensive and doesn’t work well in bad weather.
  2. Cameras – Used for traffic sign recognition, side and rear surround view, parking assistance. It provides highest resolution images and can do wide angle and narrower view of what’s ahead. Again, weather can be a factor in proper functioning.
  3. Radar – It sends out radio waves that bounce off distant surfaces. Most common uses include adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, blind spot detection, parking assistance, collision avoidance and obstacle detection. Radar is proven for seeing hundreds of yards out and detect object size/speed. However, it can’t see detail and therefore no able to detect identity of objects.

Another cool aspect of AV is the development of V2X – Vehicle to Everything. This means passing of information to any entity / object that may affect the vehicle. A vehicle may communicate with another vehicle or communicate with infrastructure (street lights, buildings, pedestrians etc). All these scenarios are likely to come alive with 5G technology. In reality, this will take a long time.

An AV is really a data center on wheels. It represents the truest form of computing at the edge.

Fascinating developments in this area await us. I am really looking forward to a Level 5 AV hitting the road in 10 years. May the best technology win.

SmartHome Technology

Waiting for 5G

Waiting for 5G

The drumbeat for 5G is getting louder. By early 2020, we should have commercial 5G deployments, although some are predicting for that to happen that by mid 2019. Since 5G requires a lot of interplay with local governments and some governments can take their sweet time to decide on permits and regulation, mid to late 2020 seems like a better bet. Verizon and ATT are already conducting pilots in a few metro areas.

5G claims 20 times faster download speeds compared to 4G. 20 Gbit/s vs 1Gbit/s. Latency is expected to in 1ms range compared to 30–50 ms for 4G. In terms of connected devices 5G is expected to support 1 million devices per sq km. More details here.

These specs enable these enhanced use cases

  1. Virtual and Augmented Reality
  2. Internet of Things — Smart Homes, Buildings, Fleet Tracking
  3. Ultra low latency and high reliability — Autonomous Vehicles, Drones, Smart Cities

The core wireless technology that enables the enhanced specifications for 5G is use of millimeter wave (MW) spectrum. MW has been chosen to operate at high frequencies (30–300 Ghz). The 5G deployments are expected to use 30–100 Ghz range. MW is super fast, but it’s distance is limited, so it requires antennas that are placed much closer to people and therefore more antennas in a given area. Expect your street utility poles to start sprouting 5G antennas (also called small cells). The chart below shows expected carrier deployments. Verizon has the lead position among carriers for 5G.